Sunday, November 9, 2008

angkor thom: king jayavarman VII's playground

after marveling at all the structures of angkor wat--the naga bridge, the apsaras on the walls, the long galleries depicting ramayana, mahabharata, and suryavarman's departure from that particular angkor, our tuk-tuk drivers took us to angkor thom.

passing through the east gate, where the vedas and asuras were lined up, depicting the churning of the ocean of milk, we got a glimpse of bayon straightaway. but before enjoying this structure, we had to partake of lunch first, courtesy of the villa. all tours include special lunch packs placed in a tiny cooler to keep them fresh. we sat down in one of the eateries near the souvenir shops, and mr. han carefully took out our sandwiches from the cooler.

afterwards, thia, our guide, gathered us by a hut in front of bayon, and began his lecture. the entire angkor thom complex occupies 12 square kilometers of land, and the center of it is the bayon temple, a buddhist temple created for and by (though not with his own hands) king jayavarman VII.

the outer walls of the temple were decorated with carvings and "drawings" depicting every day life back then in the khmer empire. we saw a semblance of a barbecue, people grilling their sticks of fish and meat, and there was even one of a man being bitten by a turtle held by his wife. it provided us with a great window to the past, which i found really interesting. i was struck by one particular picture, that of a woman giving birth. it was nice to know that these things were "documented," and we know how they lived before.

after exploring the outer walls, thia led us to the second level, where you can see most of the buddha faces. much of the temple is now in ruins, but you can still see just how majestic it used to be, and it still has a commanding presence in the capital. there were plenty of cool photo points here, including a nose-to-nose buddha photo op. thia also pointed out a specific area where you can see three faces lined up.

we then walked over to baphuon, another temple that featured little columns and a large outdoor reclining buddha made up of large blocks of stone. the face of the buddha is not easy to recognize, as much of the blocks that make up the entire buddha image are still scattered on the forest beside the temple. the wiki entry on baphuon states that the rise to power of the khmer rouge interrupted the restoration of this temple in 1960, and the records indicating the position of the blocks have been lost.

thia then led us across the forest, where the former royal palace was. the palace was burned to the ground during an attack. (i make the entire trip sound so easy and fast here, when in fact, at this point, we had been really exhausted already!) after a while, we got a glimpse of phimeanakas, another temple with a rather interesting background. it was believed during the khmer empire that a naga (snake) lady lived in this temple, and that all kings were required to make love to the naga lady lest misfortune befall the kingdom.

next on the list was the elephant terrace, and the terrace of the leper king. by this time, my exhaustion was causing me to lose interest, and all i heard was that the elephant terrace was used for special ceremonies like taking oaths and festivities. there were several brick structures across the terrace, and thia explained that these buildings were used by tightrope walkers for their performances. they would walk from one structure to the other, which was actually impressive, since they were so far apart.

i was pretty relieved that the tour ended there--i didn't think i could have handled more climbing and more walking, and my camera's battery had also given up. serves me right for not charging it the night before! our trusty tuk-tuk drivers, mr. han and mr. tal, picked us up at the foot of the elephant terrace, and we roared back to the villa.

see more photos of angkor thom.

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