Susan's Shanghai Blog - Week 65

Siem Reap is called the "gateway to Angkor". Angkor refers to the area of Cambodia which was the head of the Khmer Empire. The Angkorian period starts around 802 AD when a Khmer Hindu monarch declared himself as the "god-king" and ends around 1351.

What seems to have happened in the Khmer empire was each king built their own capital. The first capital was at Hariharalaya (Roluos) for King Jayavarman II. That lasted until 889 when king Yasovarman ascended the throne and he moved the capital to a new city called Yasodharapura. The next major building was done between 1113 and 1150 when King Suryavarman II beat a rival prince for control. This was also a turning point from temples dedicated to Shiva (the Hindu deity "destroyer") to temples dedicated to Vishnu (the Hindu diety "preserver").

Between 1150 (death of Suryavarman) and 1181 (Jayavaraman VII's ascension to the throne), there was alot of internal "civil" wars. Jayavarman VII came out on top and became King, and would be the greatest of the Angkorian kings. He also brought a new style of architecture, and a transition from Hinduism to Mahayana Buddhism. Hindu temples were not destroyed, but as you go through them, you can see the Hindu figures replaced with images of Buddha. After his death, there was a brief revival of Hinduism and the Buddha figures were scraped off. Theravada Buddhism then became the dominant region in the 14th century. Today, the guide told us that both Buddhism and Hinduism exist harmoniously.

The first set of temples we went to are called the Rolous group, which are about 8 miles east of town and were built by the first king, King Jayavarman II. They are brick Hindu temples from the late 9th century. The first temple, Lolei, was actually on an island when it was built. Historians say that placing the temple on an island would symbolically link it to Mount Meru, which is the home of the gods, and is surrounded by the worlds' oceans in Hindu mythology. The way it was described to us, the cities would basically have 3 temples: the temple for the king, the temple for the people, and the ancestor temple (which honors the King's ancestors). This is an "ancestor" temple for King Jayavarman and contained 4 towers: one for grandmother, grandfather, father, and mother.

As you can see from the pictures, they are either in good shape or bad shape, depending on your view. I thought they were in bad shape but Tom thought they were in good shape since they were from the late 9th century. There is a bit of restoration work being done at many of the temples, in some cases just trying to keep them standing, while others are rebuilding from the bricks and blocks that had fallen down.

They do have some really good sandstone carvings still there, which are originals. They would do these in one of two ways: they would either carve the bricks and then plaster over them, or they actually took a sandstone carving and insert it into a hole in the brick wall.

In the doorways, they tended to have these black tablets with writing, in ancient Khmer. The guide could read some of it, as he said some of the characters are very similar to current Khmer writing.

Next is Preah Ko, which was built in 879. Preah Ko (Sacred Bull) is named for the three statues which are located in front of the central towers. Here there are 6 towers arranged in 2 rows of 3 towers each. As with most temples, they faced east, which is the direction that the sun rises. This is also an ancestor temple, with the 6 towers dedicated to father and grandfather, mother and grandmother, and then the first king (Jayavarman II) and the last was the first king's wife. We also got a close-up of some of the rock. So there was brick and limestone, but there was also this other type of rock (3rd picture), which is laterite. It tended to be used for foundations and walls that then had sandstone put on the outside.

Most temples will have this walkway. The temples are supposed to be Mount Meru, and the walkway is the rainbow bridge that goes from earth to heaven (supposedly). They also had windows that had these carved columns, like the ones shown behind Tom.

As you see, these temples are in better condition. From the front, they look like 3 temples but there is another row of 3 hidden behind. I also have the picture of the sandstone bull (sorry, it is a bit blurry) which is one of the statues that gives the temple its name. There are also pairs of lions that guard the entrances to each terrace.

Preah Ko is known for these amazing carvings. This lintel shows nagas (look closely, they are snakes along the bottom) being ridden by a diety in the shape of a man. Then above them near the top, you can see horses and the riders on top of them. The 2nd picture shows the amount of plaster carvings. You can see that the plaster was put over the bricks and carved.

They have both doorways and fake doorways

The 3rd temple in the group is Bakong, which is the first mountain temple of the Khmer empire. It was the official state temple of King Indravarman I. As we drove up, you can see the water (the moat around the temple, which represented the oceans) and then behind you see the shiny white temple (that is a NEW one) and behind the Bakong temple.

This new one is a modern Buddhist temple to the right of the east entrance. Inside are lots of really nice pictures on the walls. Interestingly enough, there was one that shows Japanese and American planes from WWII.

This is a naga, which in Hinduism and Buddhism is a diety that takes the shape of a great snake, especially a king cobra.

Bakong has 3 concentric platforms with 2 different moats. The outer moat today is only partially visible. There are 22 satellite temples of brick and then the top single tower, which based on the architecture, was added later, perhaps 12th century. In addiiton to the lions which guard the entrances, there are statues of elephants on the corners. There are multiple smaller buildings inside the walls, which the guide called "libraries" but then talked as if they were more like storehouses.

