After the sumptuous lunch on our grand circuit trip at Angkor group of temple, we started to cover the large temple city – The Preah Khan.
The Preah Khan
The Preah Khan temple located just outside the capital city Angkor Thom was built in 1191; its name translates to “the Sacred Sword”. Preah Khan was built during the reign of King Jayavarman VII. He was a warrior king celebrated for reconstructing the Khmer Empire after a period of fragmentation. Jayavarman first made a name for himself in 1165, when news of a rebellion reached his ears. Rushing home from the Cham Kingdom, where he resided, he arrived too late to stop the usurper Tribhuvanadityavarman from crowning himself King of the Khmers. Jayavarman was powerless to interfere, but waited patiently for an opportunity. Finally in 1177, the Cham kingdom sent an invasion force against the Khmer usurper, joined by native elements, that toppled him in a bloody campaign. Fighting even reached Angkor, laying waste to the capital. The victorious Cham occupied Khmer territory as a foreign power, but their rule was not to last long.
Jayavarman jumped in with his own private army, striking headlong at the Cham forces. He won a spectacular naval battle on the Great Lake that crippled the Cham fleet. This opened the door to a wholesale invasion that not only drove out the foreign occupiers, but struck against native kinglets that resisted his “liberation”. Only in 1181 was he confident enough to crown himself King, taking the reign title Jayavarman VII.
The King commissioned Ta Prohm and Preah Khan temples as monuments of his rule. Preah Khan was probably built on the same spot where previous kings had kept their palaces. Preah Khan was more than just a monastery, it was an entire city enclosing a town of 56 hectares. About 100,000 farmers produced rice to feed about 15,000 monks, teachers, and students. Subsidiary buildings included a hospital, rest house, and rice granary.
The central Buddhist temple at Preah Khan included an image of the Boddhisattva Lokeshrvara, carved to resemble the King’s father. There were 282 sub-deities around the main statue, including Khmer heroes and deceased officials. There was even a statue of the usurper-king in front of the temple. Though this seems odd, the Khmers believed that all past kings, even usurpers, guarded the country after death.
Clearing works on the overgrown temple started in the late 1920’s. The temple has been partially restored using the anastylosis method, reconstructing the temple with the original architectural concepts in mind.
In front of the temple’s Eastern entrance are the ruins of a small landing area for boats with a couple of lions standing guard. The pier is situated on the Western bank of the Jayatataka baray, a huge water reservoir (now dry) immediately East of the temple. From this pier, the King could embark a boat to the Neak Pean temple, which is located in the center of the baray. Check my last blog for Neak Pean temple. From the landing area a 100 meters long walkway with boundary stones leads to the causeway crossing the moat. The Buddha images carved into the boundary stones have been destroyed. The moat is crossed by a bridge lined with giants holding the body of the mythological Naga snake.
The temple grounds are divided into four enclosures. The 4th enclosure contained within the moat is over 900 meters long and 750 meters wide. This space was occupied by long gone wooden houses of villagers and servants.
The wall of the fourth enclosure contains 5 meter high Garudas fighting Naga snakes. Dozens of the mythological half man, half bird creature are placed at regular intervals around the more than 3 kilometres long fourth enclosure. The gopura gate of the Eastern main entrance consists of 3 towers, the central one being the largest, which contains an entrance gate large enough for elephants to pass. Along the walkway to the third enclosure is a well preserved Dharmasala or “house of fire”.
The third enclosure measures 220 meters long and 165 meters wide. At the gopura of the East entrance which consists of 3 towers is a very well preserved guardian lion statue. The carved depictions of the Buddha have been altered to praying Rishis. Just past the gopura is a well preserved Hall of Dancers with beautiful devatas carved above the entrance doors.
North of the Hall of Dancers is a two storey building with large circular columns. Although it is not known what the purpose of this structure was, some speculate it might have been a granary building. It is probably the only which has large circular columns.
Between the Hall of Dancers and the second enclosure is a courtyard with two very small library buildings.
The second enclosure was added at a later stage. As a result, the space between the first and second enclosure is very small. Six sanctuary buildings were built between the two enclosures on the East side of the temple.
The first enclosure which contains the inner sanctuary, the most sacred part of the temple, is a square area measuring 55 meters on all sides. The surrounding wall contains Buddha images, that have escaped the destruction of the Hindu reaction of the 13th century.
The inner sanctuary consists of four parts, divided by a gallery with a cruciform floor plan. The small space is cramped with a large number of small chapels, among them funeral chapels and tombs. Most depictions of the Buddha have either been destroyed or altered into praying Rishi figures. The Western entrance to the inner sanctuary is guarded by a well preserved Dvarapala guardian. The sanctuary’s lintels and pediments contain several depictions of Vishnu, Krishna and the Buddha.
In the center of the central sanctuary, at the location where originally the Lokeshvara image would have been, is a circular stupa that was built centuries after completion of the Preah Khan temple.
Between the second and third enclosure are three satellite temples. While the Southern sanctuary building is in a ruined state, the Northern building is in a much better condition.
The entrance of the Western satellite temple is guarded by two huge Dvarapalas armed with a sword. The structure contains a library building opening to the West, away from the inner sanctuary. The lintels and pediments contain several depictions including Krishna lifting Mount Govardhana to protect the people and their cattle from torrential rain, Krishna, Vishnu and battle scenes from the Ramayana epic, like the battle of Lanka.
After an exhaustive walk of few kilometers we were bone tired. Heat and 100% humidity was killing. Since this was the last temple in our grand circuit, we decided to go back to room and take a small nap and to get freshened up for the evening performance of Phare.
The Phare, the Cambodian Circus.
At 7:30 PM we reached the circus venue. It was few minutes Tuk Tuk ride from our hotel. Seats were already booked by our hotel staff. There are Reserved seating middle section which probably gives best viewing experience. You will receive a bottle of water and small gift from Phare Boutique. Tickets vary from $35 for the front 3 rows and $25. General Open seating is cheaper ($18) as it gives the seating in the side sections. Some seats in this section have obstructed pillars and lights. We went for this section as it was cheaper. Obviously, the view was not optimal, but as you can see from the photos below I could capture some great moments.
Preferred Reserved Seating (Section A): Reserved seating in the front 3 rows of the middle section for the best viewing experience. Enter at your leisure knowing your seat is waiting for you.
All these captures of circus are using the Fuji 50-140mm lens on my Fujifilm X-T2 Mirrorless Digital Camera at very high ISO (ISO 3200 & 6400) as I needed the higher shutter speed to capture action. The lighting was pretty low and highly colourful. Fujifilm X-T2 did not struggle at all and focus was pretty accurate even though I was using zoom to the maximum. You can check results here for yourself.
Phare, is more than just a circus, the Cambodian Circus performers use theater, music, dance and modern circus arts to tell uniquely Cambodian stories; historical, folk and modern. The young circus artists will astonish you with their energy, emotion, enthusiasm and talent.
Phare artists are students and graduates from Phare Ponleu Selpak‘s vocational training centre in Battambang. The association was formed 20 years ago by 8 young men coming home from a refugee camp after the Khmer Rouge regime. They were greatly helped by art therapy and wanted to share this new skill among the poor, socially deprived and troubled youngsters in Battambang. They founded an art school and public school followed to offer free education. A music school and theatre school were next and finally, for the kids who wanted more, the circus school. Today more than 1,200 pupils attend the public school daily and 500 attend the alternative schools. Phare Ponleu Selpak also has extensive outreach programs, trying to help with the problems highlighted in their own tales.
Phare The Cambodian Circus offers these students and graduates somewhere to hone their skills and a place to earn a decent wage. Money that will take them out of poverty and give them self-respect and freedom.
Since 2013 Phare, The Cambodian Circus performed its first show in Siem Reap. Since then, they have grown to be one of the top attractions in the city, with nightly indoor performances under their signature red big top.
