Singapore, Khorat Thailand and Siem Reap Cambodia, 7 March until 30 March 2019

Singapore (7 March-11 March)

Again we spend some nights in Singapore. This time we visited the River and Night Safari at the Singapore Zoo, the Singapore Flyer (165 m high with some magnificent views) and the Gardens at the Bay. At the Gardens we visited the Cloud Forest a greenhouse with climatic circumstances from tropical mountain area’s at 900-2700 m above sea level and the tallest indoor waterfall, 30 m high. Next to the Cloud Forest is the Flower Dome, a greenhouse replicating the cool and dry Mediterranean climate. It shows exotic plants from 5 continents in 9 different gardens, like thousand year old olive trees and the Baobab trees. These are world largest column less cooled greenhouses, designed with glass on a steel grid. Finally we walked the OCBC Skyway and Supertree Grove with great views due to the bright and sunny weather these days.
For more information about Singapore
pictures Singapore

Nakhon Ratchasima or Khorat (Korat), Thailand (11 March-15 March)

Monday 11 March we took a flight from Singapore to Bangkok in Thailand. At the airport our driver for the next days, mr. Nerd, was waiting to bring us to our hotel The Imperial Hotel & Convention Centre in Khorat, about 4 hours drive.
Our goal was to visit two ancient Khmer sites, Phimai and Phanom Rung. The temperature in Khorat was around 40 C, but the hotel (great service and restaurant) had a rather cool temperature all around; it was not necessary to use the Airco in our room.

Phimai

On Tuesday 12 March we visit Prasat Phimai.
Phimai is one of the largest Khmer temples of Thailand and is located in the town of Phimai in Nakhon Ratchasima province, about 50 min. drive from our hotel.

The temple marks one end of the Ancient Khmer Highway from Angkor. As the enclosed area of 1020x580m is comparable with that of Angkor Wat, Phimai must have been an important city in the Khmer Empire. Most buildings are from the late 11th to the late 12th century, built in the Baphuon, Bayon and Angkor Wat style, and mostly built under the reign of Suryavarman I (1001-1049). Even though the Khmer at that time were Hindu, the temple was built as a Buddhist temple (the only Buddhist Khmer temple) since the inhabitants of the Khorat area had been Buddhists as far back as the 7th century. Inscriptions name the site Vimayapura (which means city of Vimaya), which developed into the Thai name Phimai. 
The direction of the temple is to Angkor Wat, Southeast, probably because of the importance of the connection Phimai–Angkor (260 km South East). Normally the Khmer temples are directed to the East.
The temple is well maintained and the central Prangs (tower) with Mandapa (hall) is fantastic with may decorations from the life of Buddha and the Ramayana epos. The gopuras (gate) with decorations of Shiva, and the galleries are well preserved.
Having a lot in common with Angkor Wat, Phimai is an example of classical Khmer architecture. Ancient Khmer architects were best known for their superior use of sandstone over the traditional bricks and laterite architectures. Sandstone is used on the visible outer layer. Laterite on the other hand is used for the inner wall and other hidden parts. All the structures are huge sandstone blocks. There are many lotus-shaped roofs representing Mount Meru (Hinduism's holy mountain).
The main building resembles the peak of Mount Meru at the center of the universe. The surrounding walls resemble the water and encircling mountains.

We finish the day with visiting the museum in Phimai and the oldest and largest Banyan tree in Thailand, Sai Gnam (1.3 km2, 350 years old).
For more information about Phimai Historical Park
pictures Phimai

Phanom Rung

Wednesday 13 March. We visit the temple Prasat Hin Phanom Rung (stone castle) a Hindu Khmer temple, built of sandstone and laterite between the 10th and 13th century. The site is located in Buriram Province and about two hours driving, Southeast from Khorat. Phanom Rung is also situated on the Ancient Khmer Highway from Angkor and is set on the rim of an extinct volcano at 402 m above sea level. It was a Hindu shrine dedicated to Shiva and symbolizes Mount Kailash, and was probably built by the local ruler Narendraditya, a cousin of king Suryavarman II, who built Angkor Wat.
After walking the processional, 160 m long, walkway, which is paved with laterite blocks we pass the first of three naga bridges. The five-headed snakes face all four directions and are from the 12th century. The bridge represents the connection between heaven and earth. The Naga bridge leads to the upper stairway with terraces on the sides. The last terrace is wide, made with laterite blocks. It has a cruciform shape and four small pools. We pass the second and the third Naga bridge, which lead directly into the main sanctuary, where the principal tower is situated. Inside the tower a beautiful linga, the divine symbol of Shiva, and the remains of the Somasutra, which was used to drain water or milk during religious rites. The entrances have various lintels and icons depicting Hindu religious stories, like the dancing Shiva and the five yogis. The south entrance is guarded by a sandstone statue. The remains are well kept and beautifully decorated. Two Bannalai (library) are seen Southeast and Northeast of the principal tower. The buildings are rectangular and have only one entrance. They were built in the last period, around the 13th century, and used as a library for holy scriptures.
The site is very impressive, maybe also because the temperature, more than 40 C.
Interesting about the construction is that, at Songkran, the traditional Thai New Year from the ancient Siam time, the 15 opened doorways at the western gapura are opened; the sunrise through the opened gates in one line can be seen.
For more information about Phanom Rung Historical Park
pictures Phanom Rung

From Phanom Rung we go to Prasat Hin Muang Tam, rather small, but beautiful.
It is primarily in the Khleang and Baphuon styles, which dates its primary phases of construction to the late 10th and early 11th centuries. Primary dedicated to Shiva, although Vishnu was also worshipped there. Muang Tam (“lower city”, lower than Phanom Rung) has a flat concentric plan, with a central sanctuary and two libraries surrounded successively by an inner enclosure, ponds, and an outer enclosure. Special are the L-shaded ponds (dedicated to the Goddess of the Water) with the Naga’s and the central sanctuary, which is not elevated and has its towers arranged in rows of three and two rather than in a quincunx.

A short visit to Khorat brought us beautiful Khmer temples, but still there is more to see (temples and nature parks), so we surely will return to this region.
For more information about Prasat Muang Tam
pictures Muang Tam

Siem Reap, Cambodia (15 March-30 March)

After a four hour drive from Khorat to Bangkok airport, we took our flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia. It is Friday 15 March. For the next weeks we have a very busy schedule, some long day trips to Khmer sites we haven’t been before and other impressive sites to visit again. Two weeks of sightseeing and relaxing. Again we stayed in hotel Somadevi Angkor Hotel & Spa, had a lot of massages at the hotel and Sokkahk Spa and we discovered a Japanese restaurant called Hashi, with delicious dishes.

Preah Vihear

Tuesday 19 March we made a day trip with our guide mr. Peanh Tay and driver mr. Lung from Affinity Angkor (a guide organisation we can surely recommend, www.affinityangkor.com ) to Prasat Preah Vihear (“Holy shrine”), a temple complex in the North of Cambodia, close to the Thai border. After 3½ hour driving we arrive at the parking place, where we switch cars. The road is very steep so a 4-wheel drive jeep brings us to the temple, situated at top of a 535 m. cliff named Poy Tadi, in the Dângrêk Mountains, which is the natural border between Cambodia and Thailand. Sleepy soldiers welcomed us, relaxing in their bunker or shelter.
In 1962, following a dispute between Cambodia and Thailand over ownership the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, ruled that the temple is situated in Cambodia. Preah Vihear is since 2008 a Unesco World Heritage site, which provoked (again) armed skirmish between Thai and Cambodian in 2011. Beside casualties the temple was damaged, but nowadays it is rather quiet. From both side the soldiers are watching each other behind shelters.

The construction of the first temple of Preah Vihear began in the early 9th century. From that moment the temple was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva in his manifestations as the mountain gods Sikharesvara and Bhadresvara. The earliest surviving parts of the temple, however, date from the Koh Ker period in the early 10th century, when the empire's capital was at the city of that name. Today, elements of the Banteay Srei style of the late 10th century can be seen, but most of the temple was constructed during the reigns of the Khmer kings Suryavarman I (1006–1050) and Suryavarman II (1113–1150). Because the temple was built by successive kings it bears the elements of several architectural styles.
The gray and yellow sandstone used for the construction of Preah Vihear was available locally. Wood was used extensively to construct a support for the roof which was covered with terracotta tiles. Bricks were used instead of large rock slabs to construct the corbelled arches, because of the size they were more easy to use for building roofs bound together with mortar.

