Out of 5 gates that afford access to the royal Khmer city of Angkor Thom, only two are heavily trafficked. Being on the Petit Circuit through Angkor Archaeological Park, both South Gate (the busiest one, because it’s also part of the Grand Circuit) and Victory Gate have people passing through them often. Since Angkor Thom North Gate is on the Grand Circuit and off the itinerary vast majority of visitors to Angkor restrict themselves to, it is a much quieter gate than the other two.
Angkor Thom’s square shaped exterior wall has one entrance gate on cardinal point, except from the east wall, which has two – East Gate and Victory Gate. East Gate, even though it’s in the middle of the wall and in line with Bayon, sees very little in terms of traffic because everybody who passes through Angkor Thom simply takes the paved road which was laid to pass through Victory Gate. Yet there still is a gate traffic through which is even scarcer. West Gate is almost totally abandoned and hardly gets any visitors through. Only the most determined explorers who also decide to visit West Mebon (huge water reservoir west of Angkor Thom) take this detour which requires whole day (unless you have motorized transportation) and has very little else to offer.
Needless to say, South and Victory Gates, being the busiest of five have seen more restoration work than the other three gates. North Gate did get restored a bit, but it was one of the gates that was pretty well preserved to begin with. When looting became a profitable past time activity for average Cambodians, many stone giants (Devas on the left and Asuras on the right) adorning the sides of the causeways spanning the dried up moats in front of each gate were vandalized and their severed heads sold to collectors from abroad. Many of the North Gate giants didn’t escape this fate either, leaving this part of the North Gate desperately devastated, but the gate itself remains in pretty good shape.
Nothing otherwise makes the North Gate of Angkor Thom special in any way. It is quieter than South Gate, so if you seek less disturbance from the Cambodian touts of doom, you can find it here. However since all Angkor Thom gates were built to be identical, your best bet for pictures is to stick with the South Gate due to well restored Naga bearing Apsaras and Asuras on either side of the causeway. South Gate also gets many elephants through it which also makes for rather interesting, albeit sad pictures. Like all other gates as well as the towers of Bayon, the North Gate is crowned with the faces of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara bearing the likeness of king Jayavarman VII who had them build.
I didn’t spend much time at the North Gate, just passed through it, making only a minute long stop to snap a couple of pictures. By entering Angkor Thom through the North Gate, I returned to the area I had previously explored, so North Gate concluded my adventure on the grand circuit of Angkor. I did a lot that day. It was incredibly hot and I even managed to foil an attempt to have my bicycle stolen. I was ready to start riding back towards Siem Reap where my cozy bed at the Prom Roth Guest House and Ha were waiting for me. I only had one more stop to take – back at Angkor Wat to say “Hi” to the girls and have one more coconut for the energy to ride back after a long and tiring day.
Preah Khan is a large temple. After visiting Pre Rup, East Mebon, Ta Som and Neak Pean temple ruins, I was a bit spoiled because each of them was relatively small (not that small, but compared to most temples along the Petit Circuit, these were smaller) and didn’t take all that much time to explore. Coming to a temple that counted as one of the largest I have visited anywhere in Angkor yet, I had to mobilize much of my strength to still pull it off after 4 stops full of thorough explorations in this heat. It was already mid afternoon so the temperature were soaring, but the realization that I’m doing pretty good keeping up with schedule, and this is the last big task of the day, I was very eager to get right down to it.
Preah Khan was built during reign of Khmer king Jayavarman VII as a Buddhist monastery which also housed a centre of Buddhist studies. Finalized in 1191, Jayavarman VII dedicated the temple which was built on the site of his victory over the invading Chams to his father Dharanindra. Temple’s central sanctuary originally housed the statue of Lokesvara, the savior god of Mahayana Buddhism which was carved in the image of the king’s father. Unfortunately, this image, as well as all other images representing Buddhism were vandalized during the reign of king destroyer Jayavarman VIII who initiated the reform of Angkor’s religion in favor of Hinduism.
