Angkor, Part 3

My friend and I spent our third and final day in Siem Reap visiting places further afield. After leaving our hotel (point A on map below), we first toured Beng Mealea (B), we then journeyed to Kompong Phhluk (C), and, after a late lunch, we ended our trip with a visit to the oldest and the largest of the three Roluos Group temples (D).

Beng Mealea

The first stop of the day was 40 miles to the east at Beng Mealea, or “Lotus Pond”, a temple built by King Suryarvarman II about the same time as Angkor Wat. Beng Mealea is currently managed by the Khan Someth Company, which has also built a toll road to get to this temple.

Beng Mealea lies in ruins in the midst of the jungle, and good pictures were difficult to get because of the extremely uneven light that filtered through the trees. The moss-covered ruble, with trees, vines, and vegetation everywhere, is what explorers a century or so ago would have found when they rediscovered the Khmer temples. Very little restoration has been done at Beng Mealea; it is mostly just stabilization of the structure and construction of some steps and walkways so that visitors can get around more easily. Indeed, as we walked through the ruins, we were often walking on rooftops of the collapsed galleries. We also saw many carved sandstone blocks that looked like they were ripe for looters to simply take away.

There is a sign at the exit that explains that Germany has cleared about 0.6 square miles of land around Beng Mealea of 438 anti-personnel mines (or land mines) and 809 unexploded ordnance since January 2003. Cambodia was heavily mined, particularly in the northwestern part of the country, during the country’s civil war between  the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge and the regimes of the Cambodian People’s Party. The Cambodian Mine Action Centre estimates that there may still be four to six million landmines and unexploded ordnance in this nation of 15 million people.

The ruins at Beng Mealea

The ruins from outside Beng Mealea

Walkways through the ruins

Walkways through the ruins

Taken back by the jungle

Taken back by the jungle

Carved pediment over door

Carved pediment over door

Still open passageway

Still open passageway

Devadas and tree roots

Devadas and tree roots

Waiting to be plundered

Waiting to be plundered

Kompong Phhluk

Kompong Phhluk is a village built on the flood plain of the Tonlé Sap, the largest freshwater body of water in Cambodia. The Tonlé Sap is a combined river and lake system with a surface area of about 1,000 square miles during the dry season (December to April). It swells to over 6,000 square miles during the monsoons as the river reverses direction and water flows upstream from the Mekong River. At its peak, the lake approaches the size of Lake Ontario, the smallest of the Great Lakes at 7,340 square miles. The average depth, however, is just 30 feet, about one-half that of Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes.

While the map above shows Kompong Phhluk to be on the Tonlé Sap Lake, the road does not go that far, so we needed to hire a boat for a 30-40 minute ride to reach the lake. Our boat was driven by two boys — one 11 and the other 16 — but both seemed up to the task including changing the fuel tank from which the boat’s motor draws gasoline.

The homes in the village are built on stilts so that they will not flood during the rainy season. We were in the dry season, and the homes looked to be about 15 feet above the water. On most of the houses, we could see plastic piping that extended into the waterway to provide the inhabitants with water. As we continued down the river, the stilt homes gave way to trees half-submerged in water. We passed many people on boats — some coming back with baskets of fish, others selling goods, and still others just traveling on the water with family or friends. We saw lots of houseboats many of which did not look particularly seaworthy.

To make money, the people in this community grow rice, harvest prawns and fish, and raise pigs and chickens in small pens over the lake.

Our young pilot

Our young pilot

The new tank of fuel

The new tank of fuel

Thatched wall homes on stilts

Thatched wall homes on stilts

Look for water supply lines

Water supply lines to the stilt homes

Houseboat on the Tonlé Sap

Houseboat on the Tonlé Sap

Another houseboat

Another houseboat

A Christian School

A floating Christian school

Police Station

A floating police station

Half submerged trees

Half-submerged trees

Floating market with Coca Cola and beer

Floating market with Coca Cola and beer

A family outing

A family outing

Large antennae

Large antennae

Roluos Group

As we headed back to Siem Reap from Kompong Phhluk, we first stopped for lunch and then made two more temple stops. Roluos, a small town about eight miles east of Siem Reap, is where the first capital of the Khmer Empire was established by King Jayavarman II. The temples in this area are thus the earliest structures built by the Khmer.

We stopped at Bakong and Preah Ko, two of the three major temples in the Roluos Group (the third is Lolei). Bakong, a five-level pyramid temple, is the largest temple in the group. It was built by King Indravarman I, the third king of the Khmer Empire, as his official state temple. Bakong was the first temple mountain to be constructed of sandstone by the Khmer and it was dedicated to the god Shiva in 881.

The temple complex covered 156 acres (about one-quarter square mile) and had three enclosures separated by two moats. Between the two moats are remnants of 22 brick temples. Nagas flank the causeway that leads to the temple.

A laterite wall surrounds the innermost five acre enclosure that contains the central temple. The central temple occupies one acre of land and has a center pyramid and eight brick temple towers, two on each side. On the first three tiers of the temple, large stone statues of elephants are at each of the corners. The stairways are guarded by statues of lions. Archaeologists believe that the central prang was entirely covered by stucco bas-reliefs carvings, however only remnants remain today.

When King Yasovarman, the son of King Indravarman I, moved the Khmer capital to Angkor, a new temple mountain, Phnom Bakheng, was constructed. However, additions to Bakong in the 12th and 13 centuries indicate that it was not abandoned when the capital was relocated.

Central temple at Bakong

Central temple at Bakong

Elephants at the corners

Elephants at the corners

The second moat around Balong

The second moat around Bakong

Lion statue with tail still attached

Lion statue with tail still attached

Lions guard the stairways

Lions guard the stairways

Remnants of stucco Apsaras above statue

Remnants of stucco Apsaras above statue

One of eight brick towers around the temple

One of eight brick towers around the temple

Our final stop was at Preah Ko, or the “Sacred Bull”, a reference to Nandi, the mount of Shiva and his principal follower. Preah Ko was built by King Indravarman I to honor his predecessors, it was the first temple built by the Khmer in Roluos, and it was dedicated to Shiva. Preah Ko consists of two rows of three towers each on a sandstone platform. The German government paid for reconstruction in the 1990s.

Preah Ko

Preah Ko

Nandi, mount of Shiva

Nandi, mount of Shiva

1,454 days left to destroy America

I find it difficult to imagine an odder view of individual freedom and liberty than that pronounced by BHO in his second inaugural address, viz.: “preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.” Better that we heed the words of Thomas Jefferson: that

If we can but prevent the government from wasting the labours of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy. – to Thomas Cooper, November 29, 1802

We can at least be thankful that the recent ruling by the DC Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals (re: recess appointments when Congress is in session) demonstrates that they understands and respect the Constitution’s separation of powers. Court rulings, however, appear to mean nothing to this administration as the NLRB continues to operate.

Kop Khun Krab.

© 2013 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.

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