Royal Palace and Phimeanakas Temple

The steep-sided, pyramid-like Phimeanakas Temple

The steep-sided, pyramid-like Phimeanakas Temple

Phimeanakas (“celestial temple”), a Hindu temple in the Khleang art style, is located close to the center of a 5 m. high walled enclosure that once housed the the Royal Palace of Angkor Thom (its tallest scalable temple).  Located north of Baphuon, it was built during the reign of Rajendravarman (from 941-968).  It was then rebuilt, in the shape of a 3-tiered, steep-sided pyramid (a representation of Mt. Meru), by Suryavarman II.

Jandy climbing the narrow wooden stairway to the top

Jandy climbing the narrow wooden stairway to the top

The top of this rectangular pyramid, made with laterite and roughly hewn sandstone, originally had a tower which, according to Chinese scholar Zhou Daguan, was crowned with a golden pinnacle.  The edge of the upper terrace had galleries.with windows and balusters, a unique architectural feature

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Gallery at upper terrace

Artistically uninteresting, most of its decorative features are broken or have disappeared and there are only hints of its former splendor. Still, Jandy, Violet and I clambered up, via a narrow wooden stairway at the back, to get to the second and third levels. Here, we had good views of nearby Baphuon.

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Hints of its former splendor

Hints of its former splendor

According to legend, the king spent the first watch of every night in the tower to make love to a woman thought to represent a nāga. During that time, not even the queen was permitted to intrude.  However, during the second watch,  the king would return to his palace and the queen. If the naga, the supreme land owner of Khmer land, did not show up for a night, the king’s days would be numbered.  If the king did not show up, a certain disaster  would strike his kingdom.

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Interior of gallery at upper terrace

The royal palace’s construction was began by Rajendravarman II.  Fronted to the east by the Terrace of Elephants, it was used by Jayavarman V and Udayadityavarman I and later added to and embellished by Jayavarman VII and his successors. Except for two sandstone pools (once the site of royal ablutions), located near the northern wall, very little remains of the royal palace.

Osang and I at what remains of the tower

Violet and I at what remains of the tower

Bantay Kdei (Siem Reap, Cambodia)

Banteay Kdei (meaning “Citadel of Chambers”), located southeast of Ta Prohm and 3 kms. east of Angkor Thom, was used as a Buddhist monastery and was built with soft sandstone from the middle of the 12th century to the beginning of the 13th century by king Jayavarman II. Changes and additions account for Banteay Kdei’s unbalanced layout. Many of its galleries and porches have collapsed and the wall enclosing the temple was built with reused stones. At least two different art periods, Angkor Wat and Bayon, are discernible at Banteay Kdei.

Banteay Kdei

Banteay Kdei

The elements of its original design seem to have been a central sanctuary, a surrounding gallery and a passageway connected to another gallery. The original features of the temple were enclosed by a moat. During the Bayon Period, another enclosure and two libraries were added. The 700 by 500 m. (2,297 by 1,640 ft.) outer enclosure, made with laterite, has 4 entry towers.

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The name “Hall of the Dancing Girls,” a rectangular courtyard to the east, was  derived from the decoration which includes dancers. The second enclosure’s cross-shaped entry tower has three passages.  The two on either end are connected to the literate wall of the enclosure by 200 scrolls of figures and large female divinities in niches. The interior court has a frieze of Buddha.

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A causeway, built at a later date, is bordered by serpents and leads to the third enclosure’s entry tower. It comprises a laterite wall and includes a gallery with a double row of sandstone pillars that open onto a courtyard. Parts of this area have been walled in and passage is limited.

P1210362P1210363Vestiges of the wooden ceiling can still be seen in the central sanctuary. The galleries and halls, which join it in a cross to the four entry towers, are probably additions. Two libraries open to the west in the courtyards on the left and right of the causeway.

Terrace of the Leper King (Siem Reap, Cambodia)

Located in the northwest corner of the Royal Square of  Angkor Thom and immediately north of the Terrace of the Elephants, we accessed this U-shaped structure from the main road.  This is thought, by some, to have been used as a royal cremation site.

The Terrace of the Leper King

The Terrace of the Leper King

It was built at the end of the 12th century, in the Bayon style, by Jayavarman VI who reigned from 1181 to 1220.  Its modern name is derived from a 15th-century sculpture, discovered at the site (now replaced by a replica) called the “Leper King.” The original statue now sits in the courtyard of the National Museum in Phnom Penh.