Being similar in layout and style to Ta Prohm (which Jayavarman VII dedicated to his mother), Preah Khan bears further similarities to the former in the many trees which grow among and over the ruins. I found Preah Khan to be the second most jungle overgrown in a huge-trees-intertwined-with-ancient-rock way temple – after Ta Prohm. That just about made it the second most photogenic temple as spots with those monster roots running down the crumbling walls like spilled honey were the most visually appealing feature of Angkor Archaeological Park that drew me to Cambodia in the first place.
Preah Khan, whose name means ‘sacred sword’ (derived from its original name of Nagara Jayasri – meaning holy city of victory) was built on an area covering 56 hectares (138 acres). Including the moat (now dry) which surrounds the outer enclosure, Preah Khan measures 800 x 700 meters. The Jayatataka Baray (huge artificial, rectangular shaped pond) which had the unusually round Neak Pean temple in its middle, was right to the east of Preah Khan. The temple is oriented to the east (as are all Buddhist temples) with eastern wall bearing the main gopura (entrance gate). Each of the exterior walls (each cardinal point) has its own gopura and each has its own causeway over the moat lined on both sides with (now headless) asuras and devatas carrying a body of a naga serpent – similar to what can be found at each entrance to Angkor Thom (best seen at the South Gate).
Preah Khan’s central sanctuary (now housing a Buddhist Stupa) is surrounded with four rectangular enclosures. Coming from the east (that’s where you will most likely come from), when you reach the second wall (third enclosure), you will have come to its, rather large gopura which has two huge silk trees growing over its southern side. One of the trees was leaning too much and threatened to take the entire structure down and had to be cut down. Its roots, which hold the coridor together, were however left in place (along with the other tree) and offer a fantastic opportunity for photography. Except that if you come in the afternoon, like I did, you will have the sun creating strong backlight, pretty much ruining what could have been an otherwise awesome picture. You can also take a picture from the opposite side of the wall and have a sun nicely illuminate it, but it doesn’t look nowhere as impressive from there.
Needless to say, the corridor over which the two giant trees grow is crumbled up and very unstable, presenting a very realistic danger of crushing down hence there are signs warning the visitors not to enter that spot. I had to be the one with the death wish and climbed over rubble to get in there for a picture from within the roots and even though nothing happened to me, I must strongly discourage anyone considering doing the same. If you decide to copy my reckless behavior and the weight of the trees delivers the wall its final blow, there will be no saving you. I could think of better ways to die than by being crushed by giant stones. Don’t do it!
Further into the temple you would find another photogenic spot with what was once a huge tree growing over an ancient wall however the wall below that tree already did crumble down and only parts of it still stand supported by the roots and a wooden frame made by the restorers. The tree was too big and threatened further damage to the structure which sealed its demise. Only a stump is left of this once monster, however the stump is atop a big set of roots still encompassing much of the former wall in a composition that is sure to leave the viewer in awe.
Unfortunately, I only got a chance to go across the temple all the way to its western gopura (via the south which is flanked on both sides with cool stone guardians) and back before I started feeling uneasy about leaving my bike out of my sight while only locked against itself and went to repark it only to catch a group of greedy Cambodians attempting to steal it. This unpleasant experience had me abandon further exploration of Preah Khan and even though rather shaken, I moved on to the last few ruins on the Grand Circle.
There is an exceptionally unique two storey high, stand alone building just north of the Hall of Dancers which is on the west side of the third gopura (second wall from the east to cross, aka the one with two trees growing over it). This unique building features round columns – something that’s not found anywhere else in Angkor. Because of the bicycle stealing episode, I did not go back to Preah Khan and as such, didn’t get a chance to take a picture of this unique building (and a bunch of others).
Overall, I did enjoy my time exploring Preah Khan – too bad a bunch of self righteous locals had to totally ruin the experience for me. Its location on the Grand Circuit makes Preah Khan a less attractive target which results in incomparably fewer visitors crossing its gates. If you’re an enthusiast, I’d say the temple is definitely worth the time and would reward the you with great photo opportunities. If you can time your visit for the morning, you’d also get good light for more captivating shots which would make the whole experience so much better.
A visit to the Neak Pean Temple was a refreshing change. This temple is nothing like anything else you’d find at Angkor Archaeological Park and that makes a visit to Neak Pean very uplifting. Even if you’re totally enthusiastic about the largest religious complex in the world and appreciate ancient architecture, the temples eventually all start looking the same because it’s only small differences that set one apart from another. However a visit to Neak Pean breaks this cycle of sameness apart and makes a weary visitor spry again. Though ultra intense sun and relentless touts can take even the most indestructible spark of enthusiasm and throw it right down to the depths of hell. So what makes Neak Pean so special?
Because I wanted to cover the Grand Circuit of Angkor in one day, and have the rest of my 7 day entrance pass to use for more remote temples, the Neak Pean Temple marked the second half of my itinerary. It felt good knowing that by the time I got to Neak Pean, I was half way through my today’s challenge. The bad news was that when I got to Neak Pean, the day was at its hottest.
It is without doubt humanly possible to cover whole Grand Circuit on a bicycle in one day and have enough time to thoroughly explore each visited temple, however being in Cambodia, one needs to take into an account the mighty element that has the power to juice every last bit of energy an individual, regardless how strong and fit, has in them. Sheer exposure to the intense heat and merciless rays of the Cambodian sun can leave a person breathless, but if you try to engage in any kind of physical activity while the sun inexorably debilitates you, you’re in for the world of pain.
Yet it only gets worse. As if the struggle to keep going while the sun is incapacitating your every single cell was not enough, you also get constantly pressured by the relentless Cambodian touts who specialize in wearing tourists out until they end up giving in and buying whatever junk the touts have for sale. The good news is that the Grand Circuit is not as tout heavy as the Petit Circuit, the bad news is that those who do operate on the Grand Circuit are 10 times more aggressive (something you wouldn’t even believe was possible as any of the million and one touts who jump you on the Petit Circuit will have been the worst pests you have ever had to deal with in your life) because they don’t see the same number of tourists the Petit Circuit touts do each day.
Up to this point, the tout infestation situation has not been that bad, which left me with enough energy to battle off the heat but the visit to the Neak Pean Temple marked the beginning of some of the worst pestering nightmares a person can go through – including an attempted bicycle theft at the largest temple on the Grand Circuit. Still, despite immeasurable heat and a half day of temple exploring on a bicycle behind me, I was very enthusiastic when I approached Neak Pean.
Neak Pean, The Temple
The first thing you notice when you come to the Neak Pean Temple is that it doesn’t make you look up, it makes you look down. Normally, every temple you visit would have the most attention grabbing bits built above the ground. Neak Pean has them below and that gives the temple its unusual feel which made me truly appreciate it.
Granted, had East Baray not gone dry, Neak Pean would shy away before the body of water surrounding East Mebon. However, without the water there, East Mebon look just as another temple build in the middle of a large field. East Baray covered too large of an area to have its banks identified by a naked eye without the surface of the water guiding it. Even though built for a completely different purpose, Neak Pean is kind of like a mini East Mebon as it is also a temple built on an artificial island which was erected in the middle of an artificial pond and was back in the day surrounded by water.
Constructed by the great Khmer King Jayavarman VII, Neak Pean was designed to serve the medical purpose and was built to symbolize Anavatapta – the sacred lake in the Himalayas with healing powers – or at least so the scholar speculate. Many houses of healing (hospitals) were built during the reign of Jayavarman VII, but this one stands out. The pond (an inscription suggests it was named Jayatataka) serves as a central water source which distributes water to the four connecting ponds – similar to lake Anavatapta sourcing four great rivers. The rivers were said to issue water through the mouth of a Lion, an Elephant, a Horse and an Ox and so were the connecting ponds believed to represent Water, Earth, Fire and Wind.
What’s even more impressive is that the entire Neak Pean area was originally an island of its own. Like East Baray, the water reservoir of Preah Khan once covered a large area of its own with an artificial island in the middle. The 300 meter square artificial island, housed the 70 meter square main pond, with four 25 meter square adjacent ponds at each of the main pond’s cardinal points. And in the centre of the main pond, King Jayavarman VII had a circular island of 14 meters in diameter built and used it as a base on which to erect what we know today as Neak Pean. The Neak Pean Temple is in other words a temple built on an artificial island which was built on an artificial island.
The pond in the middle of which the Neak Pean Temple is located is now dry, however it sometimes does fill with a bit of water after a heavy rain. My visit to Angkor was during rainy season and I ended up putting the visit off for over a week because it rained every day, however after three days without rain, there was not a drop of water to be seen anywhere in the main or surrounding four ponds. If you can time your visit to Neak Pean to be after the rain, you will get a chance to take pictures which look much better than mine. Not only does the ancient stone gain richer hues after rain, the little pool that builds up at the base of the pond will reflect the tower of the central temple offering superior photo opportunities.
As is the case of most Angkor Temples (except from Angkor Wat), Ta Som also faces east, however the Grand Circuit road that goes by it passes it from the west affording an entrance through a better preserved western gopura (entrance gate). However it pays to exit the temple through its east gopura because from the outside, the eastern gopura has a huge strangler fig tree (I’m not a tree expert, not 100% sure this is a fig tree) growing on top of it, almost enclosing the entire gopura (this sight not shown in the photo gallery here). It is essential to exit Ta Som through the eastern gopura as looking at it from the inside doesn’t offer any spectacular views, however once you get across and turn around, you won’t regret the extra effort. The fig tree encompassing the entrance hole is impressive and very photogenic. Take lots of pictures and always make backups.
A stone inscription found on a stele recovered from a nearby Preah Khan temple refers to Ta Som as Gaurasrigajaratna, which is its original, ancient name meaning “Jewel of the Propitious White Elephant”. As the temples were abandoned, their original names fell out of knowledge and today they are known by whatever modern variations were assigned to them. Below is a gallery of pictures I took at Ta Som:
Aside from being the greatest temple builder of all Angkorian era Khmer kings, Jayavarman VII was also noteworthy for his focus on hospitals. 102 of them were built during his reign (4 were within Angkor Thom) but it was his efforts to make them run smoothly that set him apart from the other kings who also built hospitals. Chapel of the Hospital which still stands between the Victory Gate and Ta Keo temple is all that is left of what used to be an ancient health care establishment.
As with all other Angkorian era structures, only the houses of gods were built of stone which allowed them to survive for centuries. Houses of people, including royal palaces and Arogyasala (houses of the sick, aka hospitals) were built of wood and bamboo and have long since perished. As a result, Chapel of the Hospital stands there tall, but all alone, surrounded by collapsed stone while the jungle grows lushly around it.
While Chapel of the Hospital is in a ruinous state, it is right on the Angkor’s little circuit which makes access to it simple, yet because it’s so small and insignificant, it’s not visited by many. When I made my brief stop, I saw many tour buses whizz down the road at full speed giving the passengers onboard little chance to even catch a glimpse of what that thing on the side of the road was about.
Ta Prohm is the temple that originally got me interested in Angkor. If it weren’t for Ta Prohm, I wouldn’t have probably landed in Cambodia right at the beginning of my round the world journey. When I saw photos of strong interconnection between ancient stones and wild growing jungle, I was sold. The fact that Angelina Jolie starred Tomb Rider was filmed at Ta Prohm had little influence over my decision to visit the temple ruins as I haven’t even seen the movie (I have always considered Angelina Jolie to be the ugliest and the most talent lacking actress in Hollywood).
As is the case of Bayon, Banteay Kdei and other major Angkorian era temples, Ta Prohm was also built during the reign of the builder king Jayavarman VII. However, unlike with most other Angkor area temples, Ta Prohm has not been cleaned off of intertwined jungle and this fact alone has become one of its mightiest selling points that attracts lots of visitors. Monstrous silk trees growing out of the ruins became part of the structures to the point that one cannot be without another.
According to the inscription on the foundation stele, Ta Prohm was consecrated in 1186 AD. Originally named Rajavihara (Royal Temple), Ta Prohm was one of the first temples with which the god king Jayavarman VII embarked on its immense mission of temple building. The sanskrit inscription also provides colorful details about how impressive Ta Prohm must have been during its time. From it the archaeologists learned that the temple housed the following:
500kg of Golden Dishes
4,540 Precious Stones
867 Veils from China
512 Silk Beds
Whether these numbers truly reflected the content of the temple grounds or were vastly exaggerated to make king Jayavarman VII larger than life is left for speculations. As for the population in and around Ta Prohm, the inscription tells us that the temple was home to the following:
18 High Priests
615 Apsara Dancers
79,365 Total Maintenance Staff
Prajnaparamita (the perfection of wisdom) was the principal deity of Ta Prohm and Jayavarman VII had her carved in the likeness of his mother. The statue of Prajnaparamita was housed in the central sanctuary while 260 lesser divinities that surrounded her were housed in additional sanctuaries of the temple complex.
I visited Ta Prohm in September 2009 and while at that time the temple was said to have been in the same state as when it was taken over by the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient at the beginning of the 20th century, the presence of manmade structure supports and off-limit areas due to on-going restoration suggested that Ta Prohm is under ongoing maintenance efforts and may end up looking entirely different a year from when I paid the visit.
Unlike Angkor Wat or Bayon, Ta Prohm is not a temple mountain, meaning it doesn’t contain a multiple level pyramid but rather has all of its galleries at the ground level. Like most Buddhist temples, Ta Prohm was built to face the east with the temple proper set closer to the west wall. Each of the walls of the rectangular outer enclosure contains a gopura (entrance gate), but south and north gopuras were purposefully left overgrown with jungle so access can only be made via the east or the west gopura (where touts concentrate in large numbers).
Central sanctuary is surrounded by five enclosing walls of various state of collapse, but each containing impressive looking trees growing on top of them. The ruinous state of enclosing walls as well as the presence of randomly placed buildings (libraries and halls) many of which were added at a later date make navigating through the temple a bit confusing. Hills of piled up stones that once formed Ta Prohm can be seen scattered throughout the temple grounds standing witness to the ruinous state of what must have been an epic structure back in the day.
Ta Prohm Bas Reliefs
The reign of great builder Jayavarman VII was followed by the reign of his successor, the great destroyer Jayavarman VIII who made it his mission to destroy Buddhist relics created during the reign of his famous predecessor. Ta Prohm was not spared of this destructive onslaught so many of the carvings and bas reliefs were either removed or defaced. Still, some original carvings of Apsara dancers and bas reliefs of scenes from Buddhist mythology did survive and can still be found on temple walls. I personally was more interested in the jungle growing on top of the temple structure than the bas reliefs so I didn’t spend much time admiring what’s still left after the reign of Jayavarman VIII.
Ta Prohm Trees
That’s exactly why I was there. That’s actually exactly why I went to Cambodia in the first place. The sight of monstrous trees growing out of the centuries old ruins intertwined together to the point that you cannot remove one without destroying the other. Large Silk-Cotton Trees and Thitpoks dominate the overgrowth with smaller Strangler Figs and Golden Apple Trees coupling together for a perfect full picture. Endless roots of the trees engulf the stones in an impenetrable maze that on one hand broke the structures out of form, to keep it tightly together on another.
Ta Prohm was without doubt the highlight of my stay in Cambodia. The most impressive of all the ancient Angkor temples (in my eyes), Ta Prohm delivered the awe just the way I expected. This was the one place I really wanted to visit ever since I first saw the pictures of those trees growing over the walls and other structures built almost a millennium ago and completely abandoned a few centuries later. It’s only saddening that such impressive piece of ancient history is under control of such ungrateful country as Cambodia.