Phare artists will astonish you with their energy, passion, talent and dedication. From some of the most difficult social and economic backgrounds imaginable, these Cambodian youth transform their lives through art.
Every night performance is different. The energetic performance uses stories taken from real life experiences. The day we went it was called ‘Preu’ (Chills).
A funny and modern take on traditional Cambodian beliefs, Chills is the story of two ghosts who haunt a group of young students. After a spooky encounter at night, the students are scared and worried that they’ll be haunted forever.
So they make a plan. They research ghosts at the school library, create a strategy to get rid of them and pray to the gods for help. But nothing works until they confront their fears and make peace with their new supernatural friends.
This contemporary circus show mixes eerie and graceful aerial acrobatics, contortion and other modern circus arts with slapstick humor and a playful live score performed on traditional Cambodian instruments.
Phare is actually half way between a theatre and the circus. I liked how acrobatics, juggling, artworks, dance etc. was interwoven into a story that was very worth telling.
Some of the acrobats are amazing, but the story line may be a little difficult to follow as a foreigner. It is a small tent that can get pretty warm. The young acrobats, musicians and dancer’s energy, enthusiasm and talent makes this worthy of an evening out. In addition to being entertained, you will feel better about supporting an event that encourages the local young people to work hard and to hone their craft.
After such enthralling performance we wanted to try another. Let me introduce you to the Café! (Beware, shocking pictures below!)
The Bugs Café, owned by french expatriates Davy and Marjolaine Boulard and sitting right in the city centre of Siem Reap, is indeed what we can call a peculiar restaurant. There you can enjoy all different kinds of hairy, leggy, viscous little creatures that are usually living at the bottom of your darkest nightmares. But don’t expect to find on your plate the classical over-n-over-stir fried kebab of insects that you can purchase on any market in Siem Reap. In the Bugs Café, insects are THE ultimate delicacies and the talented khmer chef Seiha Soeun is using all his creativity to prepare unique and sublime dishes of ants, grasshoppers, silk worms, scorpions, tarantulas.
The dish we ordered, as we were newbies to the big insectivorous gastronomy : the discovery platter. It is the best seller of the Bugs Cafe, it is perfect to discover all the different flavours that insects have to offer. Here is the list of the surprising things you can find on it : an oven-baked skewer of marinated silkworms, grasshoppers, tarantula, and giant waterbug, some ants spring rolls, a grasshopper muffin, the famous tarantula-donut accompanied by a delicious mango purée and, last but not least, the silkworms and grasshoppers wok sautéed with fresh kampot pepper.
Grasshoppers and silkworms are the easiest to start with. Eating them is a bit like eating crackers, once you’ve started you can’t stop until you finished them all. Plus they are really tasty. We found that silkworms have a very nice nutty taste while grasshoppers are quite surprising, presenting different flavours depending on how they are cooked. Ants are great too, adding a subtle lemony taste to the recipes. But the most exciting insect to try was definitely the tarantula. It is easier to try the tarantula-donut first, this way you don’t see the beast directly. After that we still had to brave the one on the skewer, but it was not such a big trouble after this first donut experience!
It was tasty, but a thrilling treat. Not really for the feeble or fainthearted. It really doesn’t fill your stomach, but surely fill your brain and excites your nerves. We had shopping in the night market and then it was time to hit the sack.
Next part of this blog I will cover our third day at Cambodia visiting most popular temples of the Cambodia, Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom And Bayon Temples.
Thanks to all of you for being part of this journey and encouraging me to write this travelogue. If you have missed earlier, check all the 8 parts with links below.
- In Search of Lost Gods – Cambodia Part 1
- In Search of Lost Gods – Cambodia Part 2
- In Search of Lost Gods – Cambodia Part 4
- In Search of Lost Gods – Cambodia Part 5
- In Search of Lost Gods – Cambodia Part 6
- In Search of Lost Gods – Cambodia Part 7
- In Search of Lost Gods – Cambodia Part 8