Sunday, September 20, 2015
On the second day of our temple run, we started at the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom. This gate is the fifth gate into Angkor Thom in addition to those at the four compass points. Its identical to the other gates, but moss covering the face towers give it a whole different kind of look.
The first temple of the morning was Preah Khan which translates to "Royal Sword". Another project of Jayavarman VII, but dedicated to his father instead. Much of the temple was not restored leaving it with touch of vegetation and trees among the structures as in Ta Promh. Large Spung trees embrace the stone, shining silver in the sunlight. The temple is flat with galleries all around and a stupa in the middle. Strangely, it had a two-storey building with round columns (so far we had only seen angular columns and single storey buildings) with an unknown purpose. Nat guessed that it housed the "Royal Sword". It also had dvarapalas guardians and garudas holding nagas. And there was a dancing hall with loads of apsaras. Caught sight of one female PRC tourist who was performing all sorts of wild poses in the open, like some sort of drunken apsara.
Next up was Ta Som which wasn't far away. Also built by Jayavarnam VII for his dad. Pretty small compared to the rest and very much in ruin. The only thing interesting was a well-preserved lintel carving of a reclining Vishnu and the third Eastern gopura that is caged by a strangler fig.
East Mebon was where we went after that. It was older, having been built by Rajendravarman in the 10th century. The attraction is that it was built on an artificial island on the now dry East Baray reservoir. More than a thousand years ago, people arrived in boats to get to the temple, but no such thing to be seen now. At the corner of the tiered temple are stone elephants. And East Mebon is different because stucco was used to decorate its walls. Amazing that the lime-based plaster could survive the passage of time.
The highlight of the day was Banteay Srey, a beautiful temple built from red / pink sandstone. Compared to the grey sandstone, the red is easier to carve hence Banteay Srey was intricately decorated. Due to this, it's dubbed as the "jewel of Khmer art". We actually stopped there for lunch where we had sour soup with morning glory and curry. During lunch, I was harassed by a one-eyed cat who had no qualms about pawing my thighs to get some food. Thank goodness I was wearing jeans.
With our bellies full, we started the tour. All the buildings seem to be well-preserved with impressive lintels and pediments. Plenty of images from Hindu mythology and the omnipresent apsaras. We would definitely have spent more time there if not for the unforgiving sun.
Moving on, we went to Pre Rup, a temple mountain of brick, laterite and sandstone. It is believed that funerals were performed there as there is a cistern there where the ashes of the dead were thought to be washed. Also a crematorium with slits in the wall and a soot-blackened wall.
Our last stop for the day was the small and very old Prasat Kravan. Just five brick towers with most of them missing their tops. Unremarkable except for the excellent bas relief carvings inside the towers. Vishnu and Lakshmi were directly carved out of the brick in great detail. A masterpiece. Nat and Dar dropped us off at the hotel.
In the evening, we were too lazy to go far, so we went to First Love Cafe just a stone's throw away. When we arrived, some guy with a guitar was already singing up front. Obviously a place more popular with the locals. Luckily they produced an English menu but it was very limited. Got ourselves some beef lok lab and grilled chicken wings. Perfect to go with some draft beers. We saw the table next to us order grilled fish and we asked for the same. It was quite yummy. Even got another round of beers to wash it down. Ahhh...