On Friday we flew up to Siem Reap for our second go at temple hopping in the Angkor Archaeological Park. Saturday morning we were up early and after filling up at the amazing ‘something for everyone including sushi and wasabi’ Victoria breakfast buffet we waved down a tuk tuk outside the hotel and again we were off.
“We have already seen Angkor Wat”, we assured him, “last time.”
It was an encouragingly cool morning as we entered the park and bought our tickets and reassured our tuk tuk driver we HAD seen Angkor Wat as he drove past. Bakheng looked optimistically devoid of tour buses which meant hopefully not too many people still lurking, very post sunrise, at the top. The number of people using the site as a vantage point for a picturesque sunrise or sunset over Angkor Wat is having a serious impact on its preservation.
There are three paths up to Bakheng, the original path, begun between two guardian lions, now deemed too eroded, too slippery and therefore too dangerous, one for those who paid the princely sum of 20USD (yep that’s the same amount it costs to spend the whole day exploring the entire Angkor Archaeological Park) for an elephant ride up the ‘Elephant Path’ and finally one for those who chose to get to the top under their own steam. It took less than 10 minutes to walk up the phnom to the large walled Hindu ‘temple mountain’. Dedicated to Shiva, Bakheng was built at the end of the 9th century, during the last part of the reign of King Yasovarman, more than two centuries before Angkor Wat. A sanskrit inscription at Sdok Kak Thom temple in Thailand is thought to describe Bakheng as the main temple in Yasovarman’s new capital Yasodharapura, although this has yet to be archeologically proven. (There is an interesting article on this here: http://www.khmerstudies.org/events/conferences/Phnom%20Bakheng%20Workshop/weerawardane%20chhan%2087-89.pdf
‘The Bayon?’, he said.
‘No the Elephant Terrace please’, we said. ‘We have seen Bayon already.’
He smiled doubtfully but started his bike and drove through the gate into Angkor Thom. On the approach to Bayon he slowed and looked over his shoulder at us.
‘Bayon’, he said, nodding in the direction of the magnetic, smiling temple.
‘Elephant terrace’, we chorused grateful we didn’t have to fight with the mass of humanity that had just spilled out of the 5 buses in the carpark in front of The Bayon.He dropped us off right beside one of the triple headed elephants guarding the terrace steps and we picked our way through the mud and puddles in the Royal Square until we got to one of the Khleangs.
The picturesque twin buildings called Khleang, meaning storehouse (although they could have just as easily been used to house illustrious guests as supplies), were built at different times and are part of a large area of ruins of prasat, temple and pool.
I love the idea that the prasats, in front, are thought to have been used for tightrope walkers who walked on ropes stretched between or as observation points for guests watching grand parades and theatrics on the Royal Square. It’s much nicer than the other option; that they may have been used to hold litigants in disputes until one succumbed to illness or death thereby indicating their guilt.
We walked down ‘Victory Avenue’ between two pools towards the Buddha terrace and then cut across the grass towards the skeleton of the Preah Pithu complex which is mostly a jumble of large blocks now.