Preah Vihear Temple – UNESCO World Heritage Site in Cambodia
Preah Vihear Temple is one of the most significant Angkorian Temples in Cambodia. It’s also become the symbol and pride of Cambodia like Angkor Wat Temple in Siem Reap as well. The original name of Preah Vihear Temple was Sri Kirisvara, the name of Shiva linga which was dedicated in the main sanctuary of the mountain top. Despite the dispute over the ownership of the temple between Cambodia and Thailand, Preah Vihear Temple has been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site on July 7th 2008.
How to Access Preah Vihear Temple
Preah Vihear Temple is located in Preah Vihear Province (the province has its name after Preah Vihear Temple), in northern of Cambodia which is now the border of Cambodia and Thailand.
Phnom Da Temple – The original home of Harikampujendra
Phnom Da Temple is a cultural, historical site which its visitors are mainly having purpose on studying about the history of Cambodia, especially the pre-Angkorian style of art work. Phnom Da temple located in Angkor Borei district (the ancient name was Nokor Borei), Takeo Province, which was the pre-Angkorian Khmer capital during Funan or Nokor Phnom period (from 1st to 6th century) ruled by king Rudravarman.
How to Access Phnom Da Temple?
We can access Phnom Da Temple by road and by boat. If we go by boat, we must arrived Takeo provincial town and take the boat on canal 15 for 27 km. There are always boats for rent to visitors.
If we go by road, we will have to take off from national road 2 at Phnom Chiso (60km from Phnom Penh) and passing Angkor Borei town. This part of road is a bit difficult to travel with many big holes. However, from Angkor Borei to Phnom Da the road is better. The total distance from Phnom Chiso to Phnom Da is 41 km. Visitors can combine one day trip to both Phnom Chiso Temple and Phnom Da Temple.
From far away, we can clearly see a temple is top on a hill. It’s Phnom Da Temple, the temple of 11th century during the reign of King Suryavarman I (1002-1049). This temple was built on the base of the old 6th century temple in the reign of Rudravarman, the last king of Nokor Phnom or Funan period.
We climb to top of mountain to the temple through two stages of stair. Along the way there are five man-made caves, they were probably used as shelters for meditating hermits or for installing Shiva lingam to worship.
Phnom Da Temple is square in plan, each side measured 12m and 18m high. The base is of sandstone and the walls are of laterite. It’s a single tower temple, however, the peak of tower has been destroyed during the war. There are also sculpture of Churning of the Ocean of Milk and the lintel of Reclining Vishnu, but they are also damaged. Despite of common Hindu Temples in Cambodia, Phnom Da Temple has its main door faces north, other three sides are false doors. The Temple faces north is to face the capital city of Nokor Phnom, Nokor Borei. Phnom Da Temple is built to dedicated to Vishnu. Harikampujendra, the biggest Vishnu statue (3.4 m high) in Cambodia was taken from Phnom Da Temple. Currently the statue is kept in the National Museum in Phnom Penh.
Asrom Moha Eysei
Another small hill locates to southwest of Phnom Da Temple about 300m, is also top with a small temple called Asrom Moha Eysei or Asrom Moha Ruesey. It’s a temple made of basalt built in 6th century in the reign of king Bhavavarman I. The temple is obviously non Angkorian temple, the art style is similar to Java and Indian style. It’s 7m high and 5.5 m square and also faces north. It dedicated to Shiva and was functioning as a worship place for people in that time. The temple is two tiers of walls, the outer and the inner. Between them, there is a passage that allows us to walk around the temple. Inside the temple, there is a Shiva lingam and Uma yoni for ceremonial practicing. There are also two containers at the front door for receiving water flow out from the lingam.
Beside the two temples as we can see today, in the area there might be many other temples, probably made of wood. Because there are many great sculptures were discovery by digging in the area and have been brought to keep in the National Museum. The remarkable sculptures are Krishna, Rama, Balarama, these are from the late 6th to early 7th century, indicated the earliest Brahmanic style in Khmer sanctuary.
