Elephant Ride

Elephant Ride

Hanoi is building a new terminal for international flights that is expected to open with the New Year. They are also building a new highway and bridge across the Red River which will provide quicker access to the city. We flew Vietnamese Airlines to Siem Reap, Cambodia. The plane was modern with good service, including a light lunch. We stayed in the Victoria Anghor Resort in Siem Reap.

I chose to rise early in order to experience the sunrise over Anghow Wat from Bakheng Hill. Our tour guide was pleased that the sun was partially visible through the clouds. It was interesting to watch the great temple rise out of the dark, but we have superior sunrises almost every day in Prescott. After a picnic breakfast, I climbed aboard a female elephant for a twenty-five minute ride to Bayon.

Bayon is the centerpiece of Angkor Thom with its multitude of serene and massive stone faces on the many towers which jut out from the upper terrace and cluster around its central peak. The temple is known also for two impressive sets of bas-reliefs, which present an unusual combination of mythological, historical, and mundane scenes. It was originally a Hindu site and only later made a Buddhist temple. With its center tower symbolizing Meru, and its oceanic moat, it can be seen as a metaphor for the natural world.

The vast area of Angkor Thom is dotted with many temples and features. We stopped at the Terrace of the Elephant, named for the carvings of elephants on its eastern face. The terrace was used by Angkor’s king Jayavarman VII as a platform from which to view his victorious returning army. It was attached to the palace of Phimeanakas, of which only a few ruins remain. Angkor Thom is in the Bayon style. This manifests itself in the large scale of the construction, in the widespread use of laterite, in the face-towers at each of the entrances to the city and in the naga-carrying giant figures which accompany each of the towers.

Unlike most of the other Angkor temples, which have been painstakingly excavated and restored, Ta Prohm has been left mush as it was found. Massive trees seem to grow like magic from the stone, their tentacle-like roots pouring over doorways, lounging on roofs, and stretching across courtyards. The temple of Ta Prohm was used as a location in the film Tomb Raider.

Future of Khmer Children

Future of Khmer Children

After lunch at Champey, we rode on a tuk-tuk (motorcycle rickshaw) for a city tour. We had stopped at Future of Khmer Children (FKC), a local school providing needy children with an intensive English language curriculum and musical, dance, and sewing skills. We were shocked to learn that one of the children who looked like he was 4 or 5 was 9. Stunted growth, we learned, is quite common as a result of malnutrition. Because of their devastating civil war, Cambodia remains one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia. Some 35% of the population lives in poverty and 15% in extreme poverty. FKC is trying to give poor children a chance for a brighter future. I contributed a chess set and board to the school. We made another stop at Artisans for Angkor, an organization providing young rural people with craft skills that can earn a living in their home village. We observed rooms devoted to weaving, painting, stone and wood carving.

Reflection of Angkor Wat

Reflection of Angkor Wat

Unlike most Khmer temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west rather than the east. This has led many to conclude that Suryavarman intended it to serve as his funerary temple. Further evidence for this view is provided by the bas-reliefs, which proceed in a counter-clockwise direction—prasavya in Hindu terminology—as this is the reverse of the normal order. Rituals take place in reverse order during Brahminic funeral services. Angkor Wat is the prime example of the classical style of Khmer architecture—the Angkor Wat style—to which it has given its name. By the 12th century Khmer architects had become skilled and confident in the use of sandstone (rather than brick or laterite) as the main building material. Most of the visible areas are of sandstone blocks, while laterite was used for the outer wall and for hidden structural parts. The five spires of the main temple of Angkor are the most recognized symbol of Cambodia. The handmade moat is more than a mile in length. I took an interesting picture of the temple and its reflection on an inner lake. 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. There are three levels at Angkor. We traversed the steep stairs to the third level for awe-inspiring views.

Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei

On a drive to Banteay Srey we observed houses on stilts. The lower level is used for keeping animals and dining, not because of flooding. Brahman cattle originally from India are used in the fields and a source of wealth. We also saw water buffalo. Banteay Srey, dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, is considered by many experts to be the pinnacle of artistic achievement at Angkor. The temple’s name means citadel of the women or citadel of beauty which is probably related to the intricacy of the bas relief carvings found on the walls, and the tiny dimensions of the buildings themselves. It is built largely of a hard red sandstone that can be carved like wood.

Banteay Samre is a large, comparatively flat temple displaying Angkor Wat style of architecture and artistry. Built under Suryavarman II and Yasovarman II in the early 12th century, it is a Hindu temple in the Angkor Wat style. It was named after the Samré, an ancient people of Indochina. The temple uses the same materials as the Banteay Srei.

Apsara Dance

Apsara Dance

At the La Tradition Restaurant we enjoyed a traditional Khmer dinner where each course was interspersed with Apsara dance. Apsara or Celestial Dancers are featured by the thousands at the ancient temples of Angkor. Apsara were reputed to be friendly and playful and danced for the gods in order to encourage rain, good crops, prosperity, and protection of the Kingdom. We saw Robam Ploy Souy which is a folk dance dedicated to the Cave Spirit and other gods who are believed to protect their community. The Fishing Dance reminds us of the traditional methods of fishing by the people who lived near the Tonle Sap Lake. The Memento Dance expresses the first meeting between a man and woman who on the one hand are full of love and on the other break away and miss one another.

We enjoyed seeing the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat and experiencing the wonderful Cambodian people living in Siem Reap.

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