Ta Prohm Temple is an eye candy for a photographer. To King Jayavarman VII, Ta Prohm was a centerpiece of his masterplan to restore Khmer empire to a never before seen splendour after it was reclaimed from Cham invaders; to me, Ta Prohm was a centerpiece of my photography adventures at Angkor Archaeological Park. Even though Ta Prohm was my favourite Angkorian era temple, I have only visited it once and all I could capture in rather tricky lighting conditions I had available during my visit is in this photo gallery.
Just as any other day in Cambodia, it was extremely hot and humid on the day I got to Ta Prohm so excessive sweating and subsequent heat exhaustion were inevitable. I was looking forward to taking pictures of Ta Prohm but much of the time spent at the temple was spent hiding in a shade of large trees in an effort to escape the frying power of the intense Cambodian sun. There is no such thing as catching a cooling breeze anywhere at Angkor so all you are left with is inescapable heat. High on natural energy from uplifting coconut water I got from the girls at the Banteay Kdei temple, but unceasingly dripping sweat out of every single pore on my skin, I crisscrossed the temple grounds back and forth to not miss a single opportunity for a perfect picture.
It was early afternoon when I got to Ta Prohm so the sun was right above our heads not causing any backlight no matter which way I turned to take a picture (unlike when I first got to Angkor Wat), however because the sun was super intense and because there’s a pretty elaborate maze of tree branches above Ta Prohm, many cool spots of the temple were subjected to severe contrasts caused by parts being in the sun, while other parts were in the shade. It was rather difficult trying to balance it out so neither highlights are too bright nor shadows too dark but I tried my best.
Banteay Kdei temple doesn’t get the buzz and attention it deserves. It was built by king Jayavarman VII, the same god-king who built Angkor Thom and Bayon (notorious for its face towers) and as such, Banteay Kdei contains architectonic elements resembling other structures built during the reign of Jayavarman VII. For me personally, Banteay Kdei and Sras Srang – which is just on the opposite side of the road – were the very locations where I spent most of my time during my stay in Cambodia. This makes Banteay Kdei my biased favorite.
Banteay Kdei, the Khmer name of which means “The Citadel of the Cells” was built in the late 12th, early 13th centuries. Its gopuras (gateways) are crowned with the same face towers that adorn Victory Gate (as well as other gates) of Angkor Thom. Unfortunately, the sandstone used for construction of Banteay Kdei was not of the finest quality and the workmanship of stone masons was nowhere near that of the masters who built Prasat Kravan so the temple fell into a dilapidated state in which it can be found today. Much of the galleries within outer and inner enclosures are in a great state of collapse.
Scholars say that Banteay Kdei was built to be a Mahayana Buddhist temple but even though it was used as a monastery by the monks who dwelt within for centuries, the inscription stone that would contain detailed information about which divinity the temple was originally dedicated to has gone missing.
Even though similar in layout to Ta Prohm and Preah Khan temples, Banteay Kdei is smaller and not as elaborate. There is only one level on which the structure stands and contains two concentric galleries enclosed within two successive walls. Banteay Kdei faces east with east wall of its outer enclosure containing the main gopura which serves as the main entrance (from where you will get in). Part of the eastern outer wall is collapsed – it’s to the right of the main entrance when facing it from the outside but even though I tried, I was not allowed to enter from there. I saw both wandering live stock and locals get in and out of there, though.
As mentioned above, the main gopura is surmounted by a tower containing four faces of smiling Lokeshvara with features closely resembling king Jayavarman VII. If you look closely, you will also notice three small sculptures of Buddha carved at the base of the tower, at the meeting point of each two faces. The gopura itself is flanked on both sides by garudas (mythical birds) which I always used to think were related to Hinduism but as I had learned, they also apprear in Buddhist mythology.
