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Angkor Archaeological Park, Siem Reap, Cambodia

We flew from Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia where we were met at the airport by a driver and a Tuk Tuk. Our driver's name was Nat who has taen care of us everyday driving us around to all the temples and some which aren't typically visited by tourists.

Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Stretching over some 400 square kilometers including forested area. Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations which are shown in a couple of the pictures below.

We began our visit to Angkor at 5am in order to catch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. When we arrived there were already large crowds gathered across the water from the outer wall waiting for enough light to produce a mirror of the temple on the surface of the water.

At the beginning of the 9th century the two states that covered the territory of modern Cambodia were united by Jayavarman II, who laid the foundations of the Khmer Empire, the major power in south-east Asia for some five centuries. One of the sites was in central Cambodia, to the north of Tonle Sap (Great Lake), where half a century later Jayavarman's son, Yashovarman, was to establish Yashodapura (later called Angkor), the permanent capital of the Khmer Empire until the 15th century.

The second capital at Angkor was built by Rajendravarman in the 960s, the state temple being situated at Pre Rup. He also constructed a temple, the Eastern Mebon, on an artificial island in the centre of the Eastern Baray. During his reign he built the exquisite temple of Banteay Srei.

Rajendravarman's son, Jayavarman V, abandoned the Pre Rup site in favour of a new location with its state temple at Ta Kev, which was consecrated around 1000. Shortly afterwards he was overthrown by Suryavarman I, who was responsible for erecting the formidable fortifications around his Royal Palace and state temple, the Phimeanakas, and also for the construction of the great Western Baray.

A clue as to what at least part of Angkor might have looked like comes from the old Siamese capital of Ayutthaya in Thailand, founded in 1351 and destroyed by the Burmese in 1767. It was a conscious clone of the Khmer capital, Angkor Thom, and covered about the same area; instead of being bounded by a huge moat, it was surrounded on all sides by rivers or by connecting canals, and by a wall. An account of Ayutthaya by a seventeenth-century Dutch traveler states:

The Streets of the walled Town are many of them large, straight and regular, with channels running through them, although the most part of small narrow Lanes, Ditches, and Creeks most confusedly placed; the Citizens have an incredible number of small boats...which come to their very doors, especially at floods and high water.

Plans and watercolour drawings by Europeans show that it was crisscrossed by canals and streets, with the royal palace in the northwest sector (as in Angkor Thom); the only densely settled sector lay in the southeast. Comments by an early eighteenth-century observer are relevant here:

Considering the bigness of the City, it is not very populous...scarce the sixth part is inhabited, and that to the South-East only. The rest lies desart [sic] where the Temples only stand...there are abundance of empty space and large gardens behind the streets, wherein they let nature work, so that they are full of Grass, Herbs, Shrubs and Trees, that grow wild...

The houses of ordinary inhabitants were thatched, single-storey structures of bamboo and wood, built on piles, while foreign traders lived along the main north-south avenue in more substantial tile-roofed houses. Ayutthaya, whatever its Angkor-inspired beginnings, was slowly evolving from an orthogenetic to a partly heterogenetic city, due to the easy access that Chinese, European and Arab traders had from its waterways. Let us first consider Angkor Thom; in recent years its four quadrants have been surveyed in detail by Jacques Gaucher of the EFEO, using aerial photographs and ground 'truthing'. The main axes of Angkor's capital district were lined with canals, and, again like Ayutthaya, the Royal Palace was in the northwest quadrant; elsewhere, apart from the monumental constructions, there were numerous small water tanks, channels, and house mounds. Based on the results of this survey, Roland Fletcher suggests that while Angkor Thom could have held as many as 90,000 people (assuming a density of 100 persons per hectare), the population may have been only a quarter of that, given the amount of open space (as in Ayutthaya); the palace; the major temples; and the single-story dwellings.

A survey carried out from 1992 to 1998 by Christophe Pottier has shown that the Angkor landscape was dotted with low mounds that had once supported hamlets of about five to ten traditional, single-storey houses. These mounds were associated with hundreds of small, local shrines and medium-sized, rectangular water tanks, recalling Zhou Daguan's statement that 'every family has a pond - or, at times, several families own one in common'. Based on ground survey and upon radar imagery and aerial photography, Fletcher now estimates that the total area of Angkor's urban complex is about 1,000 square km (386 square miles), within which the people were mainly living along linear features - canals and roads that extend out from central Angkor for about 20 to 30 km (12 to 18 miles) in all directions, probably less and less densely occupied as one moves towards the peripheries. Angkor Thom, then, was like a kind of spider sitting in the centre of a virtual web of settlement, with large open spaces, including even rice fields, between the 'threads'. This web extended well north of Preah Khan into the foothills of Phnom Kulen; the lovely Banteay Srei was probably at its northern edge.

In Fletcher's words, 'Angkor was therefore a low density, dispersed urban complex with housing along linear features and scattered across the landscape in patches and on isolated mounds.' Groslier's estimate of 1.9 million persons is thus an impossibility. The true figure for Angkor at its apogee, during the reign of Jayavarman VII, was probably a fraction of this, but only a great deal of future research can give us an idea of the total population.

Roof Tops of Bangkok

If you enjoy the Hangover Series of movies as I do, you'll remember the Roof Top bar overlooking the city of Bangkok. That bar is Lebua at State Tower and we did not go there because their dress code required wearing pants with dress shoes. Since I didn't pack a pair of pants nor a pair of dress shoes, we opted for an alternate location of sunset viewing on our last night in Bangkok.

Since we had to be at the Vietnam Embassy at 4PM, we wanted something close by so we started with "Up & Above" for happy hour at the 24th floor patio.

Lori and Janet having Cocktails in Bangkok at Up & Above.

We then took a cab over to the tallest building in Bangkok, The Baiyoke Tower where for only $1000Bhatt each, we could would get all you can eat dinner and a seat at the 83rd floor. After a wonderful buffet with Sushi and the works, we climbed to the revolving top of the building on the 84th floor. The view was spectacular!

View from the 84th outside revolving floor.

Bangkok China Town

The Bangkok China Town is quite an experience for the senses...all of them!

Textures...smells...colors...sounds...flavors. A real overload.


Temples and Buddhas...and more temples and buddhas.

Loads of new pictures in Thailand Gallery.

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