Oranising Tour to Angkor Archaeological Park

Stretching over some 400 square kilometres, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire of the 9th to the 15th centuries, including the largest pre-industrial city in the world. The most famous are the Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations.

Angkor Archaeological Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992. At the same time, it was also placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger due to looting, a declining water table, and unsustainable tourism. UNESCO has now set up a wide-ranging programme to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings.

Symbolism

The temples of Angkor are highly symbolic structures. The foremost Hindu concept is the temple-mountain, where the temple is built as a representation of the mythical Mount Meru: this is why so many temples, including Angkor Wat itself, are surrounded by moats, built in a mountain-like pyramidal shape and topped by precisely five towers, representing the five peaks of Mount Meru. The linga (phallus), representing the god Shiva, was also critical and while the lingas themselves have largely gone, linga stands (carved, table-like blocks of stone) can be found in many if not most rooms in the temples. There was also a political element to it all: most kings wanted to build their own state temples to symbolize their kingdom and their rule.

While early Angkor temples were built as Hindu temples, Jayavarman VII converted to Mahayana Buddhism c. 1200 and embarked on a prodigious building spree, building the new capital city of Angkor Thom including Bayon, Ta Prohm, Preah Khan and many more as Buddhist structures. However, his successor Jayavarman VIII returned to Hinduism and embarked on an equally massive spree of destruction, systematically defacing Buddhist images and even crudely altering some to be Hindu again. Hinduism eventually lost out to Buddhism again, but the (few) Buddha images in the temples today are later Theraveda additions.

One element that continues to mystify archaeologists is the baray, or water reservoir, built in a grand scale around Angkor: for example, the West Baray is a mind-boggling 8km by 2.3km in size. While it has long been assumed that they were used for irrigation, some historians argue that their primary function was political or religious. Not a single outlet has been found, either by eye or by NASA imaging. The moat around Angkor and the West Baray still contains water, but the rest have dried up.

Motifs

As you tour the temples, you will see certain mythical figures and other motifs cropping up repeatedly.

Angkor Thom

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Angkor Thom
Angkor Thom

Location within Cambodia

Coordinates: 13°24′45″N 103°52′0″ECoordinates: 13°24′45″N 103°52′0″E
Name
Proper name: Prasat Angkor Thom
Location
Country: Cambodia
Location: Angkor, Siem Reap Province, Cambodia
Architecture and culture
Architectural styles: Khmer, Dravidian
History
Date built:
(Current structure)
12th century
Creator: Jayavarman VII

Angkor Thom (“Great City”), located in present day Cambodia, was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire. It was established in the late twelfth century by King Jayavarman VII. It covers an area of 9 km², within which are located several monuments from earlier eras as well as those established by Jayavarman and his successors. At the centre of the city is Jayavarman’s state temple, the Bayon, with the other major sites clustered around the Victory Square immediately to the north.

Angkor Thom was established as the capital of Jayavarman VII’s empire, and was the centre of his massive building programme. One inscription found in the city refers to Jayavarman as the groom and the city as his bride.

Angkor Thom seems not to be the first Khmer capital on the site, however. Yasodharapura, dating from three centuries earlier, was centred slightly further northwest, and Angkor Thom overlapped parts of it. The most notable earlier temples within the city are the former state temple of Baphuon, and Phimeanakas, which was incorporated into the Royal Palace. The Khmers did not draw any clear distinctions between Angkor Thom and Yashodharapura: even in the fourteenth century an inscription used the earlier name.[1]:138 The name of Angkor Thom—great city—was in use from the 16th century.

Faces on Prasat Bayon

The last temple known to have been constructed in Angkor Thom was Mangalartha, which was dedicated in 1295. Thereafter the existing structures continued to be modified from time to time, but any new creations were in perishable materials and have not survived. In the following centuries Angkor Thom remained the capital of a kingdom in decline until it was abandoned some time prior to 1609, when an early western visitor wrote of an uninhabited city, “as fantastic as the Atlantis of Plato“. It is believed to have sustained a population of 80,000–150,000 people.

 

Preah Khan and Phnom Bakheng

Preah Khan

Preah Khan (“Royal Sword”) is a temple at Angkor, Cambodia, built in the 12th century for King Jayavarman VII. It is located northeast of Angkor Thom and just west of the Jayatataka baray, with which it was associated. It was the centre of a substantial organisation, with almost 100,000 officials and servants. The temple is flat in design, with a basic plan of successive rectangular galleries around a Buddhist sanctuary complicated by Hindu satellite temples and numerous later additions.

Phnom Bakheng

Phnom Bakheng at Angkor, Cambodia, is a Hindu temple in the form of a temple mountain. Dedicated to Shiva, it was built at the end of the 9th century, during the reign of King Yasovarman (889-910). Located atop a hill, it is nowadays a popular tourist spot for sunset views of the much bigger temple Angkor Wat, which lies amid the jungle about 1.5 km to the southeast. The large number of visitors makes Phnom Bakheng one of the most threatened monuments of Angkor. Since 2004, World Monuments Fund has been working to conserve the temple in partnership with APSARA.

