Featured Image: The Bayon, Angkor Thom

Angkor Guide 2023

In Cambodia, Travel by tony2 Comments

Featured Image: Entrance to The Bayon, Buddhist Temple, Angkor Thom

ORT_Logo Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony,  1 December 2022


Angkor Guide 2023

Introduction

Causeway Approach to Angkor Wat

Causeway Approach to Angkor Wat

We are thinking of going to Siem Reap and Angkor in Cambodia again as part of a trip to Thailand in January 2023. We went there for the first time ten years ago in 2013.

Tree at Spean Thma

Tree at Spean Thma

Over the years, I’ve been to many historical sites representing vanished empires for example Borobudur (9th C) in Java, many Greek and Roman cities, Macchu Picchu (15th C) and Cuzco in Peru, Aztec ruins of Teotihuacan near Mexico city, many historical sites such as Khujaraho (885-1000 CE) and Hampi (6-14th C) in India, Taxila in Pakistan (1300 BCE to 540 CE) and others. And, these are only some of many around the world.

Head of Stone, outer wall Angkor Thom

Head of Stone, outer wall Angkor Thom

The Angkor Archeological Park listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site is the equivalent of any of them. It is huge and it is beautiful and certainly a must see, if possible.

Relief Carving at Bayon

Relief Carving at Bayon

Angkor Area and Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat — the city that became a pagoda — is not only the grandest of all the Khmer temples but also a city in its own right.

Temple Window

Temple Window

The Angkor Archaeological Park is spread out over 400 square kilometres and contains innumerable temples. It is the site of the famous city and temples of the Khmer Empire.

AngkorMap, By Hobe/Holger Behr, Wikimedia

AngkorMap, By Hobe/Holger Behr, Wikimedia

The area was dangerous not long ago and battles were fought nearby in the 1970s, when the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot were in power. Cambodia hasn’t recovered and is one of the poorest countries in Asia.

Statues at the entrance to Angkor Wat

Statues at the entrance to Angkor Wat

The ruins of Angkor cover a dynasty of 26 Khmer rulers from 800 BCE to the early 1300s, the empire reached its peak in the 11th to 13th centuries. Its competitors at its most prosperous were the Siamese to the west and the Cham from Vietnam in the East, particularly the latter.

Young bangle maker from the Angkor craft village

Young bangle maker from the Angkor craft village

Figure 1 gives a chronology of the Khmer kings and the temples they built.

Figure 1: Khmer Rulers, Freeman & Jacques 2008

Figure 1: Khmer Rulers, Freeman & Jacques 2008

A researcher at the university of Oregon analysed the area thoroughly and gave a population estimate of the Khmer empire of Angkor, around Angkor Wat, in the 13th C of about 700,000 to 900,000 people.

Gate into Angkor Thom

Gate into Angkor Thom, Buddhist

You’ll notice on the map the moats and barays man-made lakes. (The Eastern Baray doesn’t exist as a reservoir anymore.) The Khmer were a hydrological empire and very conversant with water storage and its use in agriculture. Unlike the Thais their water resources were less secure.

The Virtual Angkor Project

During the Covid lockdown, several media stories and other outlets suggested virtual tours around the world as a way of visiting sites, museums and art galleries that you wanted to go to, but could not in 2020. I visited some then and also attended zoom discussions on art at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, which were terrific.

Solid window with lathe turned columns

Solid window with lathe turned columns

We also paid for a tour of a Goya drawings exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). This consisted of travels along corridors and then supposed close ups of the images, which were too far away to actually observe any of the detail. A regrettable mistake.

Elephant Terrace, Angkor Thom

Elephant Terrace, Angkor Thom

I mention the NGV experience because my visits to virtual heritage sites, museums and galleries were disappointing in 2020 and hadn’t improved much when I searched the other day. The galleries are especially bad. Much better just to look up the art works in their archive.

Short Round Pillars Support Causeway, Bapuon, Angkor Thom

Short Round Pillars Support Causeway, Bapuon, Angkor Thom

Coincidentally, as often happens, I was listening to the science show on ABC radio national on 26 November 2022 (8 min) where they were they were highlighting the Virtual Angkor Project.

Phimeanakas three-tiered Hindu temple, Angkor Thom

Phimeanakas three-tiered Hindu temple, Angkor Thom

The Virtual Angkor project produced by SensiLab at Monash University recreates the sprawling Cambodian metropolis of Angkor at the height of the Khmer empire’s power and influence around 1300 C.E.

Built for the classroom, the virtual reality experience takes students into a 3D world.

Relief Statues in Brick

Relief Statues in Brick

The site is obviously an experimental site and incomplete but what they have done is interesting and creditable. If you explore, it will give you a good idea of what you will see at Angkor and the scenes explore daily life circa 1300.

Siem Reap

In 2013 we stayed in a comfortable medium to down-market lodging house about 5 minutes walk from the centre. There is much more fancy and luxurious accommodation and eating further out but much of it is soulless.

Locals Going About Their Own Business in Siem Reap

Locals Going About Their Own Business in Siem Reap

The centre of Siem Reap in 2013 was lively and though geared entirely to tourism kept some flavour of the dusty village of the past. I remember Vientiane in Laos which we visited in 2000 and again in 2001. It was a dusty little town. I met an miner from Laos in Chiang Mai about ten years ago. He said I should go back. I wouldn’t recognise the place. Siem Reap has been a tourist destination for a long time with a break during the Pol Pot era. I suspect it won’t have changed much except out of the centre.

Tourists in the Wild

Tourists in the Wild

The restaurants and bars in the centre were excellent from memory and the place had a relaxed colonial style ambience.

