Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Bayon Temple Complex, Siem Reap Cambodia

Bayon Temple
We made sure that we walked over to the Bayon Temple from Angkor Thom. The Bayon's most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and smiling stone faces on the many towers which jut out from the upper terrace and cluster around its central peak that some think are the King Jayvaraman VII (or J VII) and others think are Buddha.

Gallery Bas Relief
Gallery Bas Relief
The Bayon was the last state temple to be built at It was the centerpiece of J VII’s massive program of public works and monumental construction. The wall of the outer gallery features a series of bas reliefs depicting historical events and scenes from Khmer life.

Terrace of the Elephants
Elephant Stairs
After the Bayon we walked over to the Terrace of the Elephants. It served as a viewing platform for royal parties that looked across a large open area to see events which are unknown to historians and archaeologists.The terraces probably served as an observation point from which the king and his retinue could observe military reviews, dances, and various ceremonies in the large open area.

Terrace of the Leper King
Lions on the Terrace of the Leper King
Nearby is the the Terrace of the Leper King which is a decorative stone platform that also overlooks the same open space. The terrace features beautiful apsaras, Devatas and serpents and Lions carved into it. The central figure of the sculpture is probably a Khmer ruler who died of leprosy, either Yasovarman I or Jayavarman VII. No one knows.

Prasat Suor Prat Towers
Other interesting ruins in the area are the Prasat Suor Prat towers across the open field from the terraces of the Elephants and the Leper King. No one knows what the Towers were used for either. Some scientist think it might have been built for entertainment purposes relating to the possible use of the Terraces and the open field. There is some historical writings that said the towers were used as a place to hold the litigants before their trial but no one really knows. There are eleven towers.

The Terraces and towers are very impressive sights and they are easy to walk to from Angkor Thom. These ruins are definitely a worthwhile place to visit and experience.

Highly recommended!

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Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Face at Angkor Thom 
On our final day in Cambodia we still had our Temple Passes that were good so we decided to get a Tuk-Tuk and visit Angkor Thom and the Bayon. We have been there a few times but seeing King J VII’s City with the faces on the Bayon again was exciting and wonderful.

Angkor Thom 
Angkor Thom (Khmer: Great City) was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire. It was established in the late twelfth century CE by King Jayavarman VII (reigned 1181-1219, also known as J VII). Its in an area in which are located several monuments from earlier eras as well as those established by J VII and later kings. At the center of the city is his State Temple, the Bayon with other major sites clustered to the North.

The City was built in a nearly perfect square, surrounded by four walls and a 100m-wide moat (now dry), said to have contained ferocious crocodiles. A gate opens exactly in the middle of each wall and a bridge extends over the moat to the area outside the royal Angkor Thom. The original royal palace at Angkor Thom was probably built of wood and no longer stands.

South Gate Angkor Thom 
The South gate is the best restored and most popular, but is also the most busy since it leads directly to Angkor Wat. The East and West gates, found at the end of trails, are more peaceful. Since it seems more undiscovered, the East gate was used in the movie Tomb Raider.

Angkor Thom and the Bayon are very impressive temples and they are pretty easy to go to by Tuk-Tuk. These ruins are definitely a wonderful place to visit and experience.

Highly recommended!

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Angkor Wat Cambodia

Angkor Wat From Helicopter
While we were in Siem Reap we visited Angkor Wat. We try to do it every time we’re in Cambodia and there’s always something new to explore. Angkor draws millions of visitors from around the world.

Sandstone Causeway Promenade
Angkor Wat (Khmer for Temple City) is the most famous and largest temple complex in Cambodia. It’s actually the largest religious monument in the world. The site measures 402 acres. It was originally constructed as a Hindu temple for god Vishnu by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 1100s CE, gradually becoming a Buddhist temple near the end of the 12th century CE.

Causeway Ends
The temple was the capital of the Khmer Empire, King’s State Temple and eventual mausoleum. Breaking from the Shiva tradition of earlier kings, Angkor Wat was instead dedicated to Vishnu.As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious center since its foundation. The temple was at the peak of the high classical style of Khmer building. It is an important symbol of Cambodia, shown on its national flag and its money too. Angkor Wat is Cambodia's prime attraction and place a huge interest for visitors.

Climbing to the Top of the Tower

Line for Tower Climb
Angkor Wat is unusual among the Angkorian temples in that although it was somewhat neglected after the 16th century CE it was never completely abandoned, its preservation being due in part to the fact that its moat also provided some protection from encroachment by the jungle and Khmer Buddhists have respected and used the temple continuously. Today there are living shrines that monks are still using today scattered around the complex.

Entrance to Gallery
Corbeled Arch

Angkor Wat required considerable restoration in the 20th century, mainly the removal of accumulated earth and vegetation. Work was interrupted by the civil war and Khmer Rouge control of the country during the 1970s and 80s, but relatively little damage was done during this period.

Monk Reading on an Ancient Porch
Early Stupa
Integrated with the architecture of the these buildings, and one of the causes for its fame, is Angkor Wat's extensive decoration, which importantly takes the form of bas relief friezes. The inner walls of the outer gallery bear a series of large-scale scenes mainly depicting episodes from the Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. They have been called “the greatest known linear arrangement of stone carving” by experts. One of the friezes shows the Battle of Kurukshetra and portrays the mutual annihilation of the Kaurava and Pandora families with some original color Remaining. These incredible friezes that were carved in the 1100’s CE and they are still in very good condition.

Battle of Kurukshetra Bas Relief
Close-up Bas Relief Showing Original Color
Angkor Wat, in its beauty and state of preservation, is unrivaled and is considered one of wonders of the world. This temple is an absolute must for any traveler to Siem Reap. It will blow your mind! We love it. These temples truly are amazing. It has some of greatest and most interesting architecture we’ve ever seen.

Highly recommended!

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Banteay Srei, Siem Reap Province

Banteay Srei Main Gate
We made an early morning trip to the temple of Banteay Srei from Siem Reap to see the beautiful, unique and highly carved Sandstone temple. It was a wonderful experience. Banteay Srei is a 10th-century Khmer temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.

It was built almost entirely of red sandstone, a type of stone that lends itself to the elaborate decorative wall carvings which are still clearly visible today. The buildings are relatively small in scale, compared to usual Angkorian construction.This temple is extremely popular. In the afternoon, there’s bus loads of tourists.

Inner Enclosure
Sandstone carving of Vishnu

The temple’s name, Banteay Srei means the citadel of the women, or citadel of beauty, which probably comes from the beautiful intricacy of the bas relief carvings on the walls and the small dimensions of the buildings themselves. Some have also thought that the name relates to the many devatas (Hindu Divine Ones) carved into the walls of the buildings. Banteay Srei dates from 967 CE and was the only major Angkor temple not built by a king. It was built by courtiers and devoted to Shiva.

Mandapa and Central Tower
Banteay Srei is built largely of a hard red sandstone that was be carved like wood. Brick and laterite were used only for the enclosure walls and some structural elements. The temple is known for the beauty of its sandstone lintels and pediments.

Devata with Kneeling Humans with Animal Heads
The temple was rediscovered only in1914, and was the subject of a celebrated case of art theft when Andre Malraux stole four devatas in1923. Malraux was soon arrested and the figures returned. Guess after the return of the Devatas, Malraux’s reputation wasn’t too harmed with the theft because we stayed in the Andre Malraux Suite at Raffles Le Royal in Phnom Penh. He's a historical figure, they named a suite after him.

Back of Temple
This small gem of a temple is well worth the journey and effort in getting there early. It opens at 7:30 am and the beautiful red sandstone glows in the early morning sunlight and low sun lights up the architecture and carvings in a lovely way.

This site is definitely a place for the photographer, and a must-see in a tour involving the Angkorian temples near Siem Reap. Just get there early to beat the crowd.

Highly recommended!

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Kbal Spean, Cambodia

Vishnu is all over the place
Since we’ve been to the Angkor Wat area quite a few times we wanted to see something different from the central Angkor area. After checking into the options, Kbal Spean sounded great, a nice jungle hike to some Angkorian carvings off the beaten path towards Phnom Kulen.

