Cambodia and Laos, Angkor and Luang Prabang - Part 4
The Morning After The Night Before
My head is thumping and my heart beating fast, I feel dreadful. My tongue is thick and seems to be sticking to the roof of my mouth which is reminiscent of a vulture’s crutch. I check my watch. It is 7.30 a.m. and we are meant to be leaving at 8.30 a.m. for Day Two! My son moans and ducks under the sheet like a whale submerging. I go to the bathroom and stick myself under the shower. Cleaned up I feel better but only marginally. I get dressed and tell my son I am going to the terrace for breakfast, he just grunts. I get upstairs and our breakfast is already laid out. It has obviously been there for some time and is cold and congealed today and the coffee only lukewarm. Our fault though because we had ordered for 7.30 a.m. Anyway I am improving with some food inside me and my son appears, bleary eyed, a few minutes later and wolfs down his food like he has never eaten before. We go back down to the bedroom and finish our ablutions and then gingerly make our way downstairs to the lobby and our waiting car. Predictably the owner is there, smiling irritatingly, obviously knowing how we must be feeling inside our grim facade.
The Terrace of the Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King
Terrace Of The Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King
Into the car where the guide and driver are bright and cheery. We try to keep up appearances but fail miserably, our only friend being the water bottle as we fend off alcoholic dehydration. We drive through town and back through the main entrance to the Angkor complex, under the gate at Angkor Thom and park directly opposite the Elelphant Terrace. Camera in hand we make a sublime effort to take in our first site visit of the day.
The Terrace of the Elephants (both names are used) was built again by King Jayavarman VII around the end of the 12th century. It makes up one side of the Royal Square of the city of Angkor Thom. Apparently here was the royal palace but, having been built of wood, nothing survives today. The terrace stretches along until we reach the Terrace of the Leper King. The facing wall shows depictions of elephants, serpents, garudas and two wonderful five-headed horses. Make sure you look out for these as they are obscured from view behind another decorative wall, the carving is absolutely magnificent. To me the purpose of the terrace seemed to be for the King to observe a parade of his elephants, much prized animals, and possibly a dias from where he mounted his own personal elephant to take him and his entourage on procession but I must add this is pure supposition on my part, you must make your own judgement. You should walk along the top of the terrace to get the ‘King’s view’ and down below, where the pictures have been taken from, to get the ‘elephants’ view’.
The Terrace of the Leper King is just a continuation on from the Terrace of the Elephants and the statue of the Leper King is a replica, the original being in the National Museum in Phnom Penh. Again this was built by King Jayavarman at the same time as the Terrace of the Elephants. The original statue has the name Dharmaraja, or King of Dharma a name given to the Hindu God Yana, the God of Death but the reason it was called the Leper King was, according to our guide, because when it was found the statue was discoloured and covered in mossy growth reminiscent of a leper’s skin and also because there is a Cambodian legend of a King that had leprosy.
So what was this terrace all about? What was its purpose? Our guide explained to us that this is where the King used to sit and review his prisoners and ultimately to pass judgement on them. As with so many archeological sites there purpose often remains a mystery but certainly the proximity of the inner and outer walls of the terrace definitely give the impression of a passageway but why anyone one would go to the trouble of carving the inner one, the one out of sight, so intricately is anyone’s guess.
By now it is about 11.00 a.m., hot and sticky again and the water is most welcome when we get back to the car. One more stop before lunch, Preah Khan or Temple of the Sacred Sword. What a gem this turned out to be. Again built by King Jayavarnam VII and this time dedicated to his father but, we were told, built before anything we had already seen, towards the end of the 12th century, to celebrate a victory over the Chams who came from modern day southern Vietnam. Basically Preah Khan is very similar to Ta Prohm and seemed to combine a number of elements of places we had seen already. It was part city, part temple and part school supposedly boasting 1,000 dancers, 1,000 teachers and 97,840 attendants...wow!
We stopped the car outside the main entrance and he told us that he would be waiting for us on the opposite side. Now we have got away from the main attractions it is noticeable that most of the ‘vendors’ are children, mainly girls at that. They speak amazingly good English, far better than their Thai equivalent, and seek to sell you mainly postcards, guide books. The prices compared to Siem Reap are actually quite reasonable and we didn’t detect any premium as such, in fact we got the distinct impression that had we bothered to bargain a bit we would have probably got a better deal than down town. In the main they were quite good natured but every now and again there seemed to be a stroppy one, strange really.
You approach the temple along a long causeway bordered by what look like stone lanterns, strangely reminiscent of a Japanese Shinto temple although we are told that the holes in them used to contain Buddha images not space for light. Immediately before the gate you pass a line of Giants and Gods holding a Naga (serpent) just like at the gateway to Angkor Thom. Like Ta Prohm this temple was overgrown with trees and vegetation but has been carefully cleared leaving some of the larger overgrowing trees in place. On the surrounding wall are large images of Garudas and Nagas. Sights in side are highlighted by the Hall of Dancers with its reliefs of apsaras.
Visually this is without doubt one of the best temples. It has been sufficiently restored by the World Heritage Fund that you start to get a real feel for what it really must have been like to have lived there. For me this was the place where the whole of Angkor started to come alive and the interaction and blending of Hindu and Buddhism seem to take on another sense or at least I started to get a feel for it. Miss this one at your cost.
Time to move on. Next is the ‘Pink Temple’ or more properly known as Banteay Srei but being well past noon we will stop for lunch on the way. Great, we need more water!