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Ta Nei Side View | by Neil Noland
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Ta Nei Side View

From the August 2016 return trip to Siem Reap and the Angkor complex:

 

I love the Angkor complex, Siem Reap, and the Cambodian people so much that I returned again for about a week to photograph as much of the “non-major” sites as I could. Some of them are slightly far from Angkor Wat (by that, I mean to say more than 10 kilometers away), and usually require a little more money to get to. Also, some of the sites (Beng Mealea, Phnom Kulen) are not included in the Angkor ticket price and have an additional admission fee.

 

I don’t know if there’s a set number of how many sites belong in the Angkor complex, though I’m sure it would vary. (Do you only count the major sites like Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Prohm? Do you add the sites that aren’t included in the standard “Angkor Pass,” but are clearly of the same era? Do you include sites that aren’t even named (as are one of the sites in this series)? All in all, I’ll put a very rough number at…50 sites in the Siem Reap area, and that includes the sites that are about 100 km away. Of those, I would say I’ve been to all but 5-10 now. All are included here with the exception, obviously, of the sites that I didn’t visit. (Off the top of my head, I can say they include Koh Ker & that respective group, which is about 120 km ENE of Siem Reap; Phnom Krom, one of the three “mountains” with temples; Ta Prohm Kel; and Mangalartha.)

 

In practical terms, I’m afraid that with the volume of shooting (about 1,500 frames in the past 7 days), photos will start to look redundant to those who don’t have the same interest in ancient/historical architecture or Angkor as I do. That being said, there are a few things besides temples here. The Old Market area (now Night Market/Pub Street) is represented – a little – and Phnom Kulen has a pretty nice waterfall which is also in this series. Also, I tried to catch a few people in here, though didn’t get as many as I would’ve liked.

 

I had my friend Mao (tuktuk driver) take me around for 5 of these 7 days this time around. As I mentioned last time, he may cost a little more than what you can arrange through a hotel/guesthouse, but he’s well worth the money (and, in the grand scheme of things, not too expensive; I paid less than $200 for the five days, two of which were “long” trips). He loves his country and heritage, he knows what he’s showing you, he’s flexible, he gives you enough ice water to keep you hydrated, and he’s just a good guy. (He even bought me a birthday cake for cryin’ out loud…) Anyway, I highly recommend Mao. You can find him here: www.facebook.com/mao.khvan (or on Trip Advisor: www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g297390-d10726821-R... )

 

Now that shameless plugs and other assorted rhetoric are out of the way, it’s time to get on to the temples, ruins, and other miscellany.

 

Today is really the excuse that I used to come back to Siem Reap for a week. Mao was nice enough not to schedule any other customers for today since it’s my 43rd birthday, and also for Saturday. (Another reason, I think, is that I wanted to see all of the non-major sites and most everyone else is only interested in the major ones. So…thanks to Mao for giving up a few bucks from others just to make sure I got to see all that I wanted these two days.)

 

Mao came to pick me up around 10:00 in the morning with his wife and adorable daughter. Today, we pretty much followed the small loop tour that we did yesterday (and that most tourists do). However, we skipped every spot from yesterday (Banteay Kdei, Ta Prohm’s main temple, Ta Keo, Thommanon, Chao Say Tevoda, Bayon) and opted for the others along the same route.

 

The first stop of the morning was Prasat Kravan. This is a particularly interesting – and small – temple that consists mainly of one building with a central tower, but five chambers lined up in a row. Prasat Kravan was built in the early 10th century (consecrated in 921) and is built of brick. It was built during the short reign of Harshavarman I. The name is the modern name (though I don’t know the original name) and means “cardamom sanctuary,” for a tree that once stood here. From an architectural standpoint, what is most interesting – and what caught my attention – is the brick bas-reliefs here. They are the only known representation of these in Khmer art and are reason alone to visit here. The central tower has a statue of Vishnu and the northernmost has a statue of his consort, Lakshmi.

 

After 15-20 minutes at Prasat Kravan, Mao took me to Bat Chum, which was quite near. (It wasn’t on my list, so kudos to Mao for adding a few stops that I otherwise wouldn’t have seen; as I said, the man knows the territory, and I highly recommend him to anyone who comes here.) Bat Chum is a very, very small site (under restoration, though it looks like even the restoration has been forgotten) a few hundred meters due south of Sra Srang, and a few hundred meters east of the road from Angkor Wat to Banteay Kdei. When Bat Chum was built in 960, there were houses and a Buddhist monastery nearby, which have long since vanished. This temple was built by the lone Khmer architect whose name we know: Kavindrarimathana. He also built the palace of the East Mebon and Sra Srang. This is a temple with three brick towers. There are stone lions and interesting inscriptions here as well.

 

From Bat Chum, we returned to the main road, skirted along the eastern and northern sides of Banteay Kdei’s outer wall, then along the southern and western sides of Ta Prohm’s outer wall. Most people enter Ta Prohm from the western gate (as evidenced by the massive throng of tuktuks here) or the eastern gate (where you will find a slew of souvenir vendors). As far as I can tell, there is no southern gate – as I imagine you’d see it flying by on the road. (Banteay Kdei does have a northern gate, though people don’t seem to stop here.) Ta Prohm does have a rather charming and rarely visited northern gate that I was unaware of. Again…thanks, Mao. Just stop on the road at the northwest corner of Ta Prohm’s outer wall and walk east along the north wall for about five minutes to find the northern gate, surrounded by jungle.

 

Next up on today’s tour is a very small site that, from what I know, doesn’t even have a name. (Mao didn’t even know the name of the place, so it’s just titled ‘Unnamed Site’ here.) It’s very small, almost an afterthought, but still worth a look. It’s on the road heading due north from Ta Prohm’s west gate about 100-200 meters south of where it heads to the west to Ta Keo. It’s barely 50 meters off the road, so is very easy to visit in 10 minutes or so.

 

Right at the point where the road takes a 90 degree turn to head west to Ta Keo, you have the option of going straight (down a fairly bumpy dirt road) to Ta Nei. This is actually a larger temple, but unlike the others nearby, it hasn’t gone under extensive restoration yet, so it isn’t visited very often. It’s 800 meters north of Ta Keo, set back in the woods, and is 200 meters west of the Eastern Baray’s western border. It was built by Jayavarman VII in the late 12th century. The highlights of coming here are simply the setting, the pediments, and the overall lack of visitors.

 

After half an hour or so at Ta Nei, Mao and I hopped back in the tuktuk and returned to the main road, heading west past Ta Keo before veering north and making a very quick stop at the Hospital Chapel that is 150 meters due west of Ta Keo (slightly north). This is a very quick – 5 minute – stop that interested me simply because it was/is part of a hospital that’s close to a thousand years old now. It was built by Jayavarman VII (like so many of the Angkor sites) in the late 12th century. This sandstone monument is one of four that were on site here (and, from what I’m reading, one of 102 that were found throughout the empire). Honestly, seeing this just makes me wonder about 12th century medicine. What would a Khmer hospital at the turn of the 13th century have been like?

 

Moving north from the Hospital Chapel, the road takes another 90 degree turn to the west. Before entering the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom, you pass Thommanon and Chao Say Tevoda (bypassed, as already mentioned), and then Spean Thma, near a bridge that crosses the Siem Reap River. (The Siem Reap River, today, is more like a gentle stream, though it was used to transport the quarried rock from Phnom Kulen to Angkor to build these massive temples a thousand years ago.) That aside, I decided to bypass Spean Thma for now.

 

Once inside the Victory Gate, which I mistakenly called the East Gate in May (it is on the eastern wall), we turned south on a dirt path about 100-200 meters inside Angkor Thom and traveled south, parallel to the wall. After less than 5 minutes, you arrive at the road that runs directly east from Bayon to the East Gate, otherwise known as the Slaves’ Gate or Gate of the Dead. (From the names, obviously, if anyone who didn’t belong to the royal family saw this gate…bad news for them.) According to Mao, the slaves were marched out this gate on the way to their execution. Grim history aside, it’s a rather nice gate, well-restored, with some good angles for shooting. It’s certainly worth a visit, especially since it’s so easily accessible – and there are rarely many people around.

 

After this quick stop, we took the road due west to the heart of Angkor Thom – Bayon – then headed up the road towards the North Gate, where the majority of Angkor Thom sites are located (just north of Bayon). Passing by Baphuon, Phimeanakas, the Elephant Terrace, Terrace of the Leper Kings (all on the west side of the main road), and the Kleangs and Suor Prat Towers (east side of the main road, with the towers being bisected by the road heading east through the Victory Gate), we turned off just north of the Terrace of the Leper Kings to the west to see Tep Pranam – very briefly – and Preah Pilalay.

 

Tep Pranam is simply a statue of a giant seated sandstone Buddha, still in use for worship today, that was built around the 16th century. If this were in an out-of-the-way place, it may not be worth the time. However, it’s in the heart of Angkor Thom and it’s impossible to go to Preah Pilalay without seeing it if you come by tuktuk. (This isn’t a complaint by any means; it’s rather nice.) Preah Pilalay is in the northwest section of Angkor Thom and is fairly remote (given the amount of tourists that the other nearby sites see). Its main features are a tall chimney-like structure, a few nagas, and its setting in the forest. It was built in either the 13th or 14th century, possibly by Jayavarman VIII or, perhaps, by Jayavarman VII. It’s about 200 meters north of the royal enclosure (Phimeanakas). Some of the larger trees that used to tower over the temple have been hewn resulting in a very different feel. However, it was a pleasant side trip.

 

Hopping back in the tuktuk and going directly across the road, the last stop for the day inside Angkor Thom was the Preah Pithu group. This is a collection of five temples/ruins in the northeastern section of Angkor Thom that is in a delightful wooded setting. If you can see them in early morning or late afternoon, you should get some wonderful lighting. You can spend as little as 15 minutes here or as much as an hour or two. They probably weren’t designed to be one cohesive group, though it’s not possible to say with certainty. They were built in the 13th century. (Though I mention this as the last stop, I’ve also included the North Kleang and Northern Suor Prat Towers here. Though I didn’t explore those in depth, I am giving them their own set here – Kleangs and Suor Prat Towers.)

 

On the way out of Angkor Thom, via the South Gate, we stopped outside the moat for a few pictures. Directly south of Angkor Thom are a few temples that I wanted to see: Thma Bay Kaek, Prasat Bei, and Baksei Chamkrong.

 

We visited them in that order. Thma Bay Kaek is nearest the road about 50 meters southwest of the bridge over the southern moat. All that remains here are the ruins of a square brick tower. It’s probably the remains of one of many temples that were here in the Bakheng area. It was built in the 10th century by Yasovarman I.

 

About a five minute walk - -if that – due west of Thma Bay Kaek is Prasat Bei (“Three Towers”). Unlike Thma Bay Kaek, these towers are still standing, so obviously, slightly more photogenic. They would probably be best photographed in early morning. The trees block it from the west in late afternoon. It, too, was built by Yasovarman I in the 10th century.

 

The last of the three temples in this area, Baksei Chamkrong, is the most impressive of the three. It’s from the early and middle 10th century (rededicated in 948) and was built by Harshavarman. This is a pyramid temple at the foot of Phnom Bakheng. The name means “the bird with sheltering wings,” though – like most temples here – this is a modern appellation that the builders wouldn’t have recognized. This tower is a single brick tower on a pyramidal base.

 

Finally, to finish up the day, Mao dropped me at Phnom Bakheng. It’s about a 20 minute walk up the hill around a winding path. This is considered to be one of the best places to watch sunset over Angkor Wat because of its panoramic view from the peak of the hill. However, everyone knows this, and this is the only place all day that was too crowded for my liking. In addition to its being under restoration to the point of making it a bit of an eyesore (for the time being), it was easily my least favorite place of the entire day. After waiting in line for 20 minutes and barely moving an inch, I decided to call it a day, taking 1-2 pictures (that you see here), and heading back down the hill.

 

Mao had disappeared into the throngs of people eating at restaurants. Fortunately for me, he spotted me. On the way back to the guesthouse, he stopped and picked up a birthday cake which we shared with the folks who happened to be at the guesthouse. All in all, it was a wonderful birthday. Tomorrow, too, would be just me and would include the lesser-visited sites on the Grand Tour Loop, in addition to 1-2 others.

 

As always, I hope you enjoy this set. I appreciate you taking time to look. If you have any questions, please feel free to send me a message or leave it via comment.

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Taken on August 19, 2016