8am: My new friends had arranged for both a Tuk Tuk driver and a guide; Angkor Archeological Park has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since1992 and a guide enhances the experience ten fold.
Most tourists spend 2 days exploring the ancient temples. Day 1 is the Grand Circuit consisting of smaller temples, further apart. Day 2 is the Small Circuit, featuring 2-4 of the more spectacular temples. The Circuits’ names seem counter intuitive to me…anyways. Today was the 2nd day the boys had spent touring, so I accompanied them to see the Grand Temples on the ‘Small Circuit’. First up, Angkor Wat!
Without our guide I would have walked right past so many interesting details in the relief carvings. (For instance, there is a woman, washing someone’s hair just to the right of our guide’s elbow!) This impressive wall of reliefs was restored in 2012 and tells the story of the war of 1177 when the Cham people over threw the kingdom of Angkor. The Cham are taking seated Khmer people back to their land by canoe to be slaves.
Riding an elephant into battle. (I figured this out on my own!)
Often, our guide was able To tell us the history or mythology behind the carvings. I love hearing creation stories. My favorite was the creation of the Apsaras (aka. Celestial dancers with impossibly curved fingers.)
The Hindu story: Once upon a time 54 gods & 54 demons were searching for the Elixer of Life. They discovered that they must wrap Vasuki the snake around a volcano in the Ocean of Milk and churn it back and forth for 1000 years. In the reliefs, this looks like a giant tug of war. After 500 years of churning, the Apsara sprung up from the froth and danced in the sky.
There are SO many carvings of Apsaras, in unique poses, with wild hairstyles that the Cambodian culture devised a very slow dance based on transitioning between the poses. Girls who aspire to be Apsara dancers when they grow up must start training their fingers to gracefully bend backwards at an early age.
Here I am, chiseling an Apsara at an interpretive station.
There are lovely views from the central towers in Angkor Wat. There are also shrines in each of the four directions. As the kings who ruled the area changed, the religious persuation of the temples occilated between Hindu and Buddhist. Therefore, most of the free-standing statues have been removed or vandalized. Luckily, this Hindu god has kept most of his arms.
Most of the original staircases have been closed or covered over with scaffolding; unlike this portion.
After 2 hours in Angkor Wat, we were ready to move on down the road… to Angkor Thom. (Which means Great City in Khmer.) These giant statues are playing tug of war with Vasuki the snake, as they churn the sea of milk.
Angkor Thom was founded by Angkors greatest king, Jayavarman VII , 800+ years ago. The most striking feature of Angkor Thom is the Bayon Temple at the center of the city. It is the place where earth and heaven join and it is decorated with 215 peacful, smiling faces.
It was hot as blazes by this time in the day, but those smiling faces kept me strolling for over an hour. These gentle faces are most likely the Bodhisattva Lokesvara, although some people think they are modeled after Jayvarman VII, himself. Either way- I could look at his serene face all day!
After soaking in the peaceful smiles of Bayon Temple, we headed to lunch to get out of the heat and rehydrate.
No, that is not us on an elephant on our way to lunch… we took a Tuk Tuk.
After lunch, slightly refreshed, we took on Baphuon.
It had an impressive raised walkway and children cooling off in the water.
Thoroughly exhausted, we headed back to the hostel for a nap!