The second half of our temple day involved us visiting King Jayavarman's capital, Angkor Thom. The richly decorated Khmer temple, Bayon, stands at the center of this ancient city, was the last state temple to built at Angkor, and represents the intersection of heaven and earth. It was originally named Jayagirl, meaning Victory Mountain. The name was changed after the French occupancy, after Banyan trees since Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment under these.
Although, Bayon best seems to be known for the hundreds of stone faces looking down upon it's visitors. Scholars have said that the faces represent Jayavarman VII himself (hence why some refer to it as the "Mona Lisa of Southeast Asia"), while others say they are bodhisattva, who embodies the compassion of all the Buddhas. There are 37 towers remaining at the Bayon site with around 215 faces who are among varying degrees of erosion. I have to admit, it was pretty cool seeing these gigantic stone faces everywhere we turned in this temple, and was one of my favorite temples we visited.
After Bayon, we headed down the stone path the Baphuon (ប្រាសាទបាពួន), which was built in the mid-11th century and dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Because this temple was built on sand, by the 20th century, much of the temple had largely collapsed. There was a large restoration effort in place but was abandoned during the civil war that broke out in the country in 1970, and the plans to identify pieces carefully labeled and organized around the temple was lost. This effort began again in 1996, and in 2011, after 16 years (51 total years of work), the restoration was complete. (Thank you! Glad we got to enjoy this beautiful spot)
There are also intricate carvings all over Baphuon that are both realistic and fantasized depictions of lotus flowers, wild animals and hunters, and war. In addition, there are also carvings of indirect references to Hindu mythology. These just add another level of beauty to this historical temple.
After hiking the steep stairs, you are rewarded with one of the best views of the Angkor Thom. #truth
Late in the 15th century, Baphuon was converted to a Buddhist temple and a 30 ft tall, 230 ft long statue of a reclining Buddha was built on the west side. Can you spot it in the picture below?
Leading up to Phimeanakas is the Terrace of Elephants. This terrace was used by the king as a platform to view his army's victorious returns.
One of the last temples we saw before heading back over to Angkor Wat and trying not to pass out from the heat was Phimeanakas (ប្រាសាទភិមានអាកាស), the celestial temple. It's in the shape of a 3 tiered pyramid as a Hindu Temple and was used by King Jayavarman VII as his private temple.
Legend has it is that the top of Phimeanakas there was a spirit in the form of a 9-headed snake that lived in the "Golden Tower". Every night, the spirit would appear in the form a woman, and the King would have to climb to the top of the tower and sleep with the spirit. If he failed this task, a great disaster would strike his Kingdom or if the spirit failed to appear, the King was about to die. After his duty, he would go back down to sleep with his other ladies in his royal concubine #damn #thesacraficeshehadtomake
After thoroughly exploring the Angkor Archeological Park, we headed back to finish fully exploring Angkor Wat, which wasn't as crowded in the afternoon due to the extreme heat.
On our way out we saw more cool statues leading up to the gates, and lots of monkey's to bid us farewell. #canitakeonehome? #rickybobbysnewfriend
Heading back into Angkor Wat, we saw a monkey enjoying a nice juicy mango for lunch. #loveit #monkeyslovemangostoo #willyoushare?
Angkor Wat was the highlight of planning this trip to more of Southeast Asia for Nate's birthday and was on my bucket list for us living in Japan. It is believed to be the world's largest religious building (encompassing 500 acres) and is an earthly representation of Mt. Meru (the Mt. Olympus of the Hindu faith and the abode of ancient gods) - so "heaven on earth". The central tower is 213 ft tall, and is surrounded by 4 smaller towers - a layout recreating Mt. Meru and its 5 mountain ranges.
A couple unique facts about Angkor Wat. It's one the best preserved temples in Angkor. It is oriented towards the west, which symbolically is the direction of death. The bas-reliefs of the temple were designed to be viewed in an anticlockwise direction - a practice that has roots in ancient Hindu funerary rites. People now commonly believe that Angkor Wat most likely served both as a temple and as a mausoleum for King Suryavarman II (whose name translates to "protector of the sun"). Angkor Wat is also famous for it's asparas (heavenly nymphs), with almost 2,000 carved into the walls around Angkor. And translated from Khmer (the official language of Cambodia), Angkor Wat means "City Temple" or "Temple City".
To build this amazing site, it would have probably required around 300,000 workers from architects, masons, sculptors, etc. It took over 30 years to build, is built entirely out of stone, and was never completely finished. Originally this was a Hindu temple dedicated to Visnu but towards the end of the 12th century, it gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple (the main religion of Cambodians today).
Around the temple there around about 1,200 sq meters of carved bas reliefs representing 8 different Hindu stories. One of the most important ones is the "Churning of the Ocean of Milk" which shows the story about the beginning of time and creation of the universe. It also is a story about the victory of good over evil where the carvings show devas (gods) fighting the asuras (demons) to reclaim order and power for the gods who lost it. You can see in the carvings the 2 sides are playing tug of war with the serpent king as their divine rope. Once the elixir is released,, the Vedic god is seen descending from heaven to catch it and save the world from the demons.
Such detail - no wonder why it took 30 years to build!
So in order to go into the top part of the temple, you must be wearing long shorts/skirts that cover your knees and a top that covers your shoulders (listen up ladies! And no my scraf/wrap did not count). So unfortunately, I was not allowed on top and had to wait on the bottom and look at pictures Nate took :(
After visiting this impressive site to end our day of temples, Mr. Sok took us back to our hotel for a nice nap and swim in the pool. For dinner, we headed downtown - I was craving some good Italian and we found a delicious spot called il Forneo. Nate gorged on some pizza, and I chowed down on yummy gnocchi!
Tune in for our next 2 days in Siem Reap exploring a "floating city" (city built on stilts), the museum of Siem Reap. and the War Museum.
Follow in our Footsteps:
Angkor Archaeological Park ក្រុងសៀមរាប, 17000, Cambodia
Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
Pari's Alley 16 The Lane
Siem Reap, 63000, Cambodia
+855 63 763 380
Hours: 12pm - 11pm
Mr. Sok (best Tut Tut driver!) - we hired him all 3 days we were here and he found a great variety for us to do
Book him on Facebook or email him firstname.lastname@example.org
092 9493 79 or 098 9291 12
Why he's awesome:
Megan Bond - AUTHOR
Just a girl raised in California and loved exploring Southeast Asia with my husband! We're back in the States but still exploring the world as much as we can!