Discover the ANGKOR area temples
GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION AND VISITS’ PLANNINGS
The site of ANGKOR is quite near from the town of SIEM REAP, where you will stay during your visit in the area. Siem Reap is located at 314 km in the North-West of PHNOM PENH, the capital of CAMBODIA.
It is a zone of plains with small hills, in the North-East of the TONLE SAP Large Lake which is the regulating tank of the MEKONG River. The population is mainly agricultural and the lake is bordered by the floating villages and the on-pole houses of the fishermen.
Programs from three to six days suggested by MERU TOUR allow discovering the temples through a historical and descriptive approach. They take into account the optimization of your transfers and, as far as possible, the chronology of their construction. One day is dedicated to the discovery of the current everyday life on the Large Lake, in the surrounding countryside and in the town of Siem Reap.
HISTORICAL AND RELIGIOUS BACKGROUNDS
The temples you will visit in the area of ANGKOR were built between the 9th and the 13th centuries of our era, from the beginning of the Khmer Empire, in 802, until the prevalence of ANGKOR THOM, as capital of the country.
Only the religious monuments were built in durable materials and that is the reason why they are still standing today. The dwelling houses and the palaces, even the royal ones, were built in wood and thus did not withhold the fires, wars and wear of time.
Since their origins, both Hindouist and Buddhist religions have influenced the Southeast Asia’s architecture and have been closely combined in the design and the low-reliefs of the temples. They still govern the life of the today Khmer population in an interesting symbiosis.
Built by order of the successive Khmer kings in remembrance of their ancestors, the temples are generally dedicated to one or more gods of the Hindouist Pantheon which is immense. The gods’ triad composed by SHIVA, BRAHMA and VISHNOU is traditionally at its head.
All along the low-reliefs of the temples, they are usually represented on their symbolic mounting system which makes easier to recognize them:
– SHIVA, at the same time creative and destroying god, is regarded as the supreme god. He is represented with only one face, bearing a third eye placed vertically in the middle of the forehead. He may have several arms. His principal attribute is the three-pronged fork, his chest is barred with the Brahmanic cord and he rides the bull NANDIN
– BRAHMA, the creative god, is often represented with four faces, three of which only are of course visible in the low-reliefs, and four arms. He is sat on the goose HAMSA
– VISHNOU, the preserving god, is represented with one face and four arms carrying the solar disc, the conch, the stick and the earth globe, and additionally, when rarely represented with eight arms, the lotus and the sword. He is sat on the man-bird GARUDA
A certain number of secondary gods, or reincarnations of the main gods, are also represented on the low-reliefs of the temples.
Among the secondary gods, one will quote:
– INDRA, king of the thirty-three gods sitting at mythical Mount MERU, represented on the three heads elephant AIRAVATA,
– KAMA, the god of the human love, sat on a parrot
– and YAMA, supreme judge of deaths, riding a buffalo.
Among the reincarnations of VISHNOU, one will quote:
– the tortoise (2nd reincarnation),
– the man-lion NARASIMHA (4th reincarnation),
– the dwarf Brahman VAMANA (5th reincarnation),
– RAMA (7th reincarnation) hero of the great Hindu legend of Ramayana,
– KRISHNA (8th reincarnation) with herculean strength,
– and BUDDHA himself (10th reincarnation) as a proof of the syncretism trend.
Each one of these reincarnations allowed VISHNOU to come back down on the earth to save it, when it was under dark forces’ influences.
MAIN ARCHITECTURAL PERIODS
The official classification of the Khmer monuments refers to their chronology by distinguishing three periods (pre-angkorian, angkorian and post-angkorian) and fifteen architectural styles. Each style corresponds to an evolution of the architecture, low-reliefs, decoration and sculpture, while testifying of the actions of the kings who erected the temples and the history of their dynasties.
We will only mention the evolution of the technologies and the materials used in the building of the temples of the ANGKOR area.
The temples have as common characteristics through the ages, to represent mythical Mont MERU, residence of gods, and are therefore built on natural hills or artificial pyramidal bases. They were generally crowned by five towers (“prasat”) and surrounded by several enclosures and/or degrees (ideally seven).
The artificial bases generally consist of thick walls built in laterite, then filled with ground earth.