Ta Prohm Temple – The Temple in Its Natural State
Ta Prohm is one of many famous temples in Angkor area which locates 1 km east of Angkor Thom, southern of East Baray. According to its stone inscriptions, Ta Prohm was named Raja Vihara, The Royal Monastery, which was a home of 260 divinities. Ta Prohm was built by the greatest Khmer king Jayavarman VII in 1186 dedicated to his mother, Raja Jodiamony, in the form of Prajnaparamita, the female Bodhisattva which was carved in her likeness. The same stone inscription added that there were 12680 peoples living in the complex of Ta Prohm, they were included 18 principles of Mahayana Buddhism, 2740 officials, 2232 sub-officials, and 615 dancers.
Despite the collapsed state of the temple, Ta Prohm was famous and popular by the enormous trees growing upon the temple which is the cause of collapse as well as adding wonderful and unique views of the Khmer ancient temple. The big tree is silk-cotton tree (Ceiba Pentandra), the smaller is strangler fig (Ficns Gibbosa) or Gold Apple (Diospyros Decandra). Almost every visitor who has arrived Ta Prohm will have a photo of the temple with these huge trees.
Layout of Ta Prohm Temple
As in its time, Ta Prohm was not only a temple but was a city for 12,640 inhabitants. The outer most wall is 1 km from east to west and 650 m from north to south. It’s also called as city wall. However, Ta Prohm Temple is within the city wall and bordered by other four enclosures. The forth enclosure is 250 m from east to west and 220 m from north to south, with four gopuras on each cardinal give access to the next enclosure.
Ta Prohm is different from other by containing two moats. One moat surrounded the forth enclosure and another one is between the forth and the third enclosure. The third enclosure measure 112 m by 108 m, also containing four gopuras. There is a rectangular building devided into four courtyards similar to Preah Khan and Banteay Kdei, placed in front of the east gopura of third enclosure, common known as Hall of Dancers. Also within this enclosure, there is a collapsed building on the right and many shrines surrounded the inner moat in total 60 shrines.
Passed the gopura of third enclosure, several stand alone shrines occupied the central area and right behind them is a roofed causeway which was designed into four courtyards leading to the main sanctuary. There is a library on the left. On the north and south side of the enclosure, there is temple with tower on each side. The north temple stored the image of the King’s elder brother, Jayakirti-deva. The south temple stored the image of the King’s Guru, Jayamangalartha-deva. On the west, the enclosures were connected by an axial gallery adorn by stand alone tower one on each side.
The inner enclosure is designed as gallery walls with corner towers and gopuras. It connected to the second enclosure only at the eastern side by some buildings which were later added. The central sanctuary is in the same size to other corner towers at Ta Prohm. It’s connected to the inner enclosure on the east and the west. In the southeast corner, there is another library.
Visit Ta Prohm Temple
Because Ta Prohm was choosen to be left in its nature state, so it’s never been restored, the ways of visit are somehow difficult. However, start your visit at Ta Prohm from the east is recommended.
Enter through the east gopura of the laterite city wall which carrying a four faces tower of Lokesvara. Walk westward for a distance of about 500 m with trees on both of the road sides, a cross-shaped sandstone terrace is right in front of you. However, you will cross the ‘House of Fire’ before you reach the terrace. It’s on the right in the same position as at Preah Khan.
Right after you cross the terrace over the moat, you arrive at the forth gopura which is the most important entrance of Ta Prohm. The gopura is designed in cross-shaped with three doorways and double rows of pillars. On both outer and inner wall of it are carved bas-reliefs about the Life of Buddha. At the northwest corner of the gopura, he roots of a giant silk-cotton tree envelope part of the wall.
After passed through the gopura, to your right is the building with columns which is now collapsed. Then around the inner wall are small shrines in total of 60.
Hall of Dancers is right at the central measuring 20m by 30m. The building is unroofed and has four courtyards surrounded by 24 pillars each. The lintels are carved with a row of dancing Apsaras which suggested that it was used for ritual dances. On the northern and southern wall of this building, each has a false door with impressive design.
Walk through the central doorway of the third gopura, you are in the third enclosure. From here you can see the unique view of Ta Prohm which the silk-cotton trees rising over the central towers. Now turn to the right, there is another tree which its root has grown around the tower, passing this tower, you are into the north east corner of the third enclosure. Here you find two stand alone towers and beyond this is the north temple housed the image of Jayavarman VII’s older brother.
From the northeast courtyard, you can enter the second enclosure by a small door facing east at the corner of second enclosure wall. Through its double pillars gallery then turn left into the first enclosure. The central sanctuary is in the middle, at the southeast corner is the library. There are two square columns at the west side of the sanctuary, which were probably carried the wooden shrine containing offerings. On the walls of the gallery are Devatas carved in the niches.