Osang beside the replica of the statue of the Leper King

Osang beside the replica of the now shrouded statue of the Leper King

The  statue, with thick lips, energetic chin, full cheeks, slightly open mouth, aquiline nose and clear brow,  sits in the Javanese fashion (with his right knee raised) on a platform on the terrace. The position of its missing hand suggests it was holding something. Its nakedness and teeth being shown in a smile are absolutely and strangely unique in Khmer art.

Bas reliefs

Detail of bas reliefs

Mystery and uncertainty surround the origin of its name. Some say it was so called because of its discoloration and the lichen and moss growing on it, reminiscent of a person with leprosy.  It  also said to depict Yama (the Hindu god of death or judgement), Kubera (the god of wealth, an alleged leper) and also fits in with the Cambodian legend of Yasovarman I (Dharmaraja), an Angkorian king who had leprosy.

The false corridor which allows visitors to inspect the bas relief on the first wall

The false corridor which allows visitors to inspect the bas relief on the first wall

The terrace is faced with dramatic bas-reliefs, both on the interior and exterior. During clearing, the EFEO (Ecole Française d’Extreme-Orient) found a second, 2 m. wide laterite wall, faced with sandstone, with bas-relief similar in composition to those of the outer wall. EFEO recently created a false corridor which allows visitors to inspect the bas relief on the first wall.

Terrace of the Elephants (Siem Reap, Cambodia)

Terrace of the Elephants

Terrace of the Elephants

The 350 m. long Terrace of Elephants, part of the walled city of Angkor Thom, is named for the carvings of elephants on its eastern face. We entered this ruins from the road at the east. The terrace, dedicated to Buddhist and replica to the Bayon style of art, was built at the end of the 12th century.

Detail of bas relief

Detail of bas relief

Attached to the palace of Phimeanakas, the terrace was used by Angkor‘s King Jayavarman VII as a giant reviewing platform from which to view his victorious returning army, for public ceremonies and also served as a base for the king’s grand audience hall.

The author and Jandy at the terrace

The author and Jandy at the terrace

As most of its original structure was made of organic material that has long since disappeared, most of what remains are the foundation platforms of the complex. It has five outworks extending towards the Central Square; three in the center and one at each end. The retaining wall’s middle section is decorated with life-size garuda and lions. Towards either end are the two parts of the famous parade of elephants, complete with their Khmer mahouts and princes

Wat Preah Prohmreath Pagoda (Siem Reap, Cambodia)

Wat Preah Prohmreath Pagoda

Wat Preah Prohmreath Pagoda

From Hard Rock Café, Jandy, Osang, Violet and I again walked, along the riverside, to Wat Preah Prohmreath Pagoda, one of the oldest monasteries in Siem Reap in terms of running time. It had a large imposing gateway and a red wall with a base of huge, golden lotus flower (which represents all achievement of all enlightenment) petals and Bayonesque heads on top of it .

The imposing temple gate

The imposing temple gate

This monastery, dedicated to Ang Chang-han Hoy, a revered 14th century monk, and the spirit of Ta Pom Yeay Rat (who provided the land for the temple), ancestor of a rich family in the area, was founded in 1371 AD.  It was also built to spread the Dharma (teaching of Buddha) and to provide lodging for monks.

The beautiful and quiet garden

The beautiful and quiet garden

King Ang Chan (reigned from 1806-1834) came to this temple to pray for victory against his rivals and, when he achieved this, the temple was named Ta Pum Yeay Rath. In the 1940s, it was renamed Wat Preah Promreath.

Golden lotus petals and a cannon

Golden lotus petals and a cannon

An active monastery and a school for monks, it also has stupas (cremation boxes) where the rich and famous have their ashes interred. Enjoying the peace and quiet of the gardens, we noticed a number of odd, garishly painted statues and a large replica of a boat with a monk on top.

Large replica of the monk and his boat

Large replica of the monk and his boat

The revered monk Ang Chang-han Hoy (1358-1456) was said to have traveled 300 odd kms. every day by boat across the Tonle Sap lake, from Siem Reap to Long Vek (near Phnom Penh), to collect alms and then returned, that same day, to Siem Reap to have lunch.

One day (so the story goes), his boat was struck by a shark and cut in half. He continued on to Siem Reap, using the front half of the boat, while the other half ended up at Wat Boribo in Boribo District, Kampong Chang province.