Our Own Tourist Classic

Our Own Tourist Classic

We hired our driver across the road from our guesthouse. He was a lovely young man, bright and well-educated. He took us around the temples for five days and we enjoyed his company. But, he was desperate to get out of Cambodia to take a low paid depressing job in Korea. There is still not much future for young people in Cambodia, despite improvements in the economy over the past ten years.

It's a job but barely an income

It’s a job but barely an income

The Religion

Indian customs, culture and religion spread much more widely than we were taught under the British tradition. A form of Hindu religion was practiced in mainland South East Asia, as it was in Bali. The Khmer kings adopted Hinduism in a modified form early in their civilisation and it was central to their legitimacy.

Guardian Lions and Nagas

Guardian Lions and Nagas

Jayavarman VII the creator of Angkor Thom converted to Buddhism and crammed a massive building program into his thirty year rule.

High Relief Carving, Terrace of the Leper King, Angkor Thom

High Relief Carving, Terrace of the Leper King, Angkor Thom

Jayavaram VIII was responsible for the destruction of so much Buddhist imagery and tried to restore important Hindu temples.

Relief Carving at Bayon

Relief Carving at Bayon

Perhaps Hinduism was key to the legitimacy of the Khmer kings because the empire declined quickly thereafter. Nothing else has survived at Angkor from later than the 13th century. Following the rise of Theravda Bhuddism only wooden temples were made and it is thus difficult to measure the wealth of Angkor beyond this time.

The Temples

Angkor Wat

Colonnades Angkor Wat

Colonnades, Angkor Wat

Date: Early 12th century (between 1113 and 1150) with later additions

Style: Angkor Wat

Reign: Suryavarman II

Religion: Hindu

Wall Relief at Angkor Wat

Wall Relief at Angkor Wat

The most famous and main palace and temple complex surrounded by a moat

Angkor Thom

Date: Late 12th century (excluding some earlier monuments inside, such as Bapuon and Phimeanakas) with later additions

Style: Bayon

Reign: Jayavarman VII and successors

Religion: Buddist (mainly)

High Relief Carving, Terrace of the Leper King, Angkor Thom

High Relief Carving, Terrace of the Leper King, Angkor Thom

One of the largest of all Khmer cities contains many temples terraces and other structures inside its walls and gates.

Carvings at Elephant Terrace, Royal Square, Angkor Thom

Carvings at Elephant Terrace, Royal Square, Angkor Thom

The Bayon

Date: Late 12th to Late 13th century construction probably started about 1200

Style: Bayon

Reign: Jayavarman VII to Jayavarman VIII

Religion: Buddhist

The Bayon, Angkor Thom

The Bayon, Angkor Thom

Inside Angkor Thom, the Bayon to my mind is the most spectacular (Jayavarman VII to Jayavarman VIII) but Bapuon (1060), the elephant terrace, the leper king terrace, Phimeanakas and the royal place (late 10th to early 11th centuries) are also marvellous.

The Bayon Faces, Angkor Thom

The Bayon Faces, Angkor Thom

Ta Prohm

Date: Late 12th to 13th centuries

Style: Bayon

Reign: Jayavarman VII, enlarged by Indravarman II

Religion: Buddhist

Guided tour, Ta Prohm

Guided tour, Ta Prohm

This was the temple chosen by the École Française d’Extrême-Orient to be left in its ‘natural state’, as an example of how most of Angkor looked on its discovery in the 19th century. A brilliant decision to my mind.

Other Temples

Preah Khan late 12th C (1191), Bayon, Jayavarman VII with alterations by Jayavarman VIII

Preah Khan

Preah Khan

Pre Rup, Middle of the 10th C (961), Ta Keo ( late 10th and early 11th) and many others are also well-worth seeing.

Steep Stairway at Ta Keo

Steep Stairway at Ta Keo

Some of the earliest temples are at Roluos.

Relief Carving at Bayon

Relief Carving at Bayon

Comment

We went on a whole day birding trip to Ang Trapeang Thmor. Once you leave Siem Reap into the countryside rural poverty is evident. The man with his horse is possibly a symbol of this. International tourism is essential for peoples’ livelihood in Cambodia.

Man with horse north of Siem Reap

Man with horse north of Siem Reap

Nevertheless, Angkor is essential for a fuller understanding of human history and certainly to move away from the British imperialist history we grew up with. Angkor is so large and magnificent that it should be a must see for everyone.

Denise and our driver

Key Words: Siem Reap, Angkor, Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Cambodia, Angkor Archeological Park, UNESCO World Heritage site, city, temples, Khmer Empire, Khmer rulers, Siamese, Cham, Thailand, Vietnam, Virtual Angkor Project, Phimeanakas, three-tiered Hindu temple, guardian lions, nagas, relief carvings, gate,  Hinduism, Buddhism, colonnades, Terrace of the Leper King, Elephant Terrace, Royal Square, The Bayon, faces, Ta Prohm, École Française d’Extrême-Orient, Preah Khan, Pre Rup, Ta Keo, Roluos, Jayavarman, Indravarman

Further information

Women Workers Cycle through Angkor Thom Gate

Women Workers Cycle through Angkor Thom Gate

Reference

I used Michael Freeman and Claude Jacques Ancient Angkor Guide 2008. There are plenty of Guides to Angkor. It is useful to read about Angkor before going and consult a pocket guide whilst visiting Angkor. There are also Apps to download.

Local Guide resting in lathe turned window

Local Guide resting in lathe turned window

Posted in Canberra

Comments

  1. Was on our wish list but too late now.Many expats are now calling Cambodia home which surprised us.

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