Day 61, Monday 05 March 2012, Siem Reap – Angkor Thom, Part 1 of 2
I have been looking forward to today’s temple visit (though I must admit I have looked forward to everything I have done around Siem Reap) but Bayon for me is another one of the big ones. We started the day with our regular tuk tuk at 7.30 and went to the same bakery for breakfast, which appeared to feature exactly the same food as yesterday, and I mean the same…. wont go back there tomorrow !
Amongst many other features Bayon sits inside the large Angkor Thom site and I wanted to have a bit more of a casual stroll around Angkor Thom rather than usual rush around the key bits inside. So Mike and I decided to follow a Lonely Planet recommendation and walk some of the outer wall before heading in to the good bits. We had our tuk tuk driver (Mr Lin) drop us off at the main south gate, where you can obviously do an elephant tour.
Angkor Thom (Great city) was the last of the great Khmer cities and was started in the late 12th century by Jayavarman VII and abandoned sometime in the 16th. The site is surrounded by a twelve kilometre wall, eight metres high with four main gates. Throughout the site there are many large carvings of a face, supposedly of the bodhisattva (enlightened being) Avalokiteshvara, but apparently they look more like the king himself! The site as a number of key features within its wall so we were expecting to take about five hours to do the tour. It was hot by 8.30 !
Our first stop was just outside the Angkor Thom wall, Baksei Chamkrong was built in the 10th century and is the last remaining pyramid temple around Phnom Bakheng (central mountain) a small hill in the area. At the top of the incredibly steep staircase was quite a well preserved sleeping Buddha.
This has to be the way to see Angkor, it must be amazing from up there, a whole different perspective.
We walked along the top of the wall for abut three kms to the west gate.
I have not seen too many creepy crawlies since leaving Borneo all those weeks ago, and no snakes apart from the ones in the market in Bangkok – and I haven’t seen any today either, but I did find a sign of snakes…
From the gate we started into the main Angkor Thom site and after a five hundred metre walk we started to see the traffic moving along the main road so we took a left down a dirt track to the first of the temple sites – Baphoun. Baphoun was completed sometime in the mid 1000’s by Udayadityavarman ii and was a representation of the mythical home of the gods, Mt Meru – similar to Angkor Wat.
The site was the key focus of a French restoration project and taken apart piece by piece, when war broke out the work was stopped and all the records were destroyed, leaving 300,000 pieces to be put back into place.
From there we followed the herd and moved over to Phimeanakas (Celestial Palace) was a temple built next to and inside the royal palace. Only temples were built from stone, even the royal palace was made of wood, so there are no remains. I clambered up the steep stairs to the top (not these ones as they were closed, but just as steep).
After clambering back down through a mob of Chinese tourists who obviously were in such a rush they could not wait the 35 seconds for me to descend, Mike and I braves the touts, bought a can of Pepsi and some water and sat down to consume the last of the snacks from the morning bakery stop, for me half a loaf of sweet bread. Some archaeological excavation was going on nearby but they were rather vague about what for.
I love the carvings and have taken a lot of photos of them, I have posted a range of the different types of carvings I have seen so you can get an idea of the talent of the people who made these temples. In fact I loved the whole place, in fact all of the places I have seen around Siem Reap. The magnitude of the building work that took place a thousand years ago is just amazing. That it has survived this long, through a nasty civil war and a war with Vietnam is equally amazing.
The second part of the day will be blogged soon!