At the space between the second and first enclosures of the west side, there is another silk-cotton tree with a cascade of roots falling over the roof of the gallery.
Now you can choose to walk westward to exit the temple or walk back eastward to the south temple of the third enclosure. The south temple is now partly ruined and many trees are growing on it. On the east wall of the south temple carved a fronton of the Great Departure, a scene from The Life of Buddha.
At the south west part of the third enclosure, there are many decorative carvings which visitors can have a close look. Leave the third gopura west, over the cross-shaped stone terrace, to the forth gopura west. And the same to the eastern, you will cross the moats, walk through the forest path to exit at the west gopura of the city wall.
Preah Vihear Pram Pi Lveng literally translated as Seven Sections Viheara in which the reason for its name is uncertain. However, it is a Buddhist sanctuary remaining from Angkor era in the reign of king Jayavarman VII (1181-1220).
Preah Vihear Pram Pi Lveng situated in Angkor Thom area on the eastern part of the Royal Square. It surrounded by laterite walls with only one entrance from the east. The entrance in the present day is guarded by two lions and there is no trace of gopura for this enclosure. A laterite causeway connects to a few stair steps higher platform which is also guarded by lions.
Continue to the next level of another higher laterite terrace but diminishing in size and it’s again at the steps there are two lion guardians. This terrace is about 1.2 m high. There are two elephant at the southeast and northeast corners. At the central of this terrace is a Buddha shrine. Right in front of the shrine and at each corner surround the shrine, boundary stones set up in fair which there are more than 1000 of them within the Angkor Thom complex.
We do not know the original Buddha statue of this shrine was removed or destroyed. But the current Buddha statue is the 4.75 m high Buddha Raja which was originally enshrined on the top sanctuary of Bayon Temple by king Jayavarman VII. After his reign, when the religion of Cambodia returned to Brahmanism, the statue was broke up into many pieces and throw into the dark digging hole in the center of Bayon Temple. Until 1933, the Buddha statue has been found by Gorges Drove. After then, pieces of the Buddha were reassembled into original form of the statue, but with breaking marks as still can be seen today. On May 17 1935, Buddha Raja was enshrined into Preah Vihear Pram Pi Lveng by King Sisowat Monivong. Buddha Raja is sculpted in Dhyana Mudra, the gesture in meditation and is protected by seven-headed naga.
The shrine is very small just enough for the Buddha Raja. Only behind the Buddha has been walled up, the other three sides are keeping free of walls. The shrine is still functioning in the present day. Cambodian visitors to the shrine are praying with respect and belief. Some of them intended to come here for a particular blessing because they believe in the sacredness of Buddha Raja. There are always old men and nuns stay and look after the shrine, they also process various ceremonies on important Buddhist events of the year such as Meak Bochea Day, Visak Bochea Day.
Behind the shrine, there is a base of an ancient Viheara which is now almost completely collapsed. So Preah Vihear Pram Pi Lveng was also one of Buddhist sanctuaries in Angkor Thom just like Preah Palilay Temple and Temple X of Preah Pithu Group Temple.
Srah Srang – Royal Bathing Pond
Locates right opposite to the east entrance of Banteay Kdei Temple, Srah Srang is always a place to calm one’s spirit with it natural greenery and peaceful surrounding.
Srah Srang (srah = pond; srang = a royal word means bath) was the ‘Bathing Pond’ of the greatest Khmer king Jayavarman VII (1181-1220). With the size of 700 m long 300 m wide, Srah Srang was not a place for normal or daily bathing but it’s a particular ceremonial bathing of the King. It’s probably a ‘luck raising bath’ or an ‘evil chasing bath’. The elegant decoration of the landing terrace gives visitors the feeling of sacredness of Srah Srang which is appear to be tender but with power within. Sitting at the landing steps, look forward to the sacred bathing pound, one would feel delightful with exceptional beauty of Angkor Park, especially in the morning time.
The cruciform landing terrace is built of laterite and sandstone, decorated with naga balustrades in the same style at Angkor Wat and many platforms in front of gopura of other temples in Angkor area. The terrace is facing east but also has staircases give access to the north and south. There are two lion guardians facing east at the upper staircase. At the end of each balustrade, the decoration was not only the multi-headed naga as usual, but a large garuda riding three-headed naga. The banks of Srah Srang are paved with laterite steps and sandstone moldings.
