Even though Banteai Srei was very busy when I visited it, based on what I was told, it didn’t used to be that way. Had I visited Cambodia a few years earlier, trying to reach the temple would take a lot of effort because there was no paved road leading to this part of the country and if I did make it here, I would likely be the only person inside. This took a whole different turn after the paved road was laid. Buses were now able to comfortably drive their single day pass holders to the temple and back in a manner of hours, affording them an experience unlike any other within Angkor proper (where all main temples are located).
Trips to Banteay Srei can also be combined with trips to Beng Melea – which is what I did, but explorers who want to see even more can also include Kbal Spean and/or Banteay Samrei to their itinerary, as they are both in the same neck of the woods. Below is a small gallery of photos I took during my stop at Banteay Srei. I was accompanied by Ha and her daughter since we were able to fool the ticket inspector that they were Cambodians.
A trip to the Preah Khan Temple is one of those I will never forget. This is where I had fake orphanage kids attempt to steal my bicycle and had it not been for an intervention by the divine providence, they would have succeeded. Not only would I end up without something that was rightfully mine, I would also end up stuck without transportation at the part of the Grand Circuit that just happens to be the furthest from Siem Reap. And that is not a very positive outlook in a country like Cambodia. I would have to rent services of a tuk tuk driver who, seeing that I was just a subject to crime, would take advantage of the situation for his own personal enrichment. For Cambodians, a person in need is not a person to whom to assist. For Cambodians, a person in need is a person easier to exploit because they are out of the options and cannot be choosers.
Luckily for me, in the nick of time I got that funny feeling that I should repark my bike somewhere where it would be more difficult to steal so I interrupted my visit to Preah Khan only to catch the fake orphanage kids to whom I previously donated money thinking that they would gratefully watch over my bike in return, dashing off carrying my bicycle with them. My untimely show-up with a follow up yell from hell made them drop the bike on the spot and run for their lives. It was hot and I was tired from whole day exposure to that devastating Cambodian sun, but when the feeling of uneasiness about the insecurely parked bike came upon me, I interrupted my visit to the temple thinking that I would return to finish the exploration after I had my bike reparked and locked against something unmovable.
Needless to say, the distress the discovery of the theft attempt caused made the return to Preah Khan a no option. I counted my blessings and feeling happy I still had my bicycle, I rode off, away from this God-forbidden place where some of the most horrible inhabitants of the Earth operate as the lowest form of scum imaginable. However, because I was only partially done exploring Preah Khan when I left to repark my bicycle, I don’t have pictures of all of it. The gallery below contains the images I did take, however I left some for after the repark, which I ultimately ended up not having a chance to capture. Those include a picture of that unique two storey stand alone building with circular columns – something very unique for Angkor Archaeological Park as nothing of sorts can be seen anywhere else within the area. And it also includes the missing picture of the central sanctuary itself.
Now to the gallery of photos of the Preah Khan temple:
The entrance causeway is lined on both sides with the same row of Asuras carrying a body of a huge naga serpent that can be found at the South Gate to Angkor Thom, however all Asuras at the Preah Khan Temple are headless. Locals stole the heads during their looting raids and sold them to rich foreigners who yearned to have a historically significant rock in their possession. Some speculate that presence of these Asuras at the entrance to the temple makes Preah Khan more significant than Banteai Kdei or Ta Prohm, both of which receive incomparably more visitor traffic (mostly because they are on the Small Tour).
As for the pictures with those giant trees growing over the structures – because the passages immediately below the trees are crumbling and no way has been found to secure them yet, the access to these parts is restricted by the warning signs (as you can see from one of the photo in the gallery). However there is no one enforcing the no access requirement so a visitor to Angkor with a death wish can freely proceed and stand right below the crumbling rocks on top of which a monster tree is growing ever so tall. I had to be one of the crazy ones. I just could not pass up on this opportunity to stand right below those enormous trees knowing that the piles of huge rocks that support them could come crushing down at any given time. Utmost stupidity and I was fully aware of it at the time, yet still I wanted to stick my head where the danger was. It was my time at Angkor, afterall. For me it was a one in a lifetime opportunity to stand below those famous silk trees that brace the stones of Angkor in substitute for pillars in a frisk of nature that is as astounding as it is precarious. It was this close knit of nature with ancient architecture that drove me to Angkor in the first place.
