Wednesday, January 8, 2014

20. Angkor

Day 2

French 19th century ad offering travel to Indochina and the temples of Angkor.

On the way to continue the visit of the Angkor temples we had to wait until a disabled Toyota Camry was removed from the road. The procedure looked astonishingly efficient despite the lack of a "real" tow truck. One pair of steel cables, four hooks is all it's needed. The hooks go into the holes of the aluminum rims and a minute later the car is on the truck. It had hit a bus and the left front wheel suspension broke, the wheel got stuck in the wheel well.

With the obstruction removed we are off to the temples of Bayon, as part of the former Royal palace and the "city" of Angkor Thom,  Preak Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, and last but definitely not least, Angkor Wat..


Bayon is located in the center of the ancient city of Angkor Thom and was built in the 12th century, around 100 years after Angkor Wat. It is absolutely stunning in its greatness: Some 200 large faces of around 54 towers greet the visitor. One tower holds at least four faces looking in the four cardinal directions (All of Angkor is precisely built according to the compass). The massiveness of the complex, the narrow gaps between the towering walls on the inside, the lighting, and the bas-reliefs all make this structure extraordinary. The faces don't speak a word but their distinct and mysterious smile makes you wonder what they might contemplate, what they might know what we don't.

The characteristic holes to transport the heavy stones (by elephant).

The battle elephants.

Extremely narrow gaps between building masses.

The mysterious tower faces.

Monks visiting the temple Bayon. These are religious ascetics, shown by their white robes.

Here at Bayon a stone mason work area also shows how the stones were made to fit so precisely, with hairline joints.

First, they are dressed in an approximate way to fit the area, than they are moved back and forth within their location. water is poured into the gap, and the procedure is repeated until their is a precise fit.

Lifting methods.

The holes remain.

Monks in traditional orange.
Near Bayon I paid my respect to a big Buddha statue in a recently built temple. It is taken care of by the old temple ladies who sit, chat, and bless the believers.

The temple ladies.

Only a few teeth remain, decades of betel-chewing (areca seed, actually) turns the teeth black and the mouth cavity dark purple. It is very common around the rural population even today.

A photographer and his helpers were busy putting the young wedding couple in the proper light and angle. This is wedding season, people use the dry season of the year for the event. Weddings take place everywhere. If they should happen next to where you live you will not be able to sleep for three days. The very loud music starts around 5 in the morning, and lasts well after midnight. Nothing can make them shut the music off: "I am only marrying ONCE in my life", they say!

Of course young Khmer ladies are generally of exceptional beauty, like this bride.

Preah Khan

A succession of towers at towers at Preah Pithu No. 5

 Ta Som

What I like about Ta Som is the fact that the now completed restoration only minimally interfered with the state of the ruins. They were merely stabilized, yet no new material, sculptures or replicas for stolen parts were added. It is one of the outlying ruins and a wonderful, small site.

Angkor Wat

Of course Angkor Wat, built in the first part of the 12th century, remains the highlight of the immense complex of Angkor. Alone the very wide moat surrounding the temple is impressive. Their width is about 200 meters surrounding the building masses completely, the actual temple is only accessible by one causeway leading in from the west. The outer circumference of the moat is more than 5 kilometers (3.4 miles). The entire temple site is larger than 500 acres.

Angkor Wat is the best preserved and architecturally most impressive complex and consists of several tall towers and intriguing outside galleries depicting scenes from Khmer life, war, kings and mythology. The height is greater than it first appears: more than 200 meters. It is an unforgettable sight, and no image, no matter how skillful the photographer, is able to convey its presence..

Restoration is conducted by the German government, together with a university in Cologne and the Cambodian Apsara organization.

I include an image at the very beginning (below) which is one of the most striking aspects of Angkor Wat: The link between land and water.

The outer walls along the moat: One of my favored parts of the complex. One can only imaging the life and luxury of highly decorated boats, colorful costumed people landing here, and ascending the steps to the sanctuary.

The Khmer crew of scientists and workers have the only modern aluminum scaffold I saw in all restoration sites across Angkor, and a German-made binder, with sheet protectors!

Restored bas-relief, Angkor Wat.

Chinese tourists, the biggest contingent here, I guess.

The sites are a tourist destination for Cambodian tourists as well, of course. They like to have a picture taken on a decorated horse, in war pose.

Typically thousands of people gather at the west entrance of Angkor Wat to see the sunset. Vanak, my driver, suggests not to do this but to drive a little further out to Pre Rup temple, originating from the 6th century ("Turning the body", a term for the custom to turn a dead body during a funeral in all cardinal directions). The structure is a square stepped pyramid, 150 meters at the bottom and 35 meters at the top platform. The sunset can be observed best by climbing the very steep steps to the top; however what is commonly overlooked is that you also have to climb down again, a real challenge, especially after sunset.

Pre Rup

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