Temples from the 9th and 10th centuries of the ANGKOR area are built in solid bricks, the outsides of which are carved in low-reliefs directly on this material, and are decorated with carvings on sandstone facings (pillars and lintels of the doors, representations of gods and/or guards of the temples).
At the end of the 10th century, bricks are replaced by the sandstone which offers more important surfaces to the sculptors, while being also easy to work.
As the sandstone careers were exhausted by the preceding builders, stone constructions finally appear within the 11th century.
When they are stone temples, the blocks are each bored with holes intended to receive wood pieces to facilitate their handling by the mean of cables during construction. However, and whatever the material used, one will notice the particularly important number of holes on the walls of certain temples. It is supposed that these buildings were covered with limestone plating, even of solid silver for some of them, which were attached by many ankles.
With the use of the sandstone and stone, appears also the use of wood for the frames and the large surfaces roofs as well as for the ceilings. Nowadays, these pieces of wood have disappeared (except some in Angkor Vat) but some of their anchoring points or supports holes are still visible in the walls, like the sites of the doors hinges, which were also made out of wood.
PRACTICAL INFORMATIONS FOR THE VISIT OF THE TEMPLES
The Temples and other archeological sites are to be exclusively visited with an Official Guide of the Angkor Area and after the payment of the pass price, which depends upon the envisaged number of visiting days.
One will respect these still present worship places, as well as the Khmer decency, by wearing long clothes, also suitable to a good protection against the heats of the sun.
Closed and comfortable walking shoes are also recommended.
The small banknotes of the local currency (Riel) will enable you to relieve the existence of some groups of musicians, generally victims of the mines, which one will meet on the temples’ paths. However, the Khmer dignity avoids the proliferation of the begging, whose travelers are sometimes attacked in other countries.
For memory: 1 US Dollar = 4.000 Riels = a little less than one Euro, and 500 Riels are only 10 cents of Euro.
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST OF THE SIEM REAP AREA
A boat trip on the TONLE SAP Large Lake will allow becoming aware of the precariousness of the life of the fishermen living in floating villages or in on-pole houses. Very particular colors and water glints will enable you to keep original photographic memories from this trip.
From November to February, when water is high enough after the rainy season (from June to October), it is interesting to travel between PHNOM PENH and SIEM REAP (or the return) either in fast and cheap boats (6 hours), or in luxury cruising river boats (two days and half with interesting visits during the many stopovers). The navigation consists in 150 km of river and the longitudinal crossing of the Large Lake for also 150 km.
City of SIEM REAP itself, which counts approximately 130.000 inhabitants, keeps no trace of the etymology of its name, which means “Defeat of the Siam’s”, during a battle in the 14th century.
Around the Old Market, an interesting district with colonial architecture was built at the end of the 19th century.
One of the first built hotels in SIEM REAP, the “Grand Hôtel d’Angkor”, has been erected in the Thirties by a French contractor of Italian origin: Romain LIVERA.
The through traffic avenue, the Sivatha Boulevard, is bordered of modern shops and many restaurants.
The Royal Residence, whose only gardens are public, often accommodates King Norodom Sihamoni, who is particularly attached to the historical heritage of His Country.
The Angkor National Museum, inaugurated at the end of 2007 within a very successful framework, presents a large and very interesting synthesis of the visits which one will have made during one’s stay.
The Siem Reap River, bordered with beautiful trees, curves in a “green casting” through the middle of the city where it is said that a new hotel is opening every day! In 2012, three millions tourists came to visit Cambodia.
A stay of at least five days during the “fresh” season (from mid-November to the end of March) will allow visiting interesting archaeological or worshiping places which are distant from approximately 50 km of SIEM REAP.
It is mainly the Kbal Spean site, where one will discover “the thousand lingas’ river”, after a walk in forest. Symbolic sculptures and representations of Brahmanic divinities of the 10th century cover the banks and the mineral river’s bed.
The other remote center of interest is the Phnom Kulen area, a forest high plateau, with its water falls and its pagodas. The oldest pagoda has been built in the 15th century and shelters one immense sleeping Buddha. At this place, King Jayavarman II proclaimed the independence of Cambodia out of Java and established the first capital of the Kingdom in 802.
Have a nice stay with MERU TOUR !
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