First day in Siem Reap—Angkor Thom

The Angkor Wat is indeed a whole collection of temples and monuments spotted in the forest of Siem Reap, a town located in the north western Cambodia. The biggest site of Angkor Wat is called Angkor Thom, meaning “the Great City”. It is a cluster of stone temples enclosed by a wall of three thousand metres long. The city was once the capital of the Khmer Empire and now a must-see in Cambodia. Outside the city ran under a big bridge leading us directly to the entrance of the city, and along the bridge were two giant serpents being pulled by demons and God.   There were four Gates like this in the city: one for the sinned, one for the dead, one for the King who returned after victory, and one for common people like us. On each gate there were stone carvings of faces looking at four directions. Then there were more roads and more serpents going through a terrace, then more gates and carvings of an unknown Goddess. All were big and impressive.

Image

Keep walking and we reached the bas-relief gallery—carvings of stories and legends about War, between the demon and God, between the Khmer Empire and other regime or scenes from Buddhist script. Here I saw the serpents again, carried at one end by the God and the other by the demon. According to our guide, 92 Gods and 88 Demons were working together to create an elixir of immortality by pulling the giant serpent. As the elixir was made after thousands of years of hard work, the Gods had some women seduced the Demon and took the elixir by themselves. Apparently even demons were vulnerable to the pleasure of sex, especially after thousands of years of asceticism. Another lesson taught by the story? Maybe be careful about trusting Hindi Gods….

legendary war depicted on bas-relief gallery

Another astonishing fact: the temple was originally built as a Buddhist temple by the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII. However, as the old king died, the new King, a Hindi, swiped the whole nation into Hinduism and ordered workers to modify the temple into a Hindi one—efforts including re-carve the walls (adding moustache on the face of Buddha), destroying those that could not be remade and throwing a giant statue of Buddha into a well inside the temple were made. The statue was later found by a French archaeologist and currently displayed in the North of the city, no longer on the lotus seat inside the temple where it had once belonged.

Image: the well where the Buddhist statue was found

At the centre of Angkor Thom was the Bayon City featured by hundreds of massive stone faces located on fifty storey towers, which was the well-known “Smiles of Angkor”— some with thoughtful eyes, some lifted the corner of their lips lightly, some featured  big and heartfelt smiles. They looked benevolent and happy for centuries and would continue look at that in the future to come, even though rain wash and wind from the north had painted them slightly red, and time had added extra carvings on their ageless face, they looked perfectly flawless under the tropical sun.

Image:the smiling Angkor

Another relief located inside the Bayon City. It depicted life of normal people rather than heroic stories of legends of God and Kings. On the wall I saw people trading on the market, fighting cocks, and women giving birth. A crocodile was seen under Khmer people’s boat, and an army was seen march toward the enemy. Ancient Khmer people chose such a clever way to keep their civilisation on record, using a wall that could stand for thousands of years, so that tourists today could still be talking about the unlucky ancient Khmer ancestor who had been attacked by a tiger.

Image:Life of ancient Combodian

The whole site of Angkor Thom was astonishing and it could be more pleasant if there were less tourists. But as the sun began to set and crowds of tourists began to retreat, the whole site got changed in golden twilights and secretly switched into a peculiar, insular air:  massive, even hyperbolic, upbeat with a bit of hubris, the faces on the ancient tower never ceased to be grandiose.

Image:Angkor Thom in Twilight

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3 thoughts on “First day in Siem Reap—Angkor Thom

  1. Pingback: Cebu Pacific Flying Direct to Siem Reap | Love 2 Type

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