Bakong

Bakong is another temple in the Roluos area near Siem Reap, Cambodia. This temple was the first temple built with a temple mountain design (where the temple has tower(s) that symbolizes Mount Meru in Hindu mythology). This design was then used in constructing many of the temples in the later era in the city of Angkor, including the famous Angkor Wat. Another aspect of the design is to have a moat around the temple complex, symbolizing the ocean surrounding Mount Meru.

Today Bakong is still used for worship. There is a working monastery on the grounds of the temple. When we visited the temple, unlike other temples we visited, we actually saw more locals coming to worship than tourists coming for sightseeing.

This was the last temple we visited, and by that time in the afternoon, I was already pretty tired and I didn’t really feel like climbing the steps up to the top of the temple tower. So I decided to just wait down there with our tour guide Vanna while Kristi went up to see the scenery from up there.

The photo below was taken on the way into the temple complex, after we passed the bridge crossing the moat. You can see the tall temple tower in the distance, and the shape of the tower is similar to what you can find at the Angkor temples like Angkor Wat.

Bakong

Preah Ko

Preah Ko is a temple in the Roluos area outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia. It was the first temple built in the ancient city of Hariharalaya, the seat of the Khmer Empire before it moved to Angkor. Similar to Lolei, the temple was built using bricks rather than sandstone. In the recent years, it had undergone restoration project. When you visit the temple, you could tell, however, the old and new bricks on the temple towers; it’s interesting to see the difference on one side seeing the original structure and on the other side seeing the new, restored structure that gives you an idea what the structure would look like back hundreds of years ago. Some of the intricate sculptures were still there. You could also see some inscriptions on the wall that helped the archaeologists to understand the ancient Khmer culture.

We went to Preah Ko after our visit to Lolei. When we arrived there, there were not many visitors around either. At the entrance, we saw several young children standing and waiting for visitors to come. We saw a lady accompanied by a tour guide walked in, and the children greeted the lady with a bow, saying ‘Hello’ and hoping that the visitor would give them a little cash. For us, they thought Kristi and I were Chinese (well, they were somewhat correct) and they said ‘ni hao!’ Vanna smiled and told them that we actually spoke English, so then they changed to say ‘hello!’ Our tour guide Vanna discouraged us from giving money to these kids, as that would encourage them to pursue the wrong way to earn a living.

Later on we saw a tourist doing something that I thought was pretty admirable. He knew that the poor kids would come and approach him for money. But instead of giving them money, he had balloons in his pocket that he would blow and give to the kids. In the end, kids were kids.. and they were equally happy being given balloons by this gentleman rather than money. I took the photo below as I observed the interaction between the tourist and the children when he gave them the balloons. His travel partner watched and took a photo of that interaction as well.

Tourist handing out balloons

Lolei

Lolei is one of the temples in the Roluos group of temples in near Siem Reap, Cambodia. These temples were part of the city of Hariharalaya, the seat of the Khmer Empire prior to the move to the nearby Angkor area. The temples built during that era were different than those at Angkor as they used bricks as material. Currently only the ruins of Lolei’s four towers remain, though there is an active monastery still operating nearby.

We visited Lolei after our snakehead fish lunch. When we arrived at the temple, it was pretty quiet and the only other visitors we saw were a couple who happened to eat lunch at the same restaurant where we ate and sat next to our table, and a gentleman who came alone on a chartered tuk-tuk. The couple was met by several young Cambodian girls who tried to sell souvenirs to the lady. Her husband took photos of her and the girls as she peruse the goods that they offered her. The lone gentleman came by himself and went straight into the temple to observe the ruins. We went there around the same time. As we passed him, our tour guide Vanna said hi to him and asked him where he came from. He said he was from Spain, and after a short conversation, he moved on to observe the details of the temples alone.

I took the photo below from a distance. It was the Spanish gentleman looking at his guidebook and observing the ruins, and there were a couple of young Cambodian boys sitting on the remains of a naga sculpture and observing the tourist checking out the ancient ruins. I thought it’s interesting to have a tourist coming from far away to check out the ruins of an ancient civilization, and here were two boys who lived around these ruins and not caring much about the significance of the ruins, but more interested in seeing foreigners coming in.

Lolei

Bayon

Bayon is a temple at the center of the walled city of Angkor Thom in the Angkor Archaeological Park near Siem Reap, Cambodia. The temple was built sometime in the late 12th century or early 13th century by King Jayawarman VII, who also built the capital city of Angkor Thom as well as some other temples like Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, and Banteay Kdei. The temple is known for its 216 stone faces that adorned 54 towers, and a couple of elaborate bas-relief galleries depicting mythological, historical, and day-to-day scenes from that era. Since it’s one of the last temples built in Angkor, it was also the only temple built primarily as a Buddhist shrine, as compared to most other Angkor temples that started as Hindu temples but then converted into Buddhist temples.

We visited Bayon after we’re done visiting the Elephant Terrace inside Angkor Thom. As we’re entering the temple, we immediately saw the stone faces. Our guide Vanna explained how it’s still debated among historians about whose face that was depicted on these towers. It could be the face of Buddha, but some said it could also be the face of King Jayawarman VII, or it could be both as in the tradition in the Khmer Empire some kings considered themselves as devaraja (god-king). Vanna also noted something interesting in terms of the numbers. There are 216 stone faces on 54 towers, and Angkor Thom is 3 km x 3 km (9 km2 in area). Notice that the digit in the numbers (2+1+6 = 5+4 = 9) all add up to 9. Not quite sure what the significance of the numbers, but it’s pretty neat to see how symmetrical and precise the measurements are.

