The Mekong River basin is central to understanding the Khmer temples of the ancient Khmer Empire. This post is the fourth in our series about our AmaWaterways Riches of the Mekong trip. Yesterday we explored Angkor Wat. We are still in Siem Reap and today we visit several other temples from the ancient Khmer Empire.
After a hardy breakfast, we’re off to Angkor Thom in mini buses. This is because the large motor coaches are not allowed on Angkor Thom grounds lest their vibration disturb the ancient temples.
This was a huge ancient capital city of the Khmer empire. There were approx 100,000 people in the city walls being supported by about a million in the surrounding area. After driving through the beautiful east gate and moats we finally reach the center, where the Bayon temple is located. There are many Khmer temples located on the grounds, we’re going to the most important.
Bayon Temple – the Classic Khmer Temple
This is a totally different experience from Anchor Wat or Bantey Srei. (see our previous post on Angor Wat). Bayon is dominated by huge faces carved into the towers. The faces are of the king as Buddha. And the faces are iconic. In addition, it’s hard to escape the power of the constant gaze – just what the emperor of the once mighty Khmer Empire would want.
But it’s not just the faces that are so interesting. Because the King wanted to tell his story in pictures, we have a fantastic record of what life was like in the 12th century. You find hyper detailed engravings of wars (showing both sides, weapons, wardrobes, family waiting), Chinese peoples visiting, prayers and other daily activity.
Want to know more about this incredible place? I found this Lonely Planet web site interesting.
Ta Prohm Temple
As with most of the Kymer temples in the region, Ta Prohm was re-discovered, cleared and refurbished originally by the French. The decision was made to keep one temple in basically the same shape as it was found – and that’s what Ta Prohm represents. Here you can still see how the jungle overtakes a structure over the centuries and how much refurbishment really accomplishes. After visiting, we have new found respect for the restoration efforts.
This is a different Khmer temple experience since much of the grand temple lay in ruin. But the grandeur and skill is still evident. And certainly nature’s restorative force is evident as well. The diversity of the Khmer temples are evident at each location. This web site has some additional information.
Taken for a ride
We went into Siem Reap for lunch, again based on recommendations from our friends (also confirmed with our cruise manager). The place – Chanrey Tree was fantastic and offered French Fusion cuisine.
Actually our adventure started at the Sofitel hotel. Hotel staff called up three tuk tuk’s – basically motor scooter driven taxis (we had 10 in our group). We asked to go to our lunch place but when we went to pay, the drivers said they would wait for us to finish lunch. After a few hours we emerged from the restaurant and we asked them to take us shopping.
Instead we toured around Siem Reap markets (Pub street, night market areas) and then driven to a very nice, very fine shop out of the way. Nice as in “$12,000 rug” nice. We said we weren’t interested in this and just wanted to shop. But instead of driving us back down town, we were taken to another store – again, away from the touristy things we wanted to see.
We asked to go back to the hotel and drivers said that we can pay them whatever we wanted. Suggested price was $2 per person each way (we learned from the hotel concierge)
The best we can figure, the drivers receive a kick back from the shops to direct traffic to their shops. Either that or their English translation was incredibly bad. No…..we think they knew exactly what they were doing – we were taken for a ride.
We enjoyed the beautiful weather and pool the rest of the afternoon at the Sofitel. Later we ate the included dinner and then packed up. Some from our group went back into Siem Reap, successfully getting to their destination. We opted for rest and relaxation (and a little catching up on client emails) pacing ourselves for the upcoming days.
Bye to Siem Reap and the Khmer Temples
With our heads filled with gods and kings we head off to sleep. Siem Reap is a bustling and quickly developing town fueled by tourist dollars. We saw world class ruins and learned so much about the ancient Khmer culture. Each Khmer temple was very different:
- Grandeur of Angkor Wat
- Details of Bantey Srie
- Huge Faces of the Banyo Temple of Ankor Thom
- Ruins and restoration of Ta Prohm
Tomorrow we head to the ship…we are looking forward to unpacking all our suitcases for an entire week! Click All aboard to go to the next blog post in our Riches of the Mekong series.
Here’s some bonus photos from our time in Siem Reap: