Angkor Wat is visually, architecturally and artistically breathtaking. It is a massive three-tiered pyramid crowned by five lotus-like towers rising 65 meters from ground level. Angkor Wat is the centerpiece of any visit to the temples of Angkor.
Chau Say Tevoda is a small temple of similar design and floor plan to Thom-manon located across the street (except for additional gopuras and library). For years it looked like Thommanon’s neglected sister, languishing in significantly worse condition. In recent years Chau Say Tevoda has undergone an extensive restoration project, which is now largely complete.
Chau Say Tevoda seems to stand in partnership with Thommanon, but in fact was built much later in Suryavarman II’s rule. Chau Say Tevoda displays some well-executed carvings that are in still fair condition, especially those on the eastern gopura. Though most carvings are Hindu-themed, there are also some Buddhist-themed reliefs. The eastern walkway from the temple leads to the Siem Reap River a few hundred meters away.
East-facing brick towers containing unique bas-reliefs of Vishnu and Lakshmi rendered in brick – the only example of brick bas-reliefs in the Angkor area. Prasat Kravan was originally constructed by noblemen rather than a king and has a twin sister in Takeo Province south of Phnom Penh, Prasat Neang Khmau, which contained paintings rather than bas-reliefs, some of which still survives. Prasat Kravan was reconstructed by archaeologists in the early 20th century. Look for modern replacement bricks labeled “CA.”.
The most impressive member of the Roluos Group, sitting at the center of the first Angkorian capital, Hariharalaya. Bakong stands 15 meters tall and is 650x850m at the outer wall. Constructed by the third Angkorian-era king as his state-temple, Bakong represents the first application of the temple-mountain architectural formula on a grand scale and set the architectural tone for the next 400 years. The temple displays a very early use of stone rather than brick. Though begun by Indravarman I, Bakong received additions and was expanded by later kings. The uppermost section and tower may have been added as late as the 12th century AD. Some of the lintel carvings, particularly on the outer towers, are in very good shape. Picturesque moat and vegetation surround Bakong.
If you see only two temples, Angkor Wat and Bayon should be the ones. The giant stone faces of Bayon have become one of the most recognizable images connected to classic Khmer art and architecture. There are 37 standing towers, most but not all sporting four carved faces oriented toward the cardinal points. Who the faces might represent is a matter of debate but it has been argued it may be Loksvara, Mahayana Buddhism’s compassionate Bodhisattva, or perhaps a combination of Buddha and Jayavarman VII. Bayon was the Jayavarman VII’s state-temple and in many ways represents the pinnacle of his massive building campaign. It appears to be, and is to some degree, an architectural muddle, in part because it was constructed in a somewhat piecemeal fashion for over a century.
The best of Bayon are the bas-reliefs on the exterior walls of the lower level and on the upper level where the stone faces reside. The bas-reliefs on the southern wall contain real-life scenes from the historical sea battle between the Khmer and the Cham. It is not clear whether this represents the Cham invasion of 1177AD or a later battle in which the Khmer were victorious. Even more interesting are extensive carvings of unique and revealing scenes of everyday life that are interspersed among the battle scenes, including market scenes, cockfighting, chess games and childbirth. Also note the unfinished carvings on other walls, likely indicating the death of Jayavarman VII and the subsequent end of his building campaign. Some of the reliefs on the inner walls were carved at a later date under the Hindu king Jayavarman VIII. The surrounding tall jungle makes Bayon a bit dark and flat for photographs near sunrise and sunset.
A towering 12-meter tall brick and laterite step-pyramid. Harshavarman I began construction or perhaps dedicated statues at the site in the early 10th century. It was later improved/restored by Rajendravarman II shortly after the capital was returned to Angkor from Koh Ker. According to inscriptions on the doorway, Rajendravarman II consecrated the temple with the installation of a golden Shiva image in 947AD. It may have also served as a funerary temple. Combine with a visit to the South Gate in the morning or Phnom Bakheng in the evening. Lighting is best in the morning.
East Mebon is a large temple-mountain-like ruin, rising three levels and crowned by five towers. Jayavarman IV, a usurper, moved the capital from Angkor to Koh Ker in 928AD. Sixteen years later Rajendravarman II returned the capital to Angkor and shortly thereafter constructed East Mebon on an island in the middle of the now dry Eastern Baray. The temple is dedicated to Shiva in honor of the king’s parents. Inscriptions indicate that it was also built to help reestablish the continuity of kingship at Angkor in light of the interruption that occurred when the seat of power had been moved to Koh Ker. There is some scholarly debate as to whether East Mebon should be categorized as a temple-mountain. Inscriptions record activity as early as 947AD, but the temple was not consecrated until 952AD.
Angkor Thom (Big Angkor) is a 3km2 walled and moated royal city and was the last capital of the Angkorian empire. After Jayavarman VII recaptured the Angkorian capital from the Cham invaders in 1181, he began a massive building campaign across the empire, constructing Angkor Thom as his new capital city. He began with existing structures such as Baphuon and Phimeanakas and built a grand enclosed city around them, adding the outer wall/moat. He then constructed some of Angkor’s greatest temples including his state-temple, Bayon, set at the center of the city. There are five entrances (gates) to the city, one for each cardinal point, and the victory gate leading to the Royal Palace area. Each gate is crowned with 4 giant faces. The South Gate is often the first stop on a tour.
I will be posting some of my favorite travel photos for all the places I have visited.
Very few narrative but more on photos.