The other interesting thing to note was the bas-relief galleries that we saw at Bayon. It clearly depicted the life in Angkor at that era, and also commemorating events that happened that represented the high points of the Khmer Empire (e.g., scenes showing the defeat of the Chams by the Khmers).

The photo below was taken as we climbed up the stairs of the temple. It was one of the 54 towers with the four faces on. Along with the towers of Angkor Wat and the forest-consumed Ta Prohm, Bayon is among the most recognizable sights in the Angkor Archaeological Park especially due to these stone faces on its towers.

Bayon

The Elephant Terrace

The Elephant Terrace is an area inside the walled city of Angkor Thom in the Angkor Archaeological Park north of Siem Reap, Cambodia. The terrace is a raised platform at the end of the Victory Lane (coming into the city through the Victory Gate in the east side). This was where King Jayawarman VII would be standing to view his victorious army marching in through the gate returning from battle. It is called the Elephant Terrace for the carvings of elephant heads on its east face. Today what remains is just the ruins of the platform, but you can still go up there and stand in the middle of the platform and see the panoramic view of the surrounding open field and the present highway going through the Victory Lane.

We stopped at the Elephant Terrace area as the next stop in Angkor Thom after the Victory Gate. Our tour guide Vanna gave an overview of the area and some of the carvings that we saw. What I remember most however was standing in the middle of the Elephant Terrace, looking around, and imagined in my head what it might’ve been standing there near the King welcoming the troops marching into the city after a victorious campaign, and having the open field in front of the terrace filled with residents of the city. That must’ve been quite a sight…

We also walked around a little bit to a nearby area called the Terrace of the Leper King (named for a sculpture found nearby that had moss and discoloration on it, looking like someone with leprosy). By then honestly I was quite tired after walking around under the heat for a while, and I was ready to take a break. What’s interesting I remembered was the walking path nearby to continue to other sights in Angkor Thom went through a cluster of stores and restaurants — very strategically located to cater tourists needing a break from walking around in the area. We ended up continuing our walk towards where our van was parked, but we saw many other tourists stopping by there to take a break. So that was a successful strategy from the tourism planner I suppose.

The photo below was taken from the Elephant Terrace. I used my wide angle lens to capture the expanse of the view. You can see the Victory Lane right in front in the middle.

Elephant Terrace

Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom is a walled city complex in the Angkor Archaeological Park north of Siem Reap, Cambodia. The city was built by King Jayawarman VII in the 12th century, and the city was the capital of the Khmer Empire for several hundred years until it was abandoned sometime before year 1609. It is believed to have sustained a population of 80,000 – 150,000 people. The complex is about 9 km2, shaped in a square (3 km x 3 km), with five gates (one in the north, west, and south sides, and two in the east side). The surrounding wall is about 8 m high and flanked by a moat. Inside the complex, today visitors can find ruins of several temples and the royal palace and terrace. At the center of the city is the temple of Bayon, famous for its towers with their stone faces.

Our first encounter with Angkor Thom was during the drive from Angkor Wat to Banteay Srei. The modern highway actually goes through Angkor Thom. We entered through the South Gate, drove to the center past Bayon, and continued through one of the East Gates knows as the Victory Gate. We came back again and stopped at several parts of Angkor Thom on the way back after we visited Banteay Srei and Ta Prohm earlier in the day.

The photo below was taken as we drove throught the East Gate known as the Victory Lane. It was the entrance where the victorious Khmer army would march into the city after winning battles against their neighboring enemies (like the Chams). As we drove through the Victory Lane, I couldn’t help trying to imagine what it would like with thousands of people lining the entrance welcoming their victorious troops.

Victory Lane

Angkor Archaeological Park

The Angkor Archaeological Park is an area stretching over 400 square kilometres near Siem Reap, Cambodia, that contains many remains of what was the capital area of the Khmer Empire during the 9th to 15th century. It included one of the largest pre-industrial city in the world (the ancient city at its height was more than ten times the size of modern-day Manhattan borough of New York City). Today visitors come to the area especially to visit one of the finest ancient monuments in the world, Angkor Wat.

To visit the Angkor Archaeological Park area, if you’re not a local Cambodian, you would need to get a visitor pass that is valid for either one day, three days, or the whole week (we got the three-day pass, which cost USD$40 per person). You need to stop at the front gate, pay the fee, and get your photograph taken to get the pass. You will then need to carry the pass with you at all times. At the entrance of the temples, typically there is someone checking for the pass before you can enter. The pass has your photo on it, so you would have to carry your own to enter the temples.

Angkor Wat is the most popular temple in the Park, but there are others that are equally unique and worth visiting. There is Phnom Bakheng, a temple on top of a hill that provides a nice vantage point of the surrounding area especially around sunset time. You can also visit the ancient city of Angkor Thom with its temples inside. Or you can go to Ta Prohm, a temple ruin consumed by the forest trees that was made famous by the movie Tomb Raider.

The French did a lot to preserve the Angkor temples when they colonized Cambodia. Today two of the main routes for visiting the Angkor Archaeological Park, known as the Little Circuit and the Big Circuit, were routes that were established by the French to visit these temples.

The photo below was taken near the entrance gate while I was waiting to get my entrance pass processed. It’s an illustrated map of the Angkor region, showing the landmarks around that one can explore while visiting the Park.

Angkor map