After having visited the two most popular temples, Angkor Wat and Banyon, the day before we were excited to visit some of the other great temples in the Angkor Archeological Complex. Our taxi driver Cam picked us up early the next morning and we were off to begin our another day of exploring the ancient Khmer temples. Over the next two days we visited these four additional impressive temples.
Ta Prohm is considered to be the most photographed of all the Angkor temples. It lies in a semi ruined state which adds to its picturesque ambiance. Engulfed by the jungle and covered with the large muscular roots of the tall soaring trees which reach out like the tentacles of a giant octopus—this setting is a truly a photographer’s dream location.
The giant tree’s thick blanket of leaves cloak the temple in a green shadow giving it an other worlds feeling. Many of the walls are split in two by the probing limbs—laying witness to the power and triumph of nature as it slowly destroys and conquers man’s giant creation. Just imagine how the early explorers of the 1800’s must have felt when they stumbled upon Ta Prohm in it’s raw untouched state having been slowly claimed by the jungle over hundreds of years in such an impressive manner.
Sanskrit stone inscriptions discovered in the temple has provided valuable information about the life style of the temple’s inhabitants living there at the time. Beneath the encroaching foliage and thick carpets of moss are found stone carved reliefs depicting female deities and Buddhist monks. Many of the corridors have been rendered virtually impassable due to the dislodged blocks of stone while the corridors that remain passable are bathed in dark shadows due to the windows being filled with the ever growing tree roots.
Banteay Srei is a beautiful and interesting temple found outside of the Angkor complex about a 30 minute drive north of Siem Reap. Known as the ‘art gallery’ of Angkor due to the many intricate stone carvings artistically created centuries ago by the Khmer artisans. The sculptures and carvings are scattered throughout the temple grounds. These carvings are considered to be some of the finest to be found anywhere in the world.
The walls of the temple are built of fine grained rose-pink sandstone and are ornamented with elaborate floral motifs, divine figures and elaborate depictions of episodes from the time of Ramayana. Practically every available surface is covered by these decorative carvings.
This Hindu temple is dedicated to Shiva and is considered to be one of Angkor’s best preserved temples. It was the first major temple to be restored using the Anastylosis method. Using this method of restoration they take original architectural elements and use them to rebuild the ruined monument. This is the only temple in the Angkor complex to have been commissioned by a Brahim ruler rather than a Khmer king. It’s modern name translates as’ Citadel of Women’. The delicate reliefs carved into the low setting walls could not have been created by the hand of a man which is why it is believed to have been built by women.
Angkor Thom was the last great capital of the Khmer Empire and at it’s peak is thought to have supported a population of about one million people. It is over 10 square kilometers in size and is surrounded by a massive moat and eight meter high walls, all designed to keep invaders out while inclosing the residences of the royal family, high priests and the high ranking military officials. Within these walls are found Angkor Thoms most important monuments such as Bayon, the temple of Baphuon and the Terrace of Elephants which is a giant viewing stand including five piers extending toward the central square.
There are five entry gates to the city—one facing each cardinal direction and a second east-facing gate known as the Victory Gate. There are also large towers with huge faces pointing in all directions. Angkor Thom is currently best approached via the Southern gate along the causeway that is lined with 54 larger than life stone statues of Gods and an equal number of Demons. They are neatly lined in rows engaged in an epic tug of war depicting the churning of an ocean of milk which reflects a famous Hindu Legend about the drink of immortality.
Preah Khan is the ultimate fusion temple operating both as a Buddhist and Hindu place of worship. It is largely unrestored but is reasonably preserved, making it easy to imagine it in it’s original state. Rectangular galleries enclose a Buddhist sanctuary within a number of Hindu satellite temples and the entire site is surrounded by a large moat with the main entrance on the Eastern side. The huge compound covers 56 hectares with four ceremonial walkways leading to the temple gates.
It’s one of The Angkor Complex’s largest temples. Floral patterns of lichen cover the stone work along with fine carvings of aspara and bird like creatures holding sacred snakes. Covered by the massive ancient trees still growing among the ruins bears a definite resemblance to Ta Prohm.
According to a inscriptions found at the temple it was built on the site of King Jayavarman V11’s biggest war victory over the invading Chams in the 12th century. The modern name of Preah Khan means ‘Holy Sword’. This was where the king lived while waiting for Angkor Thom to be completed. Preah Khan was thought to be an important center for worship and learning and was dedicated to hundreds of deities and 18 major festivals that where held each year.
After spending more than a week in the Siem Reap area of Cambodia we were ready to get back to Northern Vietnam and resume our motorbiking adventure. We decided to return the easiest and fastest way. So the next morning we were headed to the Siem Reap International Airport for a flight back to Vietnam and our motorbikes.