The sacred pond of Srah Srang always has water and surround by greenness all year round. The water is very cold and clear that people used it as sacred bathing water to cure sickness and chase away evils.
Sitting at the landing terrace of Srah Srang looking at the water surface, I can see a group of beautiful angels happily bathing in the pond. Then I turn my back to see the face tower city entrance of Banteay Kdei, a parade of the King accompany by his officials and lady-in-waiting from the city entrance toward the terrace of Srah Srang for a royal bathing ceremony. The King is adorned by many parasols… a prosperous period of Angkor. It’s so elegant and marvelous that right in front of the city entrance there is such a peaceful view of srah. It’s really a spot for angels rather than human.
Kampong Kdei Bridge with its original name as Spean Preah Toeus (ស្ពានព្រះទិស – The bridge of Indication) is the best laterite-built bridge of Angkor era which is survived until today. The bridge is located on the main highway of national road no.6 from Kampong Thom to Siem Reap and it used to carry all kinds of transportation of the main highway. In 1965, the bridge has been restored by Bernard Philippe Groslier. Nowadays, Kampong Kdei Bridge is still in good condition, however, the main highway has been diverted since a 1.3 km bypass and a new bridge has been built. Now it’s crossing by villagers who travel by motorbikes and bicycles only.
Located about 60 km southeast of Siem Reap, the Kampong Kdei Bridge is spanning the Chi Kreng River with 86 m long, 16 m wide and 10 m height above the level of the river bed. It has 21 corbel arches between 20 columns. By this the bridge became the longest corbelled stone-arch bridge in the world.
King Jayavarman VII, the greatest Khmer king, had contributed a huge work in building the country’s infrastructure during his reign in the late 12th century. He built temples, royal roads, bridges, hospitals, rest houses throughout his kingdom. Spean Preah Toeus or Kampong Kdei Bridge is the only best survived bridge of his time. It’s an outstanding work of art from Angkor era.
On the way from Siem Reap to Kampong Kdei, there are ten more laterite ancient bridges, however, Kampong Kdei bridge is the longest and the only one with significant decoration of the naga balustrades.
The handrails of the bridge are made of sandstone in the form of the body of the nagas, at their ends each has a nine-headed naga decorated. At its side, there is a boundary stone depicted Deva and Demond which are the architecture of Bayon style.
Kleang Temples, Angkor Thom
Kleang Temples locates within Angkor Thom area, behind the 12 towers of Sour Prat Temple, facing the Elephant Terrace and the Leper King Terrace. Kleang Temple divided to North Kleang and South Kleang. These two buildings are similar in layout, style and decoration but they were constructed in different reign of Khmer kings.
North Kleang Temple
The North Kleang stands north of the road lead to Victory Gate, built in the reign of King Jayaviravarman (1002-1010). There are several inscription have been found in this temple talked about king Jayaviravarman. North Kleang is 40 m long from north to south, and 4.7 m from east to west. Its walls are 1.5 m thick. Originally, the temple had no tower, but it was added later when the North Kleang was divided into two parts. The temple could be entering from the east and the west, while there is no entrance from the other two sides.
South Kleang Temple
The South Kleang stands south of the road lead to Victory Gate. It’s built in the reign of Suryavarman I (1002-1049) and it’s an unfinished temple. The South Kleang is 4.2 m wide, smaller than North Kleang. The temple seemed built in hurry that it’s less carefully built and less in art style decoration.
The art style of these two temples, The North and South Kleang, has been considered as a principal style of Khmer art in its period, The Kleang Style. Many temples built in this style like Phimeanakas, Ta Keo.
Kleang means warehouse or storage which was thought to store the royal valuable items. However, according to its architechure, some researchers claimed that it served as the reception venue of foreign dignitaries.
Both North Kleang and South Kleang are in long rectangular structures with porches in cruciform placed in the center of the west and east walls which are decorated with windows of balusters. At the north and south walls each has a false door.
The central tower of the North Kleang, which was added later, has porches at the east and the west decorated with frontons and lintels.
Currently the east walls of these two temples are nearly completely collapsed, the condition of them is in ruin that visitors rarely find them interested.