Thanking Buddha for saving the monk, a temple was built at each place.  In Siem Reap, a huge, reclining Buddha was made using wood from the boat.  The golden boat statue in front of the vihear was built by Cheakaro Tong Teourm in 2007.

 

Inner wall with religious murals

Inner wall with religious murals

The small open-sided temple has small statue of Buddha while the inner walls have a number of murals of religious scenes. The Preah Vihear (main temple), built in 1945, has a vast open hall with a huge seated Buddha at one end. The enormous reclining Buddha, which we failed to notice, draped in a very decorous orange and gold cloth robe, can be found in a pit at the back.

Posing with some monks in the temple

Posing with some monks in the temple

Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (Cambodia)

Jandy and I were to leave Phnom Penh for Siem Reap on the 7 AM Aero Express bus, so we woke up early, picked up our complimentary packed breakfast, checked out of the Elite Boutique Hotel and were picked up by our free coaster service, with Osang and Violet now on board, that would bring us to Central Market where our airconditioned bus was parked. Bus travel is the cheapest and the most popular means of overland transport between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

Arrival at the Central Market

Arrival at the Central Market

We loaded our luggage at huge baggage storage compartment at the side of the bus, below the passenger deck, stored our hand carried bags at overhead racks and occupied a row of reclinable, side-by-side bucket seats with armrests.  Our bus had an on-board toilet, ideal for the long haul trip that awaited us.

Our airconditioned Aero Express bus

Our airconditioned Aero Express bus

As the road from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap is under construction, our 319.6-km. long trip was likely to take at least 7 hours no matter which bus we took. As we left the market, our bus slowly negotiated the mild traffic of the city center.

Road condition most of the way

Road condition most of the way

Once out of the city, the road quality of Highway No. 6 changed dramatically, with frequent potholes and sometimes the road wasn’t even paved. Due to the road construction, we encountered some traffic bottlenecks that slowed down the traffic a bit.

Houses on stilts

Houses on stilts

However, we were also ushered into some interesting, though not spectacular, rural scenery as we observed small villages filled with traditional or modern stilted houses, rice paddies, small but pretty temples, distant mountains and rivers.

The roundabout at Skun

The roundabout at Skun

About 80 kms. out of the city, after crossing the Japanese Bridge, our bus passed the roundabout in Skun which has a statue of 2 children holding a bird. Highway No. 6 continued on to the left, going to Kampong Thom and Siem Reap.

View from across a bridge

View from across a bridge

About 206 kms. out of Phnom Penh, we arrived at the provincial capitol of Kampong Thom,  We were now more than halfway into our journey and here we made a 30-min. lunch stopover at a restaurant located between Arunras Hotel and the market. The food served was mostly Cambodian fare.

A small temple along the highway

A small temple along the highway

Having lunch at a restaurant in Kampong Thom

Jandy, Osang, the author and Violet having lunch at a restaurant in Kampong Thom

After lunch, we again boarded our bus for the remaining uneventful half of our journey.  At a little past 3 PM, our bus arrived at the main Chong Kov Sou bus station near Phsar Leu (the ‘Upper Market’), a couple of kilometers west of Siem Reap city center.  The journey took just about 8 hours.  On arrival, we got out our luggage and easily got a tuk tuk (US$1 per pax) to take us to the Bopha Angkor Hotel.

Central Market (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

After our ice cream treat at Sorya Shopping Center (we were again to return here for supper), Osang, Violet, Jandy and I continued on our way to the nearby Central Market, a Phnom Penh landmark and “must see” stop just a 5-min. walk away.

The Central Market

The Central Market

The large, bright ochre-colored Phnom Penh Central Market or Psar Thmay  (“new market”),  built in 1937 in the  Art Deco style,  consists of four wings branching out into vast hallways and dominated by a central dome.  When it first opened, it was said to be the biggest market in Asia. Its initial design and layout were done by French architect Louis Chauchon and its construction work was supervised by French architects Jean Desbois and Wladimir Kandaouroff.  During the Franco-Thai War, the market was bombed heavily by Thai aircraft, causing heavy damage, and it had to be temporarily closed. After the end of World War II, the market was rebuilt in the modern style. From 2009 to 2011, it underwent a US$4.2 million renovation funded by the French Development Agency.