An intriguing thing can be seen to the right of east gopura – step in that direction and focus on the carvings of Apsaras. You may notice what appears to be the bullet holes. I asked locals about it but no one had an answer for me. They certainly look like bullet holes, unless someone tried to deliberately damage the structures by hitting these carvings with sharp, pointy hand tools. If they are bullet holes, I hope they are the remnants of Khmer Rouge activities, not contemporary violence of locals residing within Angkor. Check out the video that shows the holes and judge the cause for yourself:
Once inside, I found myself walking along the cruciform terrace that’s slightly elevated above the ground and is decorated on both sides by stone statues of lions and nagas forming balustrades. As I progressed along, I paused at the few, but piquant carvings. I noticed that the towers of the galleries inside resemble those of Angkor Wat giving an impressions of mixed styles (I’m not an expert, don’t quote me on that one). Banteay Kdei also has a few spots of massive trees growing on top of ancient stones, which is a sight to behold.
There is a rectangular courtyard to the east of the central temple which may have been used as venue for Apsara performances. The exterior of the courtyard is decorated with figures of dancers and its name translates into “The Hall of the Dancing Girls”.
At the entrance to Banteay Kdei there is a sign mentioning that the preservation works on the temple are conducted with an assistance from Sophia Mission, Tokyo. Still, despite funding from Japan and some woodwork enclosing parts of the temple, most of it is unrestored. It looks and feels very ancient inside and unlike Angkor Wat or Bayon, can be enjoyed without sharing with hundreds of other tourists at the same time.
Somehow, even though Banteay Kdei is truly spectacular, most companies that provide pre-packaged tours don’t include it in their itineraries. You will see buses full of tourists drive by it at high speeds disrespecting all other traffic participants, never making a stop there. Still, because the temple is on the small circuit, it does get a fair share of visitors. Temples on the grand circuit are far more deserted with myself being the only person when I was there. If you are headed to Angkor, don’t miss out on Banteay Kdei.
The mystery surrounding Banteay Kdei temple is intriguing. Because a marker stele that would contain information about who built the temple and why has never been found, all we can do is guess. What we do know is that Banteay Kdei was constructed over a site of a smaller temple and served as a monastery for the monks during the reign of Jayavarman VII. His successor, king Jayavarman VIII vandalized Buddha images installed within during Jayavarman VII in an attempt to promote Hinduism. The photo gallery below contains pictures of Banteay Kdei I took in September 2009.
I got to the Terrace of the Leper King by following the north wall of the Royal Palace area as I was running away from gnarly Cambodian males preying on foreigners who wander off the beaten track. The Terrace of the Leper King got its name from the genitals lacking statue of Yama – the God of Death, resembling king Jayavarman VII known to have suffered from leprosy (according to the legend, leprosy was the reason why this king built so many hospitals. Khmer people believe that he was not the only king suffering from this disease). Because some layers of the statue got eaten away by lichen, it created an illusion of a person affected by leprosy. The original statue which dates back to the 14th – 15th centuries is no longer on the terrace. It was removed to secure its preservation and is currently located at the National Museum in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. This was a good idea as the cement replica has already been decapitated.
Terrace of the Leper King contains extensive carvings on its walls depicting various divine and underworld characters. It is believed that the Terrace of the Leper King was used for cremations or other funerary purpose and was probably built by Jayavarman VIII who succeeded Jayavarman VII, the builder of Angkor Thom.
The walls of the Terrace of the Leper King are 6 meters (19 feet) high and have the carvings on them arranged in seven rows. The mythological scenes include five, seven and nine headed naga serpents accompanied by marine creatures (including mermaids) and several rows of gods often bearing rather ferocious looks on their faces.
Terrace of the Leper King is a standalone structure in a seemingly desolate state that’s easy to ignore so a visitor can move on to something more interesting, but there is more to the terrace than meets the eye – it’s the hidden wall. South west corner of the terrace contains narrow entrance to the trench that takes you through a zig-zag path containing its own bas reliefs. This secret passage is the collest thing about the Terrace of the Leper King and should not be missed by any visitor.
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