Snapshots of Cambodia
Today, millions of people from every corner of the world throng Cambodia. Many come to visit the famous Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage site that boasts some of the oldest temples in the world.
Visitors marvel at the stunning architecture, the intricate stone carvings and the sheer magnificence of these houses of worship that have withstood the ravages of time to stand proud over centuries.
King Suryavarman II ruled Khmer (Cambodia) for nearly forty years during the early 12th century. What he built has lasted over eight hundred years!
Talented artisans and craftsmen chipped away at limestone blocks to create works of art that thrill and amaze visitors to this day. In the long passages winding around Angkor Wat, lovely bas relief carvings extend out into the distance on either side.
The sculptures are in 3 layers, the highest depicting heavens, the middle level life on earth, and the lowest are scenes from hell. You can see the wicked sinners being dragged away in chains and whipped by guards.
Could these artists have imagined their art would last forever?
Did they put all they had – talent, skill, energy – into it because they knew it after all?
One can’t help but wonder while walking around the ancient hallways, where a soft, silent question seems to echo off the high ceilings and rocky walls…
Will what you do last for hundreds of years?
TEMPLES OF CAMBODIA
While it’s the cynosure of all eyes, the Angkor Wat isn’t the only famous Cambodian temple.
Dotted around the area are dozens of smaller, yet just as spectacular creations. A tour of the Temples of Cambodia will warm the heart of any heritage traveller, taking you down a path that traces the rich cultural history of a proud nation.
An ill-fated, incomplete shrine, the Ta Keo is a sandstone Khmer temple to Lord Shiva built by the 17-year old king Jayavarman V – in 975 AD.
Work stopped before carvings could decorate the outer walls, because lightning struck the building – an evil omen. The structure looks even bigger because of the lack of carvings on the outer wall.
You can see 3 of the 5 towers in this photograph.
Abandoned and unfinished, the structure still stands tall. These pictures were taken from the steps to the first level.
There are two more levels above this, with a steep staircase leading up to what would have been the inner sanctum.
Just looking at it scared us into not trying to climb up in the blazing mid-morning heat! So we settled for a zoom-in snapshot of the tower.
Earnest efforts are being taken to preserve and restore the building. This plaque details the conservation effort.
Who would have thought: A temple for Kings only!
Remember Simba in The Lion King singing: “Oh, I just can’t wait to be king!”
When you’re King, you can do anything… even build yourself a special temple where you worship in private – like Phimeanakas.
This lovely, mossy moated temple constructed by Rajendravarman more than one thousand years ago, still stands, scarred and pockmarked by the passage of time, as testament to his ambition, glory and pride.
In the past, a golden pinnacle probably capped the structure.
Wikipedia tells an interesting story about the temple…
According to legend, the king spent the first watch of every night with a woman thought to represent a Nāga in the tower. During that time, not even the queen was permitted to intrude.
Only in the second watch the king returned to his palace with the queen.
If the naga who was the supreme owner of Khmer land did not show up for a night, it meant the king’s days were numbered. If the king did not show up, calamity was sure to strike his land.
The Terrace of the Elephants inside the ruined Angkor Thom complex in Cambodia was used by King Jayavarman VII to view his victorious returning army.
Here’s a view of the gardens around the terrace, from the platform.
And this is the path along which the victorious procession would proceed, for the king’s inspection.
What remains today is the 350 meter long foundation platform adorned with carvings of elephants on the 3 meter high eastern face. The mid-section is decorated with carvings of life-sized garuda (eagles) and lions. At either end of the platform are statues of the elephant parade.
Carvings of elephants with their mahouts adorn the retaining wall of the terrace.
The elephants’ trunks form pillars that reach down to the ground.
Many think of Banteay Kdei, one of the smallest and best preserved sites, as a jewel in the crown of Angkorian art.
The Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva has stone of a pinkish hue and boasts some of the finest three-dimensional carvings. Construction started in 967 AD on this ‘Citadel of the Women’.
After walking down a long, tree lined avenue, you arrive at the front of Banteay Kdei to be greeted with a view like this.
There are 4 towers, one located at each of the corners of the temple’s outer wall.
Close ups of the ancient, ornately carved inner sanctum, reveal stunningly intricate statuettes of apsaras/devatas along its walls
But the structure itself isn’t in great condition. You can’t help but worry about when those huge rocks may topple over!
Some fallen blocks are being reassembled to give a glimpse of how the carvings must have looked like in years past.
But many blocks just can’t be placed correctly, and they lie strewn about the place, lost.
The towers are under restoration, and it looks like they’re being held together with metal bandages!
You’ll see remnants of carvings of lions, garuda (eagle) and naga (snake) guarding the entrance to the temple.
At the exit, one path leads to the present… and the other back into the past.
I was tempted to turn left! 🙂
P.S. – Notice the face of Jayavarman VII in the little tower over the doorway!
The Baphuon temple in Angkor Thom is a 3-tiered structure dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, with intricate carvings literally covering the entire surface.
Even without considering the tower, the temple soars 34 meters high. In the late 15th century, it was converted into a Buddhist temple and a 9 x 70 meter statue of Buddha was built into the west facing side.
Can you spot the giant statue of a Reclining Buddha here?
Due to a weak foundation, the temple crumbled early and often. Restoration work progressed in fits and starts due to civil war in Cambodia, as evidenced by the different rock (sandstone and volcanic rock) used in repairing it.
As seen from the ground, separated from the shrine by a (now dry) moat, the restored Baphuon looks impressive.
Here’s a view from the first level courtyard, looking upwards at the tower.
And looking down from level 1 to the long approach path gives some indication of the symmetry and design of the layout.
A long hallway on the first level.
A picture from the second level of Baphuon, looking down into the first level courtyard, and showing the long approach path at ground level
After climbing up to the highest (third) level, a view down the steep stairway I just scaled.
And the approach path from level 3
Walking down the (roofless!) hallway at the highest (third) level, I’m taller than the huge hardwood trees!
And here’s a photograph of the tower right at the peak of Baphuon temple.
Bayon is a richly decorated Khmer temple from the 12th/13th century situated in Angkor Thom.
It is best known for the many serene, smiling stone faces that seem to be looking at you from every direction!
The Bayon temple is also known for an impressive set of bas relief carvings depicting mythology, history and everyday Cambodian life in exquisite detail.
My favourite snapshot of Bayon temple, Angkor, Cambodia – elephant and all.
This is how the Bayon temple looks as you approach it from front. Note the boundary wall in the foreground, it features prominently in the rest of this photo essay.
Steps to enter the temple complex.
Inside the courtyard, a pillar bears this intricate piece of workmanship.
These rocks are part of the original temple that have fallen off, and are now being used in the conservation/re-construction effort, painstakingly pieced together and then replaced from where they came.
Notice the double-holes in some?
They are for lifting up the rocks using an ingenious contraption made of bamboo sticks inserted into the holes, tied together tightly with vine, and then lifted using long bamboo poles, using a system of levers.
There was a demo set up which we tried – and I could raise one of these heavy blocks with just a little pressure!
There are oh-so-many bas relief carvings decorating the entire length and height of the boundary wall of Bayon. We only spent 10 minutes with them on our tour – but could easily devote a full day to studying the beautifully done art work!
Our wonderful guide, Mr.Lekh, explained some details and told us many interesting stories about the carvings. Without him, we may not have appreciated this part of our trip so much. Thanks to Sam Sophea Tours!
This photo shows bas relief carvings of a battle scene, with battle-bound warriors bearing shields and swords, and a naval force at the bottom. Can you spot the alligator attacking a fallen soldier?
Here’s another about the popular Cambodian sport of cock-fighting. Two teams support their ‘candidate’. Wagers are made. Passions run high.
And this one depicts daily life in a poor Cambodian household. A lady has her mother pick lice from her hair! Two men sit chatting over a drink. Kids are playing.
Another bas relief carving showing a game of chess(?) in progress
And a lady in labor, with a midwife in attendance to assist with delivering her child.
A wealthy household. One lady rests on a pillow. Another reclines on a cushion, while maids await her instructions.
And finally, the pièce de résistance… Multiple smiling faces
How many faces can you spot watching you? 🙂
Ta Nei, seen in this photograph taken from the front, is a late 12th Century stone temple in Angkor, Cambodia that was constructed in the reign of King Jayavarman VI.
It is in ruins, yet retains a kind of charm that’s special. The magic is woven around you as you step closer to the structure.
Only two of the outer gopuras (towers) still exist today, on the west and east sides. A bit of restoration was necessary to hold up this tower.
And yet, art survives amidst the ruins. Lovely carvings of apsaras decorate the outer walls.
Here’s a close up of one of the crumbling towers.
And a snapshot from inside the courtyard
There are no bats in this belfry – well, just a few, maybe!
Of all the temples of Cambodia that we visited, Ta Nei was my favorite.
Man Versus Time & Nature.
An awe-inspiring view of how time has allowed nature to overwhelm manmade creation, yet happily coexist in peace and harmony.
This picture was shot at the ancient Ta Promh temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia, better known as the place where Angelina Jolie starred as Lara Croft in the movie ‘Tomb Raider’.
Built in the 12th-13th century by King Jayavarman VII, the temple remains just as it was first found, making for a unique combination of trees and ruins.
Ta Promh, built in the Bayon style, is among the Angkor’s most popular tourist attractions, and inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
This picture shows the temple courtyard, with vegetation growing into the masonry.
Here a tree trunk has completely encased the temple.
One of the entrances to the temple.
An aged gateway leading into the temple is adorned with some excellent art work.
Trees grow over the compound wall surrounding the structure, making it hard to distinguish where one ends and the other begins.
– a floating village of boat people
We took this picture on the way to see the floating village on Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia.
This unique Vietnamese fishing village has people living almost entirely on their water-borne homes, getting from one place to another by boat. Little craft like this one, fitted with outboard motors, are used to zip to and from the nearby village with houses-on-stilts.
Located on the seasonally inundated Tonle Sap Lake, which has a water level that rises by almost 14 METERS in the wet season, these villages simply float when it rains – until they’re level with other homes-on-stilts!
We took a boat ride to a house on stilts, where we had lunch.
This is a typical house on stilts. In the wet season, the water level reaches almost to the top step. During the dry season, there’s absolutely no water along the route we had just boated up – and our guide explained that it’s possible to drive all the way!
We ate at one of these homes, where we got a little taste of how the people lived… and that included taking a short nap in a lovely, relaxing hammock!
The boat people of Cambodia live entirely on their little vessels, which rise and fall with the water level. During the dry season, they simply float their homes downstream toward the Lake.
There’s not only this primary school, but also a floating hospital, grocery store and a church.
The smaller boats are used to get around from one home to another, and for vendors to bring stuff that they sell to residents.
See some other houses in the village.
Siem Reap, the capital city of Siem Reap Province in northwestern Cambodia, is a gateway to the Angkor region.
The interesting Tuk-tuk is a popular vehicle to get around Siem Reap, Cambodia. A mix of a carriage and motorcycle, it’s fast, fun and quaint! Imagine riding on one of these close to midnight from the airport to our hotel room. We felt like Kings and Queens as we passed down the middle of Main Street!
We visited a village on the outskirts of Siem Reap to get a taste of life in rural Cambodia.
The old market is a vibrant hub of Cambodian social life with all kinds of things on sale. Those orange/yellow oval things between the bowls are TURTLES!
(From time to time, one of them would roll over and try to scuttle away – and the lady selling them would flip them over again, rendering them helpless in an instant!)
Dotting the roadside of all routes out of Siem Reap are stalls selling ‘bamboo rice’ – a delicious mix of rice, coconut milk, coconut and black beans… cooked inside the hollow of a bamboo stick!
You peel off the covering, eat the rice, and……and then the shredded bamboo is used as firewood – to cook the next batch. Yes, it’s 100% recycled!
An interesting story underlies Cambodian ‘bamboo rice’.
Soldiers carried a couple of these sticks on a belt worn around their waist, as their rations during battle. They also carried a longer hollowed out bamboo pole filled with drinking water across their back.
Ok, that’s it.
I hope you enjoyed these snap shots of Cambodia as much as I did presenting them to you.
If you did, please share your thoughts in a comment.
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And maybe you’re tempted to take a trip to lovely Cambodia? Please do.
You’ll love it!