Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Visiting Angkor Thom

On Saturday and Sunday, we visited a total of 10 temples in the area around the town of Angkor, which is 4 miles north of Siem Reap.

Angkor was the ancient capital of Cambodia.  It was the heart of the Khmer Empire, which lasted from 802 to 1432 A.D.  It included much of present day Vietnam, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries.

The walled city of Angkor Thom includes The Bayon, the first temple that we visited on Saturday morning.

Outside one of the entry gates to The Bayon

There were many kings of the Khmer Empire, some better than others.  The capitals of the empire were always in the same area around Angkor, but different kings built palaces and temples in slightly different locations according to their preferences.  The Khmers were briefly defeated by neighboring groups a couple of times during this time period, but were able to regain their territory shortly thereafter.

The following photo, taken on the front walkway of the king's palace, looks out over a series of twelve towers.  Two sets of two towers can be seen below the trees at the top of the photo.  Tightrope walkers performed for the king between adjacent towers.  There were no safety nets.

King's front yard, with a little space before the jungle

At the height of the Khmer Empire in the 12th century, the total population was around 4 million people.  This made the Khmer Empire among the most powerful in the world at the time.  By comparison, the population of England at that time was 2 million.

Hinduism was t­he dominant Khmer religion in the 9th century, at the time the earliest temples were built.

We think this Hindu woman is playing hard to get

Sarah fits right in with the festive carvings

Anything you can dance, I can dance better

Around 1000 A.D., the Khmer Empire annexed the Buddhist kingdom of Luovo from what is now Thailand.  The Hindu and Buddhist religions co-existed peacefully for over 200 years, and temples of those periods included both Hindu and Buddhist influences.  This is true for Angkor Thom.

After 1200, religious infighting, an overworked irrigation network and the rise of powerful neighbors contributed to the beginning of the decline of the Khmer Empire.

Stone faced and cool (and Buddhist)

Sarah gets her first string at shrine inside temple

The three most visited temples in the Angkor area are Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm.  Angkor Thom was built in the late 12th century by King Jayavarman VII, universally referred to by tour guides and other locals as "the best king."  He consolidated the Khmer Empire, and also built the temples of Preah Khan and Ta Prohm.

Angkor Thom was built using mostly dark laterite rock and an architectural style that is noticeably different than the techniques and sandstone used earlier to build Angkor Wat.  Angkor Wat is the most popular temple, and is considered by many visitors to be the most beautiful.  But that is somewhat a matter of personal preference.  Two of our Seattle friends who have visited Cambodia like Angkor Thom the best.

Elephant and soldiers on wall outside The Bayon

More story-telling of heading off to battle

Taking a break from the hot sun after temple Stairmaster

Sarah and guide Chek at the edge of the jungle (middle right)

Angkor Thom covers 4 square miles.  It includes several temples, a palace, and a huge swimming pool for the king that is more like a small lake.  The most magnificent part of Angkor Thom is The Bayon, a temple with 3 stories, 54 towers and more than 200 large stone faces.  Together, the towers form a pyramid of sorts.

This must be Cambodia, because everyone is smiling
Different entry gate to The Bayon; the palm tree gives it away
Dense crowd inside the labyrinth of The Bayon

The king lived in the palace with 200 concubines, and no other men.  When the king used the swimming pool, no one else was allowed in it.  Talk about royal privilege!

The large grassy areas to the left and right of the palace front steps are referred to as the elephant terrace.  Elephant fights were staged here, as well as Cambodian (Khmer) boxing matches.

The latter sport exists today in the same traditional form.  There are no boxing gloves. The contestants' fingers are partially wrapped with yarn.  These are 5-round fights, but they rarely last that long.  The rounds are timed by how long it takes a stick of incense to burn down.  About 4 minutes.  Pretty much anything goes.  Punching, kicking, elbowing.....

Doing my best elephant imitation

Elephant fighting is depicted on the adjacent walls
Ornate wall below front walkway to the palace

Before we left Angkor Thom, we stopped at a market stall and drank some coconut milk to replenish our fluids.

Straight from the coconut!  Happy girl!

On to the next temple!

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