The truly inspiring Temples of Ankor, Cambodia
In 1860, missionaries came across ruins in the Cambodian jungle—and discovered a lost city twice as large as Manhattan, New York. What an incredible thought, just imagine the exciting feeling of discovering somewhere so special !
The front of the jungle covered Ta Prohm Temple.
The front entrance of the amazing Ta Prohm Temple, where nature has taken over.
My trip to Angkor, Cambodia with my husband Richard has been an exciting and amazing discovery for us, finding some Temples still virtually in the same condition as when they were first discovered.
Ta Prohm Temple
Huge tree engulfing a wall at Ta Prohm Temple, Ankor, Cambodia.
Ta Prohm Temple was built as a Buddhist monastery in the 12th century. It appeared to be the most ruined of all the Temples, visibly being strangled by trees and overgrown with huge creeping vines. The first sight was quite surreal; giant snake-like roots seemingly growing through the stone structures and silently squeezing the life out of them. The way nature has taken over Ta Prohm is spectacular and visually dramatic, but the damage that these strangling vines are causing is serious and has to be closely monitored.
Huge tree pressing down on the Ta Prohm Temple building.
Strangling Vines on Ta Prohm Temple.
The weighty burden of huge trees growing through and over the stone walls of Ta Prohm Temple.
Tree roots visibly creeping through the stone blocks
Giant trees taking hold of the ruined buildings of Ta Prohm Temple.
Huge tree growing through the stone work of the wonderful Ta Prohm Temple.
Our next visit was to the stunning and famous Angkor Wat, built during the reign of King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century. It was first Hindu, later Buddhist and It was constructed following the model of the temple mountain symbolising Mount Meru, home of the Gods.
Angkor Wat Temple, Cambodia, seen from front left.
Angkor Wat Temple seen from front entrance. This was apparently a quieter day than usual, but round the side and back it was deserted, so better for photographs.
From a distance Angkor Wat appears to be a colossal stone building all on one level, with a long causeway leading to the centre, but close up it is a series of elevated towers, covered galleries, chambers, porches and courtyards on different levels linked by stairways.
It is set within a vast square moat, then a forest, after which a long, sand stone causeway leads to the stepped entrance. The outer wall, 1024 by 802 metres and 4.5 m high, is surrounded by a 30 metre border of open ground and a moat 190 metres wide.
An aerial view of Angkor Wat, giving an idea of its scale. The walk ways between the forest and the temple are long and the trees are huge tropical species, not little bushes as they could be perceived here. Photo by Wiki Common.
Apsaras Dancers inside Angkor Wat Temple, absolutely stunning carving from 12th Century craftsmen.
Inside, the various chambers walls are covered with stone carvings and bas-reliefs depicting Hindu mythology and the wars the king fought during his reign. Ankor Wat has over 2000 Apsara dancers exquisitely carved throughout the numerous galleries and corridors.
Apsara Dancers , one of over 2000 carvings inside Angkor Wat.
It was easy to become overwhelmed by the scale of Angkor Wat and feel disorientated by the repetitive elements in the architecture; galleries with columns, towers, curved roofs, steps and the cross-shaped plan occur again and again. Good we had our guide, Leda with us, who knew her way around very well and was able to take us to the least busy parts enabling a few photographs without other tourists.
Ankor Wat Temple, West side..
Angkor Wat Temple, Eastern side. No other Tourists here, great !
Angkor Thom was the last capital of the Great Khmer Empire under the reign of Buddhist King Jayavarman VII and it is surrounded by an 8 metre high wall built in a perfect square.
The ancient South gate and entrance bridge, featuring a row of 54 gods or demons holding the sacred Naga snake.
We entered the city through the ancient South gate, an impressive stone arch carved with elephants and four giant faces. On each side of the entrance path a row of 54 gods and demons held the giant sacred Naga snake, making our approach quite awe inspiring.
North gate to Angkor Thom. Some heads have obviously been restored.
Detail of Angkor Thom bridge, 54 Gods and Demons hold the sacred Naga snake.
Detail of the entance path and moat or canal behind.
The four faced towers of Bayon Temple, Ankor Thom.
After a cooler walk through a forest we came to Bayon Temple, a 12th century masterpiece known for its 54 towers with enigmatic faces, representing the 54 provinces of the Great Khmer Empire. Each tower had four faces of Buddha facing outwards, and were carved on a monumental scale.
Detail of Tower, Bayon Temple.
Two faces on one of the 54 towers of Bayon Temple, Angkor Thom.
Smiling Buddha at Bayon Temple, Angkor Thom.
The four faced towers of Bayon Temple, seen from the inside.
One of the four faces of Buddha , Bayon Temple.
Elephant outside Bayon Temple in the ancient city of Ankor Thom.
Outside the Bayon Temple.
Outside the Temple of Bayon.
Terrace of the Elephants
Nearby were the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King. The Terrace of the Elephants is part of the walled city of Angkor Thom, and was used by Angkor’s king Jayavarman VII as a platform from which to view his victorious returning army. It was attached to the palace of Phimeanakas, which has not survived because it was primarily made of wood and organic material.
The Terrace of the Elephant, Ankor Thom.
The Terrace of the Leper King is at the north end of the Terrace of the Elephant and had some amazingly intricate bas-relief sculpture, including the five headed horse and scenes of warriors and dancers.
An unfinished secton of the Leper King bas-relief, showing chisel marks where the carving has been roughed out, ready for finer work.
