Friday, December 31, 2010

Phnom Bakheng and Baphuon

Third day in Siem Reap, we should proclaim it as the marathon through Angkor Archaeology Park. We started around 8:30 am. The first stop, Phnom Bakheng.  Then, a better look on the South Entrance of Angkor Thom, followed by Baphuan, Terrace of Elephant, Terrace of Leper King, and the Royal Palace. We headed north to Preah Khan and  east to Ta Keo before we stopped for lunch, again beside Sras Srang. Ta Prohm was our last stop of our marathon, and we ended our quest around 4 pm. By the way, with all the information gathered from the first two days, we went through our third day without tour guide. The rental of the minibus was still USD 35 per day.
Phnom Bakheng temple was once enclosed inside the great city of Yashodharapura, the capital found by Yashovarman I. Crowned  in 889 A.D., the king built the largest enclosed city with the wall of 4 km long, surrounded by 200 m wide moat. It was the greatest city of the world during that era. As the city was west to Angkor Wat, it might be one of the very reason why Angkor Wat, which was built around 250 years later faces west, instead of east (not a good idea to show the backside of the glorious wat to the glorious city). 
Phnom Bakheng temple was a very first of its type- the mountain temple. Phnom Bakheng means Strong Hill. The compound of the pyramid temple is around 60 m x 90 m. The 5 level square temple has the size of 76 m per side at the base and 47 m per side on the top, with two libraries situated on both sides of the walkway from the main entrance. The ground level of the pyramid is surrounded by 44 brick prasats (most of them were severely damaged by natural forces). Each level of the pyramid contains 12 sandstone prasats-four at each of the edges, and two flank the steep steps. Most of the sandstone prasats are well preserved. At the top of the pyramid is a crown with 4 corner and a center prasat.

The original staircase used by ancient temple was inaccessible (left). So, we took the elephant route, left to the original staircase to the temple. The whole journey took us around 15 minutes. As the path through the forest is quiet, a walk with partner or in group is advised. 

Two libraries built by sandstones flanking the pathway from the main entrance to the temple.

Group photo at Phnom Bakheng temple, a temple that stood firm and tall for more than a thousand years.

LS's sister, Kelly and Betty on their quest to the top of the temple from eastern staircase, an easier route compares to the southern stairs (left). Bryant and Livien at the top of the temple- a place that once only the king and the high priests could access.

At the top of the temple, wall scupture with apsara can be seen at the center prasat (left). Center prasat on the crown of the pyramid (middle). Tea, coffee, or chess? The restorers really utilise the resource well here by making a coffee table with seats on the top of the temple.

We took a little bit more effort to climb to the top of the temple with 13 m high from the top of the hill (we were about 83 m from the foot of the hill). From the top of the temple, we had a nice view over the area to the west of the Angkor Archaeology Park. The West Baray cannot be seen clearly due to the haze. We spent around an hour at Phnom Bakheng.

Phnom Bakheng alludes Mount Meru. The 108 prasats (44 at the base, 60 on terrace, and 4 at the summit) represent the totality of universe in Hinduism. 108 also represents the total principle names of Shiva. Some believe that the 12 prasats of each level of pyramid have connection with 12 signs of zodiac in Indian tradition and 12 animals in the Chinese astrological cycle. With a total of five cycles, 60 years on earth is the duration for Jupiter to complete a single solar year (look complicated, isn't it? That’s a part of the wisdom of the past, hopefully).

Phnom Bakheng, on the top of the Bakheng Hill, is located a few hundred meters from Angkor Wat. It is a great place for sunrise and sunset.

From Phnom Bakheng, we entered Angkor Thom for the second time, and again, through the South Gate. We took a closer look on the gate. The city, with 3 km on each side, was once protected by 100 m wide moat, and an enclosure wall of 8 m high and 15 m wide. What we discovered, the moat and the gate were remained, while no sign of the wall. Well, it might had been destroyed by the enemy.

The gate of Angkor Thom is around 14 m high (a height of 5 storeys building). The main road from Siem Reap to Angkor Thom was built right through South Gate. So, from the photo, you can see a lot of people moving through the gate. South Gate is the most well preserved.

 A hundred meters wide moat.

A closer look on the gate. South Gate contains a turreted structure with four faces of the King Jaryavarman VII. The side of the gate is well carved with many patterns.
Terrace of Elephants gets its name because of the statues of elephants carved on the terrace, while Terrace of the Leper King gets it name because it was built by a king with skin disease. There was another stream of saying that Terrace of the Leper King named because of the fungus and algae infestation make the statues mimicry some sort of skin disease. Both of the terraces are linked to each other, and serves as the “corridor” to Baphuon, the Royal Palace, and some other edifices, as well as the stage for royal occasions. Terrace of elephants and the Leper extended 300 m and 25 m long respectively, and are believed to be built by Jayavarman VII and Jayavarman VIII respectively. Khleang and Prasat Suor Prat are located just opposite the terraces. 
The terrace of Elephants with a total length of 300 m.

The bas-reliefs on the wall of the terrace of the Leper King. The statue of the king is no more there on its original place. It is kept in National Museum in Phnom Penh.

Baphuon was under heavy restoration during our visit. The upper part of the temple collapsed, because the basement of the temple cannot support the weight of the whole temple. The temple was built around 1060 A.D., one hundred years before Angkor Wat was built. The temple, said, measured 50 m high and 130 x 103 m on the base, with 420 x 125 m enclosure. A 200 m long causeway was built to connect the temple from the entrance gopura. We didn’t enter the temple due to the heavy construction. For the Royal Palace, we again, just “touch and go” without going in for a detailed look on it.

Baphuon from the entrance gopura. The center prasat on the top level of the temple had collapsed and now under serious restoration (left). The elevated causeway to Baphuon.

One of the gopuras of the Royal Palace.

We scouted through the area for one and a half hour. Our jouney continue with Preah Khan and Ta Prohm, and took a brief stop at Ta Keo.

[Bayon and Surrounding Area] [Phnom Bakheng and Baphuon]

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