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Friday, March 22, 2013

March 20, 2013 Angkor Thom and Preah Khan

March 20, 2013 Angkor Thom and Preah Khan
Day 3 in Siem Reap we first visited Angkor Thom, "The great City", which was the largest city in the ancient Khmer empire. The center is dominated by the Bayon, which is packed with over 50 towers.  
Bayon at Angkor Thom

We could actually climb up into the tower complex to view the faces more closely. Each and every square tower bears a massive engraved smiling face on all of the four sides, so that everywhere you turn you feel stared upon by these eerily serene faces.  Apparently this depicts the all-seeing/all-knowing lord who looks down on the world with infinite compassion.
This part of the complex is the most well preserved part of the old compound, particularly the bas-reliefs of the Khmer army engaged in battles and also of every day life in the 12th century: cock fights, cooking meals, festivals, market scenes, Kings riding elephants. You can literally see the stories played out here, just as at Angkor Wat. Again, every surfaced is decorated and carved with dancers, vestal virgins, gods and common folk.  
7 Vestal Virgins
The entrance paths are lined with rows of massive carved statues of gods and nagas.
There are statues of lions, elephants and serpents throughout.
Lion in the foreground, a Naga behind
 Just amazing. Reluctantly, we noticed our guide, Mr. Rong waving us back to the car. It was time to move on.We stopped at a typical tourist trap for a mediocre lunch before heading over to the next complex. 

The drive alone to Preah Khan was just incredible. We passed countless statues, carvings and ruins along the way. This entire area must have been magnificent in its glory days.
The path leading into Preah Khan is very long and lined with complex statues and carvings.
Add path leading into Preah Khan
The main entrances are guarded with warriors holding a massive cobra (Naga).
Preah Khan is said to be built as a monastery and hostel for weary travelers, and is named for the Sacred Sword of the King's father. As with the other complexes, it is built to lead you to the center sanctuary of the sword where the tomb of the king is (was) encased. 
It appears to be lit with a flame when the sun hits a certain point in the sky You will note the many holes in the walls…these were formerly inlaid with precious gems, which have long ago been raided. It must have been a magnificent sight when the sunlight entered this sanctuary.

There is a wing dedicated to the shrine of the White Lady – the queen – who promoted education and had established an on-site library and religious college.
Shrine of The White Lady

The Library

There were many small buildings set throughout the complex that I thought appeared to be tombs, but a local guide indicated that these were the hostels.  Hmmm.

There was also the Hall of Dancers adorned with dancing Apsaras.
Entrance to the Hall of Dancing Apsaras
Another view of the small buildings
Preah Khan is distinctly unique and sadly has also been raided and stripped of all jewels and adornments, when the Hindu rulers conquered the area and replaced many Buddha images with Hindu deities, although vestiges of both are still evident. There is a feeling of spirituality to this place that I did not sense at Angkor Wat or at Angkor Thom.

The sun began roasting us so we gratefully climbed back into the car for our fresh towels and cold water. Next stop was the hotel pool and the spa where we were both booked for massages to end our  day.

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