The monastic complex of Ta Prohm is one of the largest sites at Angkor and one of the most intriguing. Built in the second half of the 12th century by Jayavarman VII, this Buddhist temple was dedicated to the mother of the king. It employed over 12,000 people, mostly monks, and was supported by nearly 80,000 people residing in the villages that belonged to the temple. Left mostly untouched by archaeologists after its discovery in modern times, the site holds a special fascination and mystery. The structures have been invaded by fig, banyan, and kapok trees, the giant roots of which probe the cracks in the walls and terraces, while their branches and leaves form a vibrant canopy overhead. As in other Buddhist temples, a nun caretaker is often present to give blessings and assist those who wish to make offerings. The nun who blessed me was delightful and laughed when I showed her the picture she happily allowed me to take.
A Hindu temple-mountain dedicated to Shiva in 961 by Rajendravarman II (reigned 944-968). Many Cambodians believe that this temple was associated specifically with funeral rites and cremation, but modern archaeological evidence in support of this theory is scant, and the exact function of this impressive structure remains unknown.
Pre Rup is one of a few temples, including Angkor Wat, that opens early (5 a.m.) so that visitors may view the sunrise. Hundreds, if not thousands, flock to Angkor Wat for this purpose each morning. When I visited Pre Rup early one Sunday morning in mid-June, I was surprised and delighted to find that I was the only tourist there. I watched the sunrise over the Kulen Hills, accompanied only by the sound of birds, crickets, and the occasional whine of a distant motorbike.
Phnom Krom is approximately 12 kilometers south of Siem Reap, on the northern edge of the great lake Tonle Sap. To access, on foot, the ruins that sit atop the mountain, one must ascend a long set of stairs to a reach a narrow road that climbs circuitously to the courtyard of a small modern pagoda. (Motorbikes and small cars can take this road from the bottom but tuks-tuks cannot.) From the courtyard another short flight of stairs leads to the ruin site. This temple is one of three built by Yasovarman I (reigned 889-910) on hills that dominate the Angkorean plain -- Bahkeng (near Angkor Thom), Phnom Bok (near Banteay Srei), and Phnom Krom. Built in the late 9th and early 10th centuries, this temple was dedicated to the Hindu trinity--Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu. The mountain is a popular spot with young Khmer who come to picnic and watch the sunset.
I visited Phnom Krom on an extremely hot Saturday afternoon. I was the only foreigner on the mountain, a madman in a palm-leaf hat, kroma drooped around my neck, trudging up the hill in the pitiless sun. I passed a group of young Khmer men sitting in the shade of a small tree. "Dtau naa?" They called over to me. "Where you going?" "Right to the top", I replied assuredly with a broad smile. They laughed and went back to drinking their beer. Angkor Beer. "My, country, my beer."
Jayavarman IV, who reigned from 928 to 941, divided the Khmer kingdom by establishing a new capital in the remote location of Chok Gargyar ("Island of Glory", present-day Koh Ker), just east of the southern tip of Phnom Kulen.* It has been suggested that Jayavarman IV was a usurper to the Khmer throne, but there is no clear evidence of this. However, it is certain that he wielded a great deal of military power. (Inscriptions reveal that he ruled over the territories of Battamabang, Siemreap, Kampong Thom, Kampong Cham, and Ta Kev.) Called 'Lingapura' in inscriptions, this royal ceremonial complex was built on a grand scale and originally contained some of the largest sculpture ever created by the Khmer. Not surprisingly, over the centuries most of the sculpture has been looted or moved to museums. Some of these pieces are on view at the Angkor National Museum in Siem Reap. Although Koh Ker's most prominent feature is the great pyramid, Prasat Thom, there are some intriguing outlying ruins as well, including Prasat Neang Khmau and root-covered Prasat Pram.
*The Khmer capital was moved from Chok Gargyar back to Angkor by Jayavarman IV's successor, Harshavarman II (reigned 941-944).
Located near the present-day village of Roluos, Bakong is a Hindu temple-mountain built by King Indravarman I (reigned 877-889). It was center of Hariharalaya, the capital of the Khmer Empire before it was transferred to Yasodharapura (Angkor) by Yasovarman I (reigned 889-c.900). Constructed on an artificial mound, the temple is an earthly representation of mythical Mount Meru, a mountain of five peaks, sacred in Hindu cosmology. It is now used by Buddhists, and a modern Buddhist pagoda stands adjacent to the ruin site.
The morning I visited the site, the guard was kind enough to allow me entrance some fifteen minutes early. I was alone in the temple save for two young Khmer girls who were collecting the remains of yellow candles that had been placed throughout the temple and lit for a ceremony the previous evening. How I would have liked to have seen the temple aglow in such fashion. A beautiful flowering tree (Delonix regia - royal poinciana) near the pagoda was alive with butterflies.