1. Basically, we had set aside 2 days to visit the temples of Siem Reap. With the advice of our tour guide, Sokha (picture on right), for the 1st day we visited the temples in Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat (he called it the inner or smaller circuit), and for the 2nd day we visited the more outlaying temples of Banteay Srei, Phnom Kulen and Beng Mealea. For the 1st day, we hired a tut-tut (driver's name is Heng), as the temples were nearby, and for the 2nd day we drove our Pajero. Ticket is US$20 per person per day, or US$40 for 3 days, covering the key temples, including Banteay Srei. Outlying ones are separately charged.
2. We started the first day tour with the visit to Angkor Thom (Angkor means city and Thom, big). Built by king Jayavarman VII (1181-1219), it is located on the site of the former Khmer capital that was razed by the Chams (of the Champa Empire, which had its centre in presently day South Vietnam). At its height, the city supported a population of 1 m, and within it lies many temples built by various kings. In the picture on the right, we were entering one of the gates of Angkor Thom.
3. In here, Bayon, built by Jayavarman VII, is spectacular and very unique, with its many towers of 4 faces of Buddha, and in the centre 8 faces of Buddha. Built as a Buddhist temple, we were told that there were 54 towers originally, but there are only 20+ towers left standing. I found the bas-reliefs starting from the East gate very interesting. Other than showing the everyday life of the Khmers at that time, it also depicts victorious battles of Khmers over the Chams, supported by Chinese forces. The soldiers could be identified by the different hair-dos.
4. After tea break (can see Sunny and I going for our toilet break in motorcyle? First time I sat as pillion rider), we continued our walk, passing Baphuon (was fenced up for conservation works) and trying to figure the outline of the reclining Buddha, and then climbed to the highest level of Phimeanakas. Here, Sunny and I took a picture at the top. From this position, we also had a good view of Baphuon and the surrounding areas. From here, we walked to the 350 m Terrace of the Elephants, which was a giant viewing stand for public ceremonies; if you can imagine, like our National Day Parade.
5. After lunch, we visited the jungle temple of Ta Prohm, just outside the walls of Angkor Thom on the Eastern side. Built around 1186, this Buddhist temple gives visitors the mysterious feeling of an Indiana Jones movie. Almost completed invaded by forests, many parts of the temple had crumpled, but in many parts kept together by tree roots that snake around the temple structures.
6. At about 2 pm, we left Ta Prohm for Angkor Wat (meaning city temple). Angkor Wat is the largest and most breathtaking of all Angkor temples. Surrounded by a 190 m wide moat, the Hindu temple measures 1.5 km by 1.3 km and was built by king Suryavarman II (1112-1152) as a funeral temple to honour Vishnu. Contrary to wide belief, Angkor Wat had never been abandoned. When Frenchman, Henri Mouhot "discovered" Angkor Wat in 1860s, it was a working monastery with monks and slaves. There are many bas-reliefs along the temple walls, which we had little time to visit, except the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. Along the inner walls of the temples, there are many beautiful carvings of Apsaras (heavenly nymphs or goddesses). We were told that there are more than 30 different head gears.
6. With hindsight, it was a mistake to leave Angkor Wat to the last and leaving little time to see the complex.
7. After Angkor Wat, we proceeded to see the sunset at Phnom Bakheng, which I also did in my last visit. Unlike the last visit when I had to climb the steep slope with ropes on both sides to assist the climbers, there is now a gradual slope that circles round the hill to bring visitors to the top more easily. Unfortunately, in this visit, the sun decided to hide behind the clouds and we did not get to the full sunset we were hoping for. Anyway, it was still a beautiful view, as you can see on the right, at about 6.15 pm. After the event, people started to scramble down the flight of steep steps, before reaching the gradual slope to bring them down to the bottom of Phnom Bakheng.
8. On our 2nd day in Siem Reap, we travelled some 70 kms out of Siem Reap with our Pajero to visit Banteay Srei, Phnom Kulen, and Beng Mealea, as travelling in a tut-tut would just take far too long.
9. Banteay Srei means "women place", and in ancient time only women were permitted to enter the temple. Built in 967 by a Hindu Brahman with pink sandstone, Banteay Srei is reputedly to be the most beautiful of all Angkor temples, with its very
delicate cravings often 3 dimensional. What it lacks in size, it is made up by its sheer beautiful. Of the temples I had seen, this is my favourite.
10. We had earlier intended to visit Kbal Spean to see the River of the a Thousand Linga but was persuaded by Sokha to visit Phnom Kulen instead. He said that Phnom Kulen too has its thousand linga, in addition to the Buddha temple and a beautiful waterfall frequented by locals. Located some some 50 km from Siem Reap, it is 20 km of rough drive up the mountain. We took about 30 mins to get to the top. Vehicles are permitted only to drive up before 12 pm, and down only after 12. Phnom Kulen
is a sacred of the Khmer people and is frequented by locals. We visited the river of the thousand linga and waterfall and the temple of the reclining Buddha. Visit to Phnom Kulen carried a separate entrance of US$20 per person, plus car toll charge.
11. Here we could see very delicate carvings of linga on the river bed, big and small. Water that flows over the linga is holy and in ancient time kings would come and bathed in the water 3 days in a year so that they could become great kings; or for others if they want to have more babies. To see more of the riverbed lingas, you could click on the video. Here you could see many locals enjoying themselves at the waterfall, and there are more lingas on the riverbed.
12. Our final stop for the 2nd day was Beng Mealea, 6.5 km from Phnom Kulen and some 70 km from Siem Reap. Built by the same king who built Angkor Wat, Beng Mealea had similar floor plan as Angkor Wat. The temple was completely overtaken by jungles though this had been scaled back in recent years. Many of the walls and towers had collapsed and crumbled down. In its current state, we could really appreciate the magnitude of the work involved to restore the temple. Every stone block in the piles has to be lifted by crane. Access of cranes in itself would be a real challenge. Seeing this, we now appreciated the restored temple like Banteay Srei much more.
13. The place was very quiet with no more than 6-7 other tourists; possibly because it was late and it was far away from Siem Reap. Visit also carried a separate charge of US$5 per person.
14. The next day we are off to Sihanoukville, a resort town along the Southern coast of Cambodia.