Angkor

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next day we hopped on a flight and left Laos for Cambodia. We flew straight to Siem Reap and the world famous Angkor temples. We booked a tuk-tuk and a guide for the next morning and set off to explore the gigantic area with hundreds of temples. The initial plan was to make the most famous temples the first day. Unfortunately this didn’t quite work out due to my lack of preparation. Angkor Wat, highlight of the Angkor park has a quite clearly published and enforced dress code that I had smartly ignored. So our guide rescheduled the tour we had planned and we went to several of the other temples, which officially have the same set of rules, but they aren’t enforced there. The rules, as such, are quite simple: Wear clothes that cover your arms down to the elbow and your legs down below your knees and that aren’t revealing. However with some 30 degrees in the shade, I often found it hard to comply with them because they left me feeling soaked by 10am. So I took advantage of the fact that the rules are not always enforced on occasions. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
My bad planning turned into some good luck though, as we decided to go to Ta Prohm, the “Tomb Raider temple” instead and were rewarded by being able to roam through the temple almost on our own. We spent over an hour there, admiring the huge trees growing in and over the walls and by the end of our visit, we got a first feeling of what “crowded” means for Angkor Wat. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHuge groups of Koreans started invading the temple and started pushing you or running into you to get their shot before you could react.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Luckily they mostly have a Korean tour guide showing them around, yelling explanations, so they can be heard and avoided from the distance. Nevertheless I learned to count to 3 in Korean quite quickly: Hana, dhul sehtt. It was ubiquitous. I’m not saying that Koreans are horrible, they most definitely aren’t, but those guided tours are a bane.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
From the now crowded Ta Prohm we moved on to a very small, completely isolated temple called Ta Nei. We were the only ones there and rather enjoyed that. It is also somewhat overgrown and apparently was only recently made accessible to tourists, which is also why there are so few tourists. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
From there we moved on to Ta Keo, the first pyramid-style temple we saw. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s more or less two styles of temples: One called the long-temple which I will describe below and the other that I have called “pyramid-style”. These temples have a quadratic or at least square platform and raise themselves up in several steps, often a mythical important number like 5 or 7. The top does not converge as it would normally do in a pyramid. Rather the pyramid is capped and on the flat area several smaller temple towers are built.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe temples Thommanom and Chau Say Tevoda were next. The two temples are from the twelfth century and the former is older than latter. Both have been fully renovated to show off their carvings and decorations and are quite similar.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA They are both long temples and oriented towards the east, as are all temples except for Angkor Wat itself. They consist of a main gate, called gopura, the central hall called mandaba then the temple tower itself, the prasat. At the other end finally the west gopura. This is a very traditional set up we would see often in Angkor, frequently flanked by “librariesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“. Nobody knows what the buildings were used for, but they turn up in almost every temple complex and have been dubbed library for lack of a better word.
On we drove over the famous bridge guarded by gods and demons through the Victory Gate to the Elephant Terrace. The bridge crosses the large moat around the old town, Angkor Thom, were reputedly a million people lived in the 12th century. The Elephant terrace leads into the royal palace and is, in itself, quite famous. Unfortunately the day had already drawn on quite a bit, so we were in a bit of a hurry and our guide rushed us through to the next temple: Phimeanakas. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother pyramid-style temple, but much older than the previous ones, dating from the 10th century. The access to it was apparently reserved to the king and high priests. Phimeanakas did not impress me, I must admit. By the time we reached Baphuon, our next temple, I had already forgotten what it looked like. We returned in a more relaxed setting a few days later and I must say that the laterite used to build the temple gives it a lovely red color and it has its merits, but is in quite a poor shape.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs already mentioned our second to last stop was Baphuon, another pyramid-temple built with huge sand-stone blocks, giving it a grey-green color. It is significantly larger than Phimeanakas and has some very nice carvings that remain intact, but not everything remains intact. Around the 15th century when the area had switched from Hinduism to Buddhism, the temple was modified to contain a huge lying Buddha on one of its sides. When the restoration process started, a hard choice was to be made between restoring the 12th century or the 15th century temple. In the end a solomonic decision was taken by restoring half of the lying Buddha. Baphuon has a baffling more recent history: OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was taken apart in an effort to restore it by French archaeologists in the 1960ies, when they had taken it apart, the Khmer Rouge took over and the careful documentation of which stone goes where was lost. Nevertheless archaeologists managed to put the temple back together in 2011 finishing the possibly largest game of puzzle ever played.
Our final stop was Bayon, the temple with several hundred Buddha faces, since we were tired and it was late by the time we got there we only spent little time in the temple itself. We couldn’t do it justice then and I will describe it in its full glory on our next visit.

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