Here you can see one of the towers and if you look closely, you can see how the carvings are made actually into the bricks/stones themselves, instead of being carvings in sandstone that are then put into the walls. They would carv the base into the wall itself and then plaster over it to finish the carving.

Then we headed back to town for lunch. This was a semi-open air restaurant where the roof looked somewhat like giant white sails. There were certain small platforms made of wood that were about a foot higher than the main floor. All of our meals came with our package, and for lunch, our Khmer Discovery set meal included a starter of warm mixed vegetable salad with dried pork, fresh Khmer herbs, lime wedges, and roasted rice flakes. Next came a soup which was a Kor Kor soup with roasted rice and river prawn. The main course was wok-fried beef lok lak with water cress, rice and vegetables and finished off with a ripe mango and sticky rice with coconut cream for dessert. We missed taking a picture of the veggies (we are terrible at remembering to take pictures) but we have pictures of the rest. The sticky rice for dessert came out and we both kinda looked at it .. black rice .. hmm...but I must tell you, that was one delicious dessert!!!

Now, those of you who have been reading my blogs for awhile know that I don't normally put pictures of bathrooms in, but this one ... well ... I just had to add a couple here. The sink was literally a trough where the water flowed into that was filled with river rocks. I had really never seen one like this and it caught me as just a totally interesting and unique sink!

Now, the "gem" and the main reason for the trip ... Angkor Wat, which means the Temple City. This is one of the symbols of Cambodia in general and is probably one of the best-known sights of the entire country. Its top temple is classic Khmer architecture and appears on the national flag. Wat means "temple" so obviously, this is just the main temple of the Angkor region. It is the largest Hindu temple complex and the largest religious monument in the world. It was built by King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century. We first got a glimpse of it in Bangkok, where they had a scale model of it, as well as in Phnom Penh (another scale model). The temple was dedicated to Vishnu, which was new since the temples of the previous kings were dedicated to Shiva. It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the gods in Hindu mythology, surrounded by a moat (the oceans) and then outer walls. Another difference is that this temple faces West .. all the others faced East. One thought on why it is facing West is that it was designed to be a funerary temple .. life begins with the sun rising in the East, and life ends (death) with the sun setting in the West. Others say that it is West-oriented only because it is dedicated to Vishnu, who is typically associated with the West.

As you can see, as you enter you have the moat, and then the bridge (the rainbow bridge linking heaven and earth) with two lions and the two large Naga (King Cobra)

This would be the gopura, or entrance building, which is typical to enter a temple in Angkor.

This gives a great view of the size of Angkor Wat. Once inside the initial gopura, there is yet another walkway that is raised and again has the Naga's on each side.

As with many of these temples, after the entrance building, there is normally buildings on each side of the central walkway. The guide called them "libraries" or "storehouses" depending on the temple.

Here you get a view of the main temple both from a distance and then closer. You can clearly see how the towers are shaped like lotus buds.

One of the few pictures of both of us together, since normally only one of us is in the picture. I thought it a little interesting .. we are in Cambodia and Tom is wearing a t-shirt from Vietnam and Susan is wearing one from China (Duke friendship game when the Duke basketball team played the Chinese national team in Shanghai).

The main temple is a square and around each side was a gallery. On the walls of this gallery were these amazing carvings, on pillars, around doors, and on the walls themselves.

This is the wall of the gallery. It isn't as impressive in a 2D picture, but you can make out the the horses and the archer in a cart with the wheel right in the middle. The 2nd gives a good view down the gallery and you can see how the carvings, which tell different stories. For example, the eastern gallery contains scenes of the Churning of the Sea of Milk showing asuras and devas using a serpent to churn the sea. The western gallery shows the Battle of Lanka, and the southern gallery shows the procession of Suryavarman II and then the 32 hells and 37 heavens of Hindu mythology.

You can climb up the central tower, which then gives you a really good view of the higher parts of the bulidings and galleries. The steps are quite steep, but of course, we made the journey up to the top.

A statue inside where you can, again, clearly see the naga (serpent or cobra) coming up behind the statue. The second photo is another statue within the upper parts of the temple, this one with a silk sash.

More of the amazing carvings that are around the temple.

And then me (again) on the way out.

When we got back to the hotel, the hotel had left a rose in the room.

Now, dinner!

Tom decided to try the local Angor beer and Susan went with some interesting local drink.

First course, green mango salad, which was wonderful. I've learned I REALLY like green mango salad.

Then pumpkin soup

Main course consisted of grilled marinated chicken along with pan-seared fish cooked with Khmer spices. They also had a mushroom amok in banana leaf, some mixed vegetables, and rice.

A common dessert was fresh fruit.

Continue to Day 2 for more Temples in Siem Reap