06 June 2009

Angkor Adventures: Sunrise over Angkor Wat & Glorious Angkor Thom !


After touching down in Siem Reap, and experiencing a sunset at Angkor Wat, we settled down for the night after dinner at the great Dragon Soup Restaurant at Old Market, followed by some great ice cream at Blue Pumpkin.

Next morning, at around 5am, our driver, Sukkong, was waiting for us at the lobby, ready to take us out for our sunrise experience at Angkor Wat.

DSC_7140 A short 15 minute drive takes us to Angkor Wat. We took our time, and took lots of photos of the temple from the various vantage points. Being the start of the rainy season, the crowd was 'thinner' (looks very crowded to me, but was told it's at least 5-6 times more crowded in the peak seasons), and the sunrise wasn't so good (which I agree, since it was cloudy, making those dramatic colors muted).

Spending the next hour or so there, Tyko and I managed to sneak in plenty of photos - while the sunrise itself wasn't the spectacle I think many would expect, just the experience of starting a new day at this ancient temple did it for me. If you seek, you shall find quiet corners where you can enjoy the experience minus noisy Asian tourists ...

After having our share of photos and having soaked enough of the Angkor atmosphere, we returned to the hotel for breakfast to refuel ourselves for the full day ahead !

After breakfast, we headed past Angkor Wat, to the fabled walled city of Angkor Thom.

If Angkor Wat is majestic due to its soaring towers and symmetrical construction, Angkor Thom is famous for it's many different attractions - the South Gate - the terraces - various temples within, and of course - Bayon, the ultimate expression of egomaniac.

South Gate @ Angkor ThomFirst up, the famous South Gate. Being a walled city, Angkor Thom has 5 gates which were gateways to the city - the South Gate is the best preserved, and invariably, part of every tourist itinerary. Scenes from the Churning of the Ocean of Milk were replayed at the causeway leading to the gate, and the gate soars high into the sky, with faces of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara facing the four compass points.

After that, we were dropped at the north end of Angkor Thom, where we explored Terrace of the Leper King, Terrace of the Elephants, Phimeanakas and Baphuon before we made our way to Bayon.

Terrace of the Leper King @ Angkor Thom Terrace of the Leper King is a beautiful mound with walls filled with sandstone carvings on the outer and hidden inner wall. Walk to the side, and you'll find the hidden wall within - the carvings there are much nicer ! Perhaps because the carvings on the inner was weren't as exposed, they are in better state of preservation - you really need to check this out, best in the late morning when the sun is higher up to give some light ...

Terrace of the Elephants @ Angkor Thom Right next to it, Terrace of the Elephants is a 300m terrace with near life size elephant carvings. The beauty of these carvings is the little surprises - after the initial wow of seeing elephants carved into bricks, you really enjoy finding geese, crocodiles, and other animals. Also notable are the many garudas sculpted onto the walls of the terrace. The two terraces makes up what is know as part of the Victory Square.

Baphuon @ Angkor Thom Baphuon, sometimes called the world's largest puzzle - is a temple under restoration - most parts of it is closed - but do check out the 200m long causeway (restored), which leads to it from the main road. While most of it is under restoration, you should still check it out - the portions that are open have some interesting carvings, and it's quite atmospheric walking around pieces of dismantled temple.

All the dismantled pieces show restoration in progress - the majority of temples are restored using a method called anastylosis, where each piece of the temple is taken apart, analysed, and then put together like a huge 3D jigsaw puzzle - precisely what Baphuon is.

Soaring towers with smiley faces ... Bayon at last ! And finally, we reached Bayon itself - where 54 soaring towers at the central sanctuary, each with 4 faces of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara gazing upon visitors. The result - the famous Bayon smile - all 216 of them! And it's no coincidence too that the faces look a lot like King Jayavarman VII who built it ...

DSC_7464 I find it hard to imagine what Bayon really might mean - creative genius, inflated ego of a Devaraja? The soaring towers are sometimes said to represent the 54 districts in the ancient Khmer empire, and with an inscription found in one of the bas relief carvings reading "The King will seek out those in hiding", those faces were probably meant to show that the King is omnipresent, there is nowhere anyone can hide from his steely gaze.

Smile ! Big Brother (King Jayavarman VII) is looking at YOU ! Regardless, today, it is a favorite amongst the tourists, and it's hard to find a time when there aren't any tourists posing with the Bayon smile, or trying to walk across your line of sight when you are posing for a photo. Still, visit in the morning or mid afternoon (before the sun disappear behind the tree line) is best, when sunlight is softer and brings into view most of the Bayon smiley faces :)

DSC_7454 While there, check out the carvings along the walls surrounding the temple as well. We missed a bit of this during this trip, which meant we came back on our last day ... more on that later :)

After Bayon, we took lunch nearby (forget about stall No. 19 - food isn't too good, and a bit pricier - although the price is the norm for areas around the temples of Angkor). A short respite later, we went onwards to complete the small circuit in the afternoon ... please join me in the next post as I venture into the famous Ta Phrom (tree temple), and other beautiful temples ...

And you can find more photos here on my Facebook page ...

Next stop - the rest of the small circuit ...


Anonymous said...

As a Khmer descent! I'm very proud of my ancestors civilization! It was once the biggest pre-industrialized city in the world! If you go outside of Angkor to a place called Koh Ker " Island of Glory" you will encounter a lost city built by King Jayavarman IV who back in the 9th century decided he wants to rival the city of Angkor! The main temple there is Prasat Thom Pyramid much similar to the Mayan pyramid! Go there and check it out lolz! There are also over 100 temples there left in the jungles and no tourist either! Have fun!

moz monster said...

Thanks for pointing out to me about Koh Ker. I've read about it on the Cambodian travel guides, and I must say I'm quite interested.

One more place to enter my growing list of places to travel to .. :)