The market interior

The market interior

Within the four wings as well as around the compound outside,  almost anything you can think of are on sale.  The extensive amount of products that are offered for bargain include electronic equipment, second hand clothing, watches, bags, suitcases, gold and silver curios , dried and fresh foodstuff, jewelry, cheap t-shirts, kramas (Khmer scarves), antique coins, pseudo-antiques, clocks, fabrics, shoes, flowers, luggage, books (including photocopied travel guides) and lots of souvenirs (key chains, ref magnets, postcards, etc.).

The market's huge dome

The market’s huge dome

Central Market: Neayok Souk, Phnom Penh 855.  Open daily, 5 AM – 5 PM.

Sorya Shopping Center (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

After our National Museum and Royal Palace tour, Osang, Violet, Jandy and I made our way, on foot, back to our respective hotels to rest and freshen up.  After an hour, we again met up, this time to go shopping for souvenirs at the nearby Central Market.  Again, we made our way on foot.  Along the way, we decided to make a short stopover at the 8-storey, Western-style Sorya Shopping Center, located just one block south of the Central Market.

Sorya Shopping Center

Sorya Shopping Center

The first real mall in the city, this 40,000 sq. m. airconditioned shopping oasis, the largest in the city, was quite large, with passenger elevators and escalators (then a strange novelty when it opened in 2003).  Inside were a number of Western fastfood restaurants at every level ( Pizza Co., Master Grill, Kentucky Fried Chicken,  BBQ Chicken, BBWorld, Lucky Burger, etc.) plus a a variety of shops selling clothes, shoes, jewelry, toys, imitation watches, latest release DVD copies and some electronics and appliances.

Osang and Violet trying out the foot massage demo

Osang and Violet trying out the foot massage demo

As we entered the lobby, we encountered a lot of “demo” booths promoting products such as a stainless steel multi-tiered steamer; a stride-glide exerciser; a hand-held vacuum and recliner-massage-chairs.  Osang and Violet each tried out the foot massager.We  also each tried out a sundae treat (US$2.30 each), with many premium quality toppings such as Mars, Snicker, Oreo Cookie, etc., at Swensen’s, a premium ice cream parlor which originated from the U.S.A.  It opened its first branch in Sorya Shopping Center in September 2007.

"Cooling off" at Swensen's

“Cooling off” at Swensen’s

The well-stocked Lucky Supermarket, the first supermarket set up in Phnom Penh (and now the city’s largest supermarket chain), has a branch at the ground floor. On the upper floors there  a 3D cinema complex (Sabay Cineplex, Level 5), roller skating rink, sporting goods store (City Mart Sports Supply, Level 4) and games arcade.

Swensen's sundaes

Swensen’s sundaes

After shopping at Central Mall, we all had dinner at the  local food court at Level 4. Virtually all varieties of dishes were available at very reasonably prices of US$2.00 to 5.00. However, their coupon system was a hassle as we had to buy a ticket first before ordering food from any outlet.

Food Court

Food Court

Though less colorful than the traditional markets, Sorya Mall was still a such a good place to cool down, hang out or simply to take a break from the ‘culture shock’ that hit us when we arrived in Phnom Penh.

Food court fare

Food court fare

Sorya Shopping Center: 11-13 Preah Trasak Paem (Street 63),  Phsar Thmei 2 Commune , Daun Penh District, Phnom Penh.  Tel: +855 23 210 018 and +855 16 700 001. Open daily, 9 AM to 9 PM.

Exhibition Halls (Royal Palace, Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

Prior to ending our tour of the Royal Palace, Osang, Violet, Jandy and I visited a number of exhibition halls.  The multi-purpose White Elephant room, located just outside the palace’s southeast wall, was traditionally used for special regal occasions including Royal births, deaths or weddings. The sacred white elephant is the most auspicious and revered symbol of royal beneficence. Here, we saw lines of ornate, gold-adorned chairs that elephants carried royals on.

White Elepant House

White Elepant House

The Showroom of Royal Palanquins and Bossabok displays royal palanquins used by Cambodian kings and queens as they are paraded around the city as well as bossaboks (traditional Khmer-style thrones).

The Showroom of Royal Palanquins and Bossabok

The Showroom of Royal Palanquins and Bossabok

The Elephant Boxes Showroom in Gold, Silver, Brass, Marble and Wood has wood and glass display cases filled with elephant figurines, of various sizes, made with gold, silver, brass, marble and wood.