Start of the Trail
Trail Gets a Little Steeper
Kbal Spean (Bridge Head in Khmer) is an Angkorian era site on the slopes of the Kulen Hills in the Siem Reap Province of Cambodia. It is located along a 150 meter stretch of the Stung Kbal Spean River that’s located about 25 kilometers(16 mi) from the main Angkor Wat groups of monuments.
Vishnu and Linga

More Linga
The site consists of a series of stone rock relief carvings in the sandstone formations of the river bed and banks. It is commonly known as the “The River of a Thousand Lingas”. The motifs for the stone carvings are thousands of linga (phallic symbols) of the god Shiva. The linga are neatly arranged square bumps that cover the surface of the sandstone bed rock, and there are also square yoni (female principle) designs. There are many Hindu mythological motifs, including depictions of the gods Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Lakshmi, Rama, Ganesh and Hanuman.

Hindu Gods

The Kbal Spean River is believed to be made sacred by flowing over the religious sculptures and eventually flows through the Angkor temple complex. The carvings are thought to have begun during the times of Hindu kings that ruled Angkor between the 11th and 12th centuries CE.

Yoni and Linga
The site was not discovered until 1968 when a hermit brought it to the attention of a French archeologist who was working in a nearby ruin. Shortly after, the site fell to the hands of the guerrillas during the bloody Khmer Rouge rule and was not opened to the public until 1998.

Vishnu Again

Helpful Stairs
The hike to the carvings takes about 45 minutes and is not too challenging except for a few places that involve climbing up and over fallen rocks along with a steep climbs. There are some stairs that help at the most difficult parts. Its good to wear hiking boots or something similar. The hike to Kbal Spean is fun and beautiful. Its suggested to arrive early to beat the heat and the crowd. An Angkor Pass is required for entry to hike the trail, and also an authorized guide must be with you.

Trail and Guide 
Kbal Spean different from the other temples you will see in this area. When we visited it was also fairly deserted (early). It was nice to be in a quiet place where you could enjoy the carvings and forest beauty without the crowds.

Highly recommended!

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Cuisine Wat Damnak, Siem Reap

Entrance to Cuisine Wat Damnak
We visited Cuisine Wat Damnak on a wonderful night in Siem Reap, it is relatively expensive for Siem Reap but, Cuisine Wat Damnak is really a different type of special restaurant that stands on its own. Early reservations are required.

Downstairs Dining Room

Upstairs Dining Room
View from Window Table
We had reservations 6 weeks in advance. From our window seat we saw many diners turned away with no reservations.

Young Jack Fruit & Crispy Ambok Salad
Seared Koh Kong Scallop with Pomelo
This restaurant is rated in the 100 top restaurants of South East Asia, and only one of a few in Cambodia. When you consider the very reasonable prices, it becomes a definite destination in SR. If the Chef opened this restaurant in London or Paris or San Francisco, the 6 course tasting menu would cost substantially more than the 31USD it is in Siem reap! It’s simply upscale, gourmand food at great prices!

Roasted Pork Shank Curry

BBQ Chicken Sour Soup
Our Tuk-Tuk brought us from the nearby Sala Lodge and we were immediately greeted by the chefs wife who seated us at the best table in the house on the second floor. The table had a lovely window overlooking the restaurants entry and the chef’s fresh vegetable garden below. The view was quite charming and unique. We think we got this nice table because the Sala Lodge front desk called the restaurant, confirmed our reservation and requested the table. It’s all about who you know.

Angkor Stout Slow Cooked Beef Cheek

Tonle Sap Croacker Fish
We decided to try both menus, No.1, as the 6 course option and No. 2 with 5 courses. As the courses started to come out we realized we were having a wonderful, truly fine dining experience in Siem Reap.

Pumpkin, Aged Rum, Banana Crumble Dessert
Service was excellent throughout, not too prompt, the break between courses was perfect for us. At the meal's end, Chef Joannès came out to talk with each diner about the meal which we found truly charming, and he was a nice person too. 

The Chef did an amazing job using local ingredients to highlight the best of Khmer cuisine. The Angkor Stout Beef Cheek with Shiny cresson oyster sauce and fermented chili paste was the highlight. Tonle Sap croacker fish was good on the 5 course menu also.

Every course was incredibly fresh. Sizes were appropriate for the 5 and 6 course tasting menus, not too big, not too small. The cocktails were creative too. And there's a very pleasant, natural feeling ambience upstairs along with professional service. 

We shall Return!

Highly recommended!

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