Constructed more than two centuries before Angkor Wat, Phnom Bakheng was in its day the principal temple of the Angkor region, historians believe. It was the architectural centerpiece of a new capital, Yasodharapura, that Yasovarman built when he moved the court from the capital Hariharalaya in the Roluos area located to the southeast.

Day tour to Kbal Spean Mountain and Baneay Srei Temple

Day tour to Kbal Spean Mountain and Banteay Srei Temple

 

Banteay Srei Temple is located some 37 kilometers from Siem Reap town centre and River Queen. A visit to Banteay Srei is usually combined with a visit to Kbal Spean Mountain located several kilometers further from temples. It is within reasonable distance to travel by Tuk Tuk or some visitors may prefer taxi. Tuk Tuk ride takes around 90 minutes going through some nice scenery, providing quite good photo and video opportunities on the way. A visit to Banteay Srei and Kbal Spean Mountain should be planned as a full day activity. There are several restaurants offering traditional Cambodian food of good quality, reasonable prices and great taste.
Kbal Spean climb is around 2 kilometers, not very steep and pleasant and definitely worth visiting.

Some history of Banteay Srei as per Wikipedia:

Banteay Srei or Banteay Srey is a 10th century Cambodian temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Located in the area of Angkor in Cambodia. It lies near the hill of Phnom Dei, 25 km (16 mi) north-east of the main group of temples that once belonged to the medieval capitals of Yasodharapura and Angkor Thom.[1] Banteay Srei is built largely of red sandstone, a medium that lends itself to the elaborate decorative wall carvings which are still observable today. The buildings themselves are miniature in scale, unusually so when measured by the standards of Angkorian construction. These factors have made the temple extremely popular with tourists, and have led to its being widely praised as a “precious gem”, or the “jewel of Khmer art.

Information about Kbal Spean from Wikipedia:

Kbal Spean (“Bridge Head”) is an Angkorian era archaeological site on the southwest slopes of the Kulen Hills to the northeast of Angkor in Siem Reap District, Siem Reap Province, Cambodia. It is situated along a 150m stretch of the Stung Kbal Spean River, 25 kilometers (16 mi) from the main Angkor group of monuments.

The site consists of a series of stone carvings in sandstone formations carved in the river bed and banks. It is commonly known as the “Valley of a 1000 Lingas” or “The River of a Thousand Lingas”. The motifs for stone carvings are mainly myriads of lingams (phallic symbol of Hindu god Shiva), depicted as neatly arranged bumps that cover the surface of a sandstone bed rock, and lingam-yoni designs. There are also various Hindu mythological motifs, including depictions of the gods Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Lakshmi, Rama, and Hanuman, as well as animals (cows and frogs).

Suggested plan for a day visiting Banteay Srei and Kbal Spean Mountain:

  • Early breakfast in River Queen – 7:30 apm – 8:00 am
  • River Queen can organise a good English speaking Tuk Tuk driver or Taxi driver. Our driver will be waiting for you and you can discus plans for the day with him before leaving. We suggest taking bottle of water with you (you can fill your bottle with filtered water in our reception area). Maximum time required to reach Kbal Spean Mountain is less than 2 hours. We suggest starting with visit to Kbal Spean first because you will be fresh for a climb and the temperature will be more pleasant. Tuk Tuk drivers charge US $25.00 for a day trip to Kbal Spean and Banteay Srei. Taxi drivers charge US $ 55.00 for this tour.
  • River Queen can organise a certified tour guide (your choice of language) to guide you through the visit. Daily fee for a guide is US $25.00. It is a good idea to make this arrangement more than one day in advance during high season (November-March) due to high demand for tour guides.
  • Purchase daily pass for visiting temples on the way. Daily pass is US $20.00. The same pass is valid for visiting the Angkor Wat complex of temples. There is an option of purchasing 3 day pass for the price of 2 days (US $40.00).
  • Visit to Kbal Spean and site seeing including “The River of a Thousand Lingas” should take approximately 2 hours
  • You can order your lunch box at the reception of River Queen the evening before your trip or your Tuk Tuk driver can take you to one of the restaurants on the road between Kbal Spean and Banteay Srei. Restaurants are clean, serving tasty Cambodian food and prices are reasonable.
  • Visit to Banteay Srei Temple should not take more than two hours. This temple is well known for very sophisticated and beautiful stone-carvings. It is often called the “jewel of Khmer art”
  • Return trip back to the town or River Queen Guesthouse should not take more than two hours. Expect to be back around 3:00 pm.
  • Time to review your photos with a cold drink in River Queen Bar or relax on the roof-top enjoying the views and cool jacuzzi.

Some photos from my last visit to Kbal Spean and Banteay Srei

I am sure that visit to Siem Reap and temples from the great Angkor Era is great experience.