The Terrace of the Leper King, a favourite king of Ankor Thom in the 12th century who was unfortunately infected with Leprosy.
The Terrace of the Leper King
There are many stories to why the name Leper King, it is said that King Jayavarman VII had leprosy, but this is disputed. The current name derives from a 15th-century sculpture discovered at the site. The statue depicts the Hindu god Yama, the god of death, however was called the “Leper King” because of discolouration and moss growing on it was reminiscent of a person with leprosy. Another explanation is that this statue would represent Yama, the god of the deaths, and the terrace would have been in fact a royal crematorium.
Gods and Goddesses from the Leper King Terrace.
Preah Khan was another stunning 12th century Buddhist Temple, slightly tumbled down, with nature doing its best to undermine it.
Approach to Preah Khan Temple. This little boy was happily drawing in the sand and was not asking for money.
A sand drawing made by the local boy.
Portrait of an Apsara dancer, or maybe Shiva, in sand by a Cambodian boy.
The artist himself.
Entrance to Preah Khan, a 12th Century Temple which served as a religious university.
Preah Khan originally served as a religious university and a temple. The temple is still largely unrestored, the initial clearing was from 1927 to 1932, and partial renovation was carried out in 1939. Since then free-standing statues have been removed for safe-keeping, and there has been further consolidation and restoration work. Throughout, the conservators have attempted to balance restoration and maintenance of the wild condition in which the temple was discovered. They have continued the cautious approach to restoration, believing that to go further would involve too much guesswork, and prefer to respect the ruined nature of the temple.
Long hallway through the central section of Preah Khan.
Tumbled down corridor of Preah Khan.
A Library inside Preah Khan.
One of many Hindu Godesses decorating Preah Khan.
A Stupa in one of Preah Khan’s corridors. The surrounding holes were where decorative bronze panels would have been fixed. Previously there would have been a gold Buddha sitting there but it was stolen by the Khmer Rouge.
Carved Lintel featuring Apsaras dancing.
Detail of decoratively carved Lintel, Preah Khan.
Hindu Bhuddas carved into the interior wall of Preah Khan.
A walkway out of Preah Khan through the ancient city of Ankor Thom. A damaged sculpture of a 5 headed Naga, a Hindu mythological protector.
Preah Khan Temple, side gate.
Large tree, known as “Elephant trunk” gripping the wall of Preah Khan.
Detail of the damaging tree on the outer wall of Preah Khan.
Outer wall and back entrance of Preah Khan showing ” Elephant trunk” fom the other side and the damage it is causing.
Exiting Ankor Thom through an ancient gateway.
At the end of our visit to the Grand circuit of Temples we visited the quiet Neak Pean, a Buddhist sanctuary and ancient health spa placed in the centre of an artificial lake.
Walk way across the large artificial lake that surrounds Neak Pean, an ancient spa and health sanctuary.
A few thin trees struggle to survive and sway like reeds in the vast lake which had a narrow walkway for us to walk across.
Walk way across Neak Pean’s outer lake.
The sanctuary was originally designed for medical purposes (the ancients believed that going into these pools would balance the elements in the bather and cure disease); it is one of the many hospitals that Jayavarman VII built and is based on the ancient Hindu belief of balance. Four connected pools represent Water, Earth, Fire and Wind.
Central sacred monument at Neak Pean, an ancient spa and health sanctuary.
Neak Pean, an ancient spa and health sanctuary.
Our final Temple visit was to the exquisitely beautiful Banteay Srey, dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva and considered the best preserved Temple in Cambodia.
The inner sanctuary of the beautiful pink sandstone temple of Banteay Srey, the 10th century”gem” of Ankor. The Temple is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.
It is the best preserved temple in Cambodia.
The 10th century Temple was built in Pink sand stone, which was harder than usual, enabling the fine carving to last for centuries. The buildings themselves were miniature in scale, unusually so when measured by the standards of Angkorian construction.
Banteay Srey is known as Citadel of Women and has many beautiful bas-relief carvings of divine Devatas, Godessess, celestial maidens and dancing Apsaras embellish the walls.
Skilled 10th century carving on decorative panels on the inner sanctuary walls.
Banteay Srey is known as “citadel of women,” or “citadel of beauty”, probably related to the intricacy of the bas relief carvings found on the walls and the tiny dimensions of the buildings themselves.
Monkey God guardians of Banteay Srey Temple, guarding the central shrine.
Intricately detailed bas-relief showing Shiva sitting on a four headed elephant above Kala on this lintel of the interior of Banteay Srey.
It was a magical place, with numerous intricate carvings of Hindu gods and deities, on pediments columns and lintels. The subtle reds, pinks and orange were heightened by the afternoon sun giving the walls a warm glow.
The Hindu god Shiva, known at ‘The Destroyer’ sitting above a deity representing death, on this masterful carved lintel.
Decorative carving in the sandstone column, Banteay Srey.
A panel showing Kala, a deity representing time and death.
A wonderfully carved pediment over the doorway at Banteay Srey, one of several showing Kala, the deity of time and death.
Cambodia is changing fast, a new airport in Siem Reap is being planned for 2016-17, allowing direct international flights. This will step up the number of tourists filing through the ancient Temples of Ankor and will undoubtedly make a less authentic experience in the future.
Cambodia’s people are astounding, they have suffered the trauma of the Khmer Rouge regime but have picked themselves up and moved on, always friendly, helpful and welcoming.
I really admire them and their courage, they have contributed to making our trip truly enjoyable, a travel experience I will never forget.