The Elephant Boxes Showroom in Gold, Silver, Brass, Marble and Wood

The Elephant Boxes Showroom in Gold, Silver, Brass, Marble and Wood

The second floor, airconditioned Showroom of Royal Dancers Ornaments (Preah Kossamak) has wood and glass display cases exhibiting Royal Palace documents; royal dinner sets and silverware; utensils; medals; and dance costumes, musical instruments and ornaments of the Royal Dancers.

Showroom of Royal Dancers Ornaments (Preah Kossamak)

Showroom of Royal Dancers Ornaments (Preah Kossamak)

There is also a model of a typical, 2-storey traditional Khmer house,  an exhibit of.photos of recent Royal Processions and a model of the King’s inauguration procession.

Traditional Khmer house

Traditional Khmer house

Royal Palace: Samdach Sothearos Blvd., Phnom Penh.  Open daily, 8 to 11 AM and 2 to 5 PM.

Silver Pagoda (Royal Palace, Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

Silver Pagoda (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)

Silver Pagoda (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)

From the Throne Hall, Osang, Violet, Jandy and I proceeded to south side of the Royal Palace complex.  The beautiful Silver Pagoda, built in honor of the Lord Buddha, is the official temple of the king of Cambodia.  Formerly known as Wat Ubosoth Ratanaram, its official name is Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot (“Temple of the Emerald Buddha”), after the green baccarat crystal Buddha it houses.  Its name is commonly shortened to Wat Preah Keo.

Mandapa of Satra and Tripitaka

Mandapa of Satra and Tripitaka

Constructed in 1962, at Queen Kossamak’s command, by King Norodom Sihanouk, it replaced the wooden pagoda built by his grandfather in 1902,  the original aging structure being too weak to stand. During the Khmer Rouge years, more than half its contents were stolen but the pagoda itself was pretty much unscathed.

King Norodom's Statue

King Norodom’s Statue

The Silver Pagoda, is so named because of its 5,329 silver floor tiles, each around  20 cm. (8 inches) square and each weighing 1.125 kg (2.48 lbs), and having a total weight of more than 6 tons. Some of its outer facade was remodeled with Italian marble. The pagoda’s construction shows the clear influence of Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaeo, also home to a precious crystal Buddha to which the one in Phnom Penh bears an uncanny resemblance.

King Ang Duong's Stupa

King Ang Duong’s Stupa

After removing our hats and leaving our footwear outside, we were allowed to enter the vihara which houses a rich collection of 1,650 royal gifts received by the Royal family over the years, including artifacts and Buddha images, many of them national treasures.  The pagoda is more a museum than place of homage and no monks stay in permanent residence here. However, on entering the pagoda, we only saw a small area of the temple’s signature  silver tiles as much of the floor was covered by carpets. Photography is also not allowed inside.

Kantha Bopha's Stupa

Kantha Bopha’s Stupa

On display are gold and jeweled Buddha statues, notably a a small 17th century baccarat crystal Buddha (the “Emerald Buddha” of Cambodia) and an impressive, life-sized gold Maitreya Buddha. The latter, housed in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple, was created in the palace workshops between 1906 and 1907.  It weighs in at 90 kgs., is dressed in royal regalia commissioned by King Sisowath, and is decorated with 9,584 diamonds (the largest of which weighs 25 carats).

Reamker Frescoes

Reamker Frescoes

The main building (vihear) is bounded, to the east, by the statue of King Norodom (sitting on a white horse) and to the north by the Mondapa of Satra and Tripitaka, a library housing Buddhist texts.  At the eastern corner is the bell tower, south of which, near the exit, is a model of Angkor Wat. South of the vihear stands 4 structures, from west to east – the chedi (stupa) of King Suramarit and Queen Kossamak, the Dharmasala, the Chedi of Princess Kantha Bopha and the Phnom Mondop (Mount Mondop, where the statue of Preah Ko is situated). The last mentioned is an artificial hill with a pavilion housing a bronze footprint of the Buddha from Sri Lanka.

Osang, Jandy and Osang at Kantha Bopha's Stupa

Osang, Jandy and Osang at Kantha Bopha’s Stupa

These structures are surrounded by a wall – the oldest part of the palace – covered with 80 m. long, colorful series of frescos depicting episodes from Reamker, the Khmer version of the Indian Ramayana, , one of the great Hindu epics.ainted from 1903 to 1904, its bottom half has faded, throughout the Khmer Rouge years, due to neglect. Some restoration has been done but much of the damage is still clearly visible.

Royal Palace: Samdach Sothearos Blvd., Phnom Penh.  Open daily, 8 to 11 AM and 2 to 5 PM.