A N G K O R   W A T

Welcome to the national symbol of Cambodia and source of Khmer pride, the sumptuous epicenter of a civilization at the pinnacle of its glory.
Angkor Wat was the vision of King Suryavarman II (1112-52), the powerful king who, during his reign, defeated Champa and extended the empire to Northern Thailand, Burma and northern Malaysia.
The temple is surrounded by a wide moat and enclosed by a laterite wall. The centerpieces are five magnificient towers representing the heavenly peaks of mithological Mount Meru, the tallest of which was the home of Vishnu.
Ohe of its galleries shows basreliefs of scenes extracted from the Hindu epics.
The modern name Angkor Wat, in use by the 16th century, means "City Temple": Angkor is a vernacular form of the word nokor which comes from the Sanskrit word nagara (capital), while Wat is the Khmer word for temple. Prior to this time the temple was known as Preah Pisnulok, after the posthumous title of King Suryavarman II.
Due not only to its majestic architecture, but also to its surrounding natural environment and the beauty of the sunlight hitting its west side during sunset, Angkor Wat is possibly the most prestigious temple in the whole South east Asia, the biggest tourist spot in Cambodia, and it's labeled as the Eighth Wonder of the modern age by many sources. I took the chance to take some nice sunny photos there but unfortunately 1) the temple itself was closed for works, 2) I could not enjoy the golden light of sunset on it, since for both days we were there the sky was cloudy in the evening.


The "second wonder" in Angkor is certainly the Bayon temple, with its 54 towers and its 216 divine faces of Avalokiteshvara, sculpted on the towers and looking in any direction, relaxing in their smile and chilling for their size - enigmatic, magnificient, charming at the same time.
The Bayon temple is located at the center of the big squared, walled compound Angkor Thom (Grand Angkor), which was built by the King Jayavarman VII (1181 - 1219) as his royal palace.
The Bayon was the King's state temple. Together with the faces, the temple's walls are decorated with several basreliefs depicting daily life in the king's court and the bloody battles against the Chams.


Constructed by King Udayadityavarman II (please say this name 40 times in a row in 1 minute) who reigned from 1049 to 1065, the Baphuon is a three-tired temple-pyramid. At the end of 15th century, parts of the towers were dismantled to create a 70m reclining Buddha in a bid to turn the Shiva-devoted temple into a Theravada sanctuary.
For how it looks today, you might not be impressed by the Baphuon temple after having seen Angkor Wat and the Bayon, but it could be interesting to see how it might have appeared in the 11th century:

(Paint by Lucien Foumereau, 1889)

We could not the visit the temple though, since it's subject to reconstruction works - which were actually interrupted and screwed up during the Khmer Rouge dark era (1976-1979) and restarted in 1995. The works are scheduled to finish in September 2009.

P R E A H   K H A N

The Preah Khan is an interesting temple, located north to Angkor Thom area, for the different religions to which it was devoted across history (you can find sections with basreiefs devoted to Vishnu and others devoted to Shiva), and for how the trees and vegetations intertwine with the ruins. Its extension including the external walls, is second only to Angkor Wat. Created under Jayavarman VII in late 12th century, The Preah Khan was more than just a temple, with its 1000 teachers which make us believe it was a buddhist university, if not even a proper city.
The temple itself is structured in a symmetric square concentric pattern, with one series of aligned doors for each side. All the aligned of doors of west, north and south sides are decreasing height as long as you get closer to the center, to "force" the visitor to bow more and more, the exception being the doors on east side which were of exclusive use by the king.
The mix between ruins and trees offers a unique vision which shows how the nature gradually took "ownership" of forgotten ancient human creations, and possibly suggesting how the "cleaned up" temples like Angkor Wat, Bayon, Baphuon might have looked like to Henri Mouhot, the French explorer who brought Angkor to popularity in the West in mid 19th century.

T H A   P R O H M

As Preah Khan, the Tha Prom temple is also largely unrestored, providing an interesting mix of ruins and trees. Less extended and more tight than Preah Khan, this temple was built in 1186 by King Jayavarman VII, which devodeds it to his mother. What is now covered by gigantic Sumg tree roots and vegetation, was once decorated by thousand of pearls, precious stones and golden dishes weighting more than 500 Kg.
The Tha Prohm temple went to notoriety recently due to the Lara Croft hollywood adventure movie, which was set here.

S I E M  R E A P

Siem Reap used to be a sleepy, quiet Cambodian province before the world's tourism spotlight pointed at Angkor. Today, beside the several hotels, international restaurants, pubs and the few shopping malls, the most of the city still consists of simple houses and low buildings, and also stilts on the river, which preserve almost totally the Khmer character of the city.
The traffic in the sandy streets might be disorienting for a swiss citizen but it's not so crazy, many motorbikes and fewer cars driving "freestyle" but not too fast.

T O N L E  S A P

On the first afternoon we went for a boat trip on the Tonle Sap river and lake. We enjoyed seeing the people living on the river, mostly on stilts or even floating constructions. They have also sort of bars, billiard pools, basketball and indoor football fields, and even a christian church.


The other two main attractions inside Angkor Thom, aside the Bayon temple, are the Terrace of Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King.
The Terrace of Elephants, north to the Bayon, is where the king enjoyed the marches of war elephants along its 350m length. On the terrace 5m high edge, the bas reliefs depicts elephants topped with hunters and warriors who are seated high enough to avoid the claws of tigers below. I wonder if that's what the king was actually seeing... some show wasn't it?
The Terrace of Leper King (Re Lebbroso, in Italian), located north to the Terrace of Elephants, is so named after the statue sitting on the 6m high platform, which is said to represent King Yasovarman I, who allegedly died of leprosy. The terrace is surrounded by corridors with wonderful bas reliefs.


Some photos here and there, mostly from the other places in Angkor Thom (noticeably, the south and north gates) and the Phnom Bakheng, the temple on the hill.


Memories in motion.


The whole story.

Angkor - Cambodia