Monday, June 21, 2010

Cambodia: The Heart of Angkor

It is a little bittersweet to be writing this post. It will be my last about the temples of Angkor. Nevertheless, I find it appropriate that this set is the last one. As imposing and grand as Angkor Wat was, it was not the largest nor the most enduring of all ancient Angkor's structures. A much bigger territory was built just north of Angkor by a later Khmer king. He called it Angkor Thom, "the Great City."

Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom

After having driven out the Chams, an empire from a territory that is now central and southern Vietnam, Jayavarman VII, the last of the great Khmer kings, unified his people and built a new capital city, the great city of Angkor Thom.

Moat, Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom runs an area of nine square kilometers. Angkor Wat only occupied two. At its height, this new capital city attracted some one million people. It housed the court, the palace, the priests and other high officials of Khmer society. Everyday life in this great city as well as the defeat of the Chams by the Khmer are depicted in the walls of Angkor Thom's central temple, the Bayon.

Carvings at Bayon

Carvings at Bayon


Bayon

Bayon

Bayon

As beautiful as Bayon's carvings are, it will not be the first thing that you will notice about this temple. Walking up to it, you will see that it is remarkably different from all the other temples of Angkor. Its most distinctive feature are the many stone pillars jutting out from its higher levels, each pillar decorated with the face of Buddha on each of the four sides.

Bayon

I was asked a few days after I got back from this trip which of the many temples I visited left the clearest mark on me. Without thinking, I instinctively said Bayon. Then, when I tried to explain why, I couldn't.

Sun Halo over Bayon

There was something about its being different from all other temples, from its being a digression from the classical Khmer style, that made it very enigmatic. Apparently, even modern day scholars have a hard time explaining this temple. It did not help that there was a rainbow halo over the sun on the day we came here. It made the place more mystical really.

Bayon


The Royal Palace

Just outside the Bayon's northern gates, you will come upon a very open field. On one side, you will find a number of prasats, or towers, standing out on the wide open space. On the other side, you will find a wide and long platform, the sides of which contain beautiful Khmer carvings.

Terrace of the Elephants

Terrace of the Elephants

The Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King form part of the Royal Palace. The Terrace of the Elephants is where the king would stand and look out onto his subjects during parades and ceremonies.

Terrace of the Elephants

The Terrace of the Leper King, meanwhile, had a lesser celebratory purpose. One of the more known theories is that it was used as some sort of a platform where the bodies of the members of the royal family were cremated after their death. As for the name, and this is according to local stories, the king who commissioned this structure actually suffered from leprosy.

Terrace of the Leper King

Terrace of the Leper King

Behind the terraces are the actual walls of the palace complex. We found the eastern gate to the palace right behind the terraces. It is enclosed by its own walls, as understandably, the king and his servants lived within them.

Gates of the Royal Palace, Angkor Thom

Walk inside the gates and head straight into Phimeanakas, a pyramid-like sanctuary built around a small moat. Our guide says that on rainy days, when the moat fills with water, Phimeanakas transforms into a floating temple. I would have loved to see that.

Phimeanakas

On a good day (like the one we had, obviously), it would be nice to walk around the palace grounds. Right beside Phimeanakas are two large bodies of water. They were actually baths, one for men, the other for women.

Pond in the Royal Palace, Angkor Thom

We headed north and took an exit towards the northern gate. Leaving the palace, I actually understood how the place could have been comfortable for Khmer royalty. The palace had everything really.

Tall Tree, the Royal Palace, Angkor Thom

The Royal Palace was one of the last places we visited. That morning was actually the last morning we were spending in Cambodia. Our flight back to Vietnam leaves that afternoon. I kind of felt sad to be leaving. This was my first major travel abroad and I did not really want to say goodbye yet. But I knew I had to. All I could really do at that point was to make a promise to come back. And I will. I definitely will.


* More photos from my Flickr set: Cambodia: Siem Reap, the Heart of Angkor.


Hi there, traveler! Did you like this post? Got any comments? Do leave me a message below. A RETWEET or a LIKE would be very much appreciated, too. Sharing buttons can be found at the beginning of this post and below.
You can also subscribe to this site to get new posts via email:
 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...