Most tourists only visit the famous restored temples when visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia. However, there are many unrestored temples hidden in the jungle. When we visited Cambodia in 2013, we included a visit to the weathered ruins at Prasat Beng Mealea. As opposed to the main temples where one has the opportunity to make thousands of new friends, some of the outlying temples allow for an undisturbed view of temples long abandoned to weather and time.
Prasat Beng Mealea
This photo was taken on March 25, 2013. Specs are:
In February this year, we visited the Angkor complex near Siem Reap , Cambodia. A highlight of any visit is to climb the three levels of Angkor Wat, finally arriving above the third level at the central tower (the Bakan Sanctuary) topped by a symbolic lotus bud. The original stone steps to the top are steep and disintegrating. A wooden staircase with metal handrails is laid on top of the stone steps. While the wooden stairs are safer to climb, they are just as steep.
Because a thunderstorm was brewing during our visit to Angkor Wat, the usual long line to climb the stairs to the very top was short. We waited only a few minutes before two descending visitors brought with them the badges we needed for entry. (There is a quota for the number of visitors who can be in the Bakan Sanctuary at a given time.) Our climb and visit is described at Angkor Wet.
After walking around the Sanctuary, staying out of the rain in the covered outer periphery, we decided to risk the wet staircase down so that other people waiting below could have their turn.
The water-soaked steps were now a slick dark brown. The railings that were so shiny silver on the way up were now slippery with rust, but we, like everyone else, clung to them for support. With rusty water streaming from each hand, we descended cautiously. At the bottom, the attendants carefully removed the lanyards with permits from our necks, trying to keep the permits clean. Our guide met us and emptied his drinking water bottle on our hands to remove most of the stain. Only a visit to a nearby restroom with soap and water finally returned our hands to a normal color.
Jayavarman VII, who is generally regarded as the most powerful of the Khmer kings of Cambodia, was a Mahayana Buddhist. The Buddha figures in the Bayon Temple in Angkor Thom are modeled after him.
Jayavarman VII (1125–1218) was a king of the Kymer Empire in what is now Cambodia, ruling from 1181 to 1218, approximately. During his reign, he built temples in the Angkor complex near present-day Siem Reap. Three of his temples that are most familiar to tourists are these:
Ta Prohm, built to honor his mother
Preah Khan, built to honor his father
Bayon, built to honor himself, and the Angkor Thom city surrounding it
Angkor Wat, built in the early 12th century, already existed when Jayavarman VII built his temples.
We think that taking pictures through crystal balls can be fun and took a small one on our trip to SE Asia. The image below is a composite of two shots, taken one after another of the same scene at sunrise. For the first shot, the camera was focused on the lake in front of Angkor Wat. The second shot was focused on a two inch crystal ball held by our tour guide. The two shots were merged in Photoshop. This is similar to a technique used in landscape astrophotography to extend depth of field. (The camera was hand-held in low light, so extending depth of field via aperture wasn’t an option.)
The image in a crystal ball is inverted since it is essentially a lens, in fact, a very wide angle lens. The lake in front of Angkor Wat contains an inverted image of the temple. The crystal ball inverts the lake reflection and actual temple, placing the reflection on top and the actual temple on the bottom.
The Bayeux Tapestry tells the story of the Norman Conquest in 1066 in cloth. The walls of Angkor Wat tell similar stories, except they cover an area hundreds of times larger and are carved in stone. It is impossible for a short-time visitor to comprehend so many carvings. However, understanding a few helps one understand the whole. Consider the following section from the carvings.
This panel shows a war boat, which was the ancient equivalent of a stealth bomber. The rows of heads represent the sailors heading for battle. The Khmer were devastated by their enemy’s use of this technology until their king, Jayavarman VII, a few years after the Norman Conquest, taught them naval warfare. This was so significant that there are boat races each year to commemorate their subsequent victory over their enemy.
Here is another detail from the carvings: a broken-down cart. The men on the left are trying to upright the cart, the men beneath them are repairing the cart, and the woman on the ground is blowing into an oven to start a fire (we saw a boy starting a cooking fire in an iron oven just like this last week).
Finally, there are thouands of carvings of dancers, called Apsara, spread throughout the temple. They came to symbolize our visit to the Ankor complex so much that we bought a “genuine fake” carving of an Apsara from Angkor Artisans (we passed up the chance to buy a “fake genuine” carving at a nearby “antique” store).
We were back at Angkor Wat (literally “city temple”) today for our cultural tour (yesterday we went for photography). It was hot again but not quite so humid.
One of the highlights of a visit is a climb to the top level, representing heaven. A thunderstorm erupted as we mounted the extremely long and steep staircase leading to the top. We began to wonder if this staircase to heaven might be more literal than symbolic.
The top has a walkway around a pool that has been dry for hundreds of years and various niches containing Buddha and Shiva statues. The following photo is a small one that caught our eye. It is a Buddha statue (as indicated by folded hands rather than crossed arms for Hinduism) that was probably damaged in centuries-old religious conflict or more recently during the Khmer Rouge era.