Ancient Angkor Temples – Day Two

Bayon Temple-day 2

On our second day visiting Angkor, we headed for Bayon Temple after a delicious breakfast of local Khmer noodles and fruits and French style pastries. Bayon Temple is located in the center of the fortified walled city of Angkor Thom (which means Great City in Khmer), once the largest city in the Khmer Empire. In addition to Bayon, Angkor Thom also contains two older temples, Baphuon and Phimeanakas, the Terrace of the Leper King, the Terrace of the Elephants, and other few structures.

Bayon Causeway, gods on the left side before entrance gate

Bayon Causeway, gods on the left side before entrance gate

To get to the Bayon temple we drove on a causeway that crosses the moat surrounding Angkor Thom to its magnificent south gate (one of five). Lining the causeway are 154 stone statues – gods on one side (left hand side facing the entrance gate) and the asuras (demons) on the other ( facing the entrance gate), each side carrying a serpent.

Bayon Temple was built during the late 12th to late 13th centuries by several Khmer kings, including King Jayavarman Vll, a Mahayana Buddhist king. It passed through 3 religious phases, the Pantheon of the Gods, Hinduism and Buddhism. It consists of many enclosed galleries and terraces with about 37 stone face towers on 3 levels that create a mountain of ascending peaks.

The first floor, built during its early construction, hosts a pantheon of Khmer gods. Its outer gallery walls also have bas reliefs that illustrate historical events, including the war between the  Khmers and the Chams (a neighboring Muslim people).They also depict everyday Khmer life, decorated with fishermen, market scenes, and domestic activities such as cooking or praying.

As we passed the guarding lions and serpents we came across the inner gallery bas reliefs that portrayed Hindu mythology, including the beautifully carved dancing apsaras, Vishnu and Shiva. As I passed from gallery to gallery I walked through outdoor courtyards where I looked up in awe at the Bayon’s massive and powerfultowers, each displaying multiple god-like faces gazing out through space and time. I climbed to the Bayon’s upper terrace, the home to the Temple’s central sanctuary and the face towers, which offered a wonderful view of the nearby ruins and surrounding countryside. Some of the pillars and columns on the terrace had bas-relief carvings of devatas (female or male divine idols).

Dancing apsaras

Dancing Apsaras

Devata

Devata

Bayon Temple Tower of Ascending Faces

Bayon Temple Tower of Ascending Faces

The terrace also offered a close-up view of the face towers. The central towers each have four faces that gaze out in the cardinal directions. They represent the all-seeing and all-knowing Bodhisattva and Avalokitesvarna, but could also personify King Jayavarman Vll, who thought himself to be the god king. The outer, surrounding face towers have two, three or more commonly four faces. I was intrigued by them, some with their eerie and enigmatic smiles, while others peered serenely into the distance. As I walked, I couldn’t help feeling being watched by them.

Smiling God Face

Smiling God Face

Terrace of the Elelphants

Terrace of the Elelphants

We next visited the Terrace of Elelphants which is near the Bayon Temple at the heart of Angkor Thom. It is a long terrace overlooking the Royal Square that was used by King Jayavarman Vll to view military and other parades. Its bas reliefs depict hunting scenes with elephants in a procession. There are also images of lion headed figures, serpents and Garuda (Vishnu’s mount).

Also nearby is Phimeanakas, a pyramid shaped royal temple palace built during the 10thcentury by King Rajendravarman ll and later continued by Jayavarman Vll. Also known as the Celestial Palace it is dedicated to Hinduism. Its stairs are flanked by guardian lions and elephants that stand at the four corners of the pyramid. The upper terrace offers wonderful views of the surrounding area. We also passed by the Terrace of the Leper King (King Jayavarman Vll) as we were heading back to hotel. The terrace is said to have been used for royal receptions or cremations.

Vendor with bamboo tubes of krahlan in basket

Vendor with bamboo tubes of krahlan in basket

As we were driving back, we saw vendors selling cylindrical bamboo tubes of roasted sticky rice (called krahlan in Khmer), arranged in baskets on the back of their  bicycles. I have been curious about this local snack as it is sold everywhere in Siem Riep— at roadsides, wet markets and bus stops. It is simlar to a snack I grew up with in Malaysia called lemang.

So I stopped by a vendor and bought one to taste. As I peeled the bamboo layers, inside was a soft mass of glutinous rice with black beans. I was told rice is soaked overnight, drained, seasoned with grated coconut and coconut milk, then packed inside a bamboo tube, sealed with leaves and slow roasted over charcoal. We then dug into it and enjoyed its sweet flavor and slightly burnt aroma. It had a different taste from lemang which is more savory. It was a delicious sweet snack to enjoy, and, relax after a wonderful exhausting day.

Krahlan

Krahlan

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3 Comments on “Ancient Angkor Temples – Day Two”

  1. October 15, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

    Stunning photography! Thank you for sharing your adventures and food discoveries with us, Susheela.

  2. October 16, 2012 at 10:30 am #

    Sandra,,,nice seeing you again in Spanish class. Great compliment coming from a photo
    grapher!

  3. May 8, 2017 at 9:30 pm #

    I love your photos, too! Wish there were larger.

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