Anyway, without further ado, below is the gallery of photos of the Preah Khan temple I took before the attempt to steal my bicycle by the fake orphanage kids took place. The few spots I left for after the bicycle repark I never eventually got a chance to photograph as I could not comfortably walk inside the temple outside of which an organized group of large caliber crooks operated without backbone of any form:
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:
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.
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.
Bayon was built by king Jayavarman VII as his state temple at the end of 12th century, after he drove out the Chams who sacked the place. Today, Bayon is best known for its iconic towers crowned with four giant faces, each looking out to a respective cardinal point. Bayon is the center of Angkor Thom and symbolizes Mount Meru, sacred mountain in the center of the universe (inspired from Hindu cosmology). This photo gallery is a collection of photographs I took of Bayon temple when I was exploring it.
Bayon has a multitude of symbolic functions. Outer walls of Angkor Thom constitute its outermost enclosure within which Bayon stands as the pivotal mountain in the Churning of the Sea of Milk. Protected at each entrance by Hindu serpent Vasuki, the gods and demons who rotate it exert the “Elixir of Immortality” from the depths of the water that surrounds it.
Bayon was built to be a Mahayana Buddhist temple. Statue of Buddha seated on and sheltered by a multi-headed serpent Mucilinda was originally housed in the central prasat but was later smashed and thrown into the foundation well after death of Jayavarman VII, indicating change in religion (revival of Brahmanism). The statue went out of knowledge until it was re-discovered by archaeologists in 1933.
Bayon’s exterior galleries have walls covered in bas reliefs but aside from a few passages, lack roofs. Many bas relief characters are Chinese, who are seen as both soldiers and businessmen, often with Khmer women, sometimes with friends drinking and dancing. Random scenes from daily life of people occupying the Angkor Thom city compound are portrayed in bas reliefs of exterior galleries. I’ll let the pictures introduce you to the beauty of the Bayon temple:
While Angkor Archaeological Park is full of visually breathtaking temples, Angkor Wat is without doubt the most spectacular one. This photo gallery showcases Angkor Wat in the morning light. I have already offered an important Angkor Wat Photo Tip in a post suggesting the best itinerary for an Angkor Wat tour and this photo gallery will demonstrate with images why morning is NOT the best time to visit and/or photograph Angkor Wat.
One exception to the rule would be to come to Angkor Wat way early in the morning – before the sunrise. Since visiting hours start at 5am, if you are an early bird and can get up and get ready before 5 so you can get to Angkor Wat just before the sun breaks over the horizon, you would be able to capture the silhouettes of Angkor Wat against the colored morning sky without the sun creating strong backlight.
Obviously, you would have to be a truly dedicated photographer to undertake the pre-sunrise mission as it requires an extremely early get-up and once you got the pictures, you will have to move somewhere else as Angkor Wat will not be photogenic for the rest of the morning.
I could never do that which is why I don’t have any photos of Angkor Wat at the sunrise in the gallery. I’m a night owl, I go to bed at 4am. I can work till late, just don’t ask me to get up early. The best I can do it 8am but there better be a something worthwhile waiting there for me. Luckily Angkor Wat is definitely worth it and even though photos from the morning hours don’t do it justice and make it look flad, almost two-dimensional, it is still an architectual and artistic masterpiece with amazing carvings on the walls that can be photographed at any time of the day. Enjoy the gallery – pictures of Angkor taken during afternoon light when the sun illuminates the face, as well as during sun set and rain are in separate galleries: