Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Roluos Group Flashback

At the end of our second straight day of temple trekking near Siem Reap, we visited two of the three Roluos Group temples.  These are the earliest temple monuments built by the Angkor Empire.  They date from the 9th century, around 880 A.D.

The temples were built near the site of Hariharalaya, the first Khmer capital.  It is located 8 miles east/southeast of Siem Reap.  The other temples we visited were all 4 - 20 miles north of Siem Reap.  Unlike most of the other temples we visited, the Roluos Group temples are in the middle of what is currently a residential, almost suburban neighborhood of Siem Reap.  So they feel less isolated.

Sarah and Chek walk up to the raised laterite platform at Preah Ko

The first of the two Roluos Group temples we visited was Preah Ko.  It was built by King Indravarman I to honor his parents.  This Hindu temple was dedicated to the god Shiva.

As is the case with Pre Rup, Preah Ko was constructed with a combination of red brick and grey laterite.  You may remember that laterite was the material used to construct The Bayon temple at Angkor Thom.  The six brick towers at Preah Ko have equal prominence.

Sarah and the sacred bull Nandi show mutual respect

View of three of the six brick towers at Preah Ko

After spending 20 minutes at Preah Ko, the tuk tuk took us less than a mile away to the second Roluos Group temple, Bakong.

Bakong is the largest temple in the Roluos Group, and was built around the same time as Preah Ko.  It later became a place of worship for Buddhists.

Bakong looks quite different from Preah Ko.  The color is much greyer, indicating perhaps a higher percentage of laterite vs. brick.  The temple builds up over four levels to a single lotus-shaped tower at the center top.

View of Bakong, as we walked up to the front entrance

It's lonely at the top

There are large stone elephants at each of the four corners of the first three plaza levels of the temple.

Neighborhood kids play at Elephant Corner

Elephants cascade down the side of Bakong

The back side of Bakong looks out over a monastery.  Not just any monastery, but the one that our guide Chek happened to study at for a couple of years. Monasteries provided education for boys that would otherwise not be able to afford it. Chek showed us several large flower pots that he built during the time he was there, as he helped to design one of the surrounding gardens.

The kids are in a Khmer New Year frame of mind

Close-up view of another structure; maybe a library?

Chek's monastery, with garden (not visible) at right center

After leaving Bakong temple, we walked down a dirt road and briefly joined a neighborhood celebration of Khmer New Year.  We met a shrewd, funny and cute 10-year old girl who tried to sell us a soda.  She spoke pretty good English.

"We need to go home now.  But maybe we'll come back and buy one tomorrow," we offered unconvincingly.  "You're not really going to be here tomorrow!"  "You're right," we said.  "But definitely the next time we're here."  "So when is the next time?"  "We can't say for sure," we replied, "but maybe in one year."  "You know if you leave without buying something, I'm gonna cry." Then she cracked up, and wished us a pleasant remainder of our day.­­

This is not the soda vendor, unfortunately

We jumped in the tuk tuk and started back towards the villa, at the end of a long day.  Our adventures were not quite finished.

Within about a half block (if there had actually been a block) of Bakong, we passed a group of 6 or 7 twenty-something men in one of their front yards.  They were on the patio, enjoying lunch, some frosty cold beverages, and some Khmer New Year good cheer. They smiled with amusement and waved hello.

After hesitating a few seconds, John asked our tuk tuk driver to stop, and hopped out to run back and say hi.  He introduced himself, and was surprised when one or two of the revelers spoke some English. John was invited to send the tuk tuk driver on his way, and stay and have some beers with the boys.

This unfortunately wasn't possible, since we hadn't yet paid our tuk tuk driver Han and temple guide Chek for the two days.  It was also getting late in the day, and we all needed to get home.  But John was able to get a good photo of the gang before jumping back in the tuk tuk.

Fourth of July cookout, Cambodia version

Seven temples.  Great people.  Warm weather.  Free entertainment.  This is definitely our kind of New Year's Day.

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