The temple complex is a stylised representation of Mount Meru (home of the Gods) and runs 800 m along a (for Khmer temples unusual) North-South axis facing the plains to the North, the Thai border. It consists essentially of a causeway and steps rising up the hill towards the sanctuary, which sits on the clifftop at the southern end of the complex (120 m above the northern end of the complex, 525 m above the Cambodian plain and 625 m above sea level). In spite of a not clear view at the top it still is impressive.

The approach to the sanctuary is punctuated by five gopuras (gopura five in the Koh Ker style is the first to be reached). Before the courtyards is reached by a set of steps; each of the gopuras marks a change in height which increases their impact. The gopuras also block the visitor's view of the next part of the temple until they pass through the gateway. It makes it impossible to see the complex as a whole from any point. The fourth gopura is from the later Khleang/Baphuon period, and has on its southern outer pediment, a impressive depiction of the Churning of the Sea of Milk and the fight of Krishna with Kaliya, the Naga. The third is the largest and is also flanked by two halls. Two other nice bas-reliefs are Yama (God of the death) riding on the buffalo and leaning on Kala, the Demon of time, and one with Shiva and Uma. The sanctuary is reached via two successive courtyards, with galleries beside, and two libraries.
The courtyards are heavily damaged and under construction, financed by Unesco. The view at the top is magnificent, steep, deep and kilometers into Thailand, but rather dangerous with only a small rope as fence.

On our way to the exit, after a long, heavy walk, we saw a beautiful chameleon, changing colours. At the exit we had the opportunity to replace a soldier on guard, to observe Thailand. Glad to sit, we drove for another 3½ hour back to Siem Reap. 
For more information about Preah Vihear Temple
pictures Preah Vihear

Siem Reap

Some days to relax in Siem Reap. We only visited the Cambodian Cultural Village (five hours!) on Thurday 21 March. A theme park with several cultural aspects of the 19 ethnic groups living in Cambodia, a museum with mythological scenes and wax statues and a museum with stuffed animals living in Cambodia. Also some miniature versions of famous Cambodian buildings are shown, beside all kind of ceremonies and shows. That day only the wedding ceremony was presented.
For more information about the Cultural Village
pictures Cambodian Cultural Village

Friday 22 March, early wake up again for the next trip. Today we visit the beautiful detailed temple of Banteay Srei and Preah Khan. Both we visited before but we think they deserve a regular visit.

Banteay Srei (citadel of the women) is a 10th century Khmer temple and is located near the hill of Phnom Dei, 25 km North-East of the main group of temples that once belonged to the medieval capitals of Yasodharapura and Angkor Thom. Banteay Srei is built largely of red sandstone, a material that is soft enough for this magnificent decorations and wall carvings, but is strong enough to survive the elements during ages. The buildings themselves are miniature in scale, which is rather unusually when measured by the standards of Angkorian construction. For us, this temple is one of the most beautiful ones and when you see the pictures you know why it’s being widely praised as the "Jewel of Khmer art". We visited the temple this time in the morning; beautiful light at colorful scenes.

Banteay Srei was the only major temple at Angkor not built by a monarch; its construction is credited to the courtiers named Vishnukumara and Yajnavaraha, who served as a counsellor to king Rajendravarman II. The foundational stela says that Yajnavaraha, grandson of king Harsavarman I was a scholar and philanthropist who helped those who suffered from illness, injustice or poverty. His pupil was the future king Jayavarman V, who reigned from 968 until 1001.
The temple was primarily dedicated to Shiva, but surprisingly the temple buildings appear to be divided along the central East-West axis between those buildings located South of the axis, which are devoted to Shiva, and those North of the axis, which are devoted to Vishnu.

A causeway situated on the axis leads from an outer gopura to the third or outermost of the three enclosures. The inner enclosure contains the sanctuary, consisting of an entrance chamber and three towers, as well as two buildings conventionally referred to as libraries.The gopuras eastern pediment shows Indra, who was associated with that direction, mounted on his three-headed elephant Airavata. The 67 m causeway with the remains of corridors on either side connects the gopura with the third enclosure. The third enclosure is 95 by 110 m. It is surrounded by a laterite wall breached by gopuras at the eastern and western ends.
The second enclosure sits between an outer laterite wall measuring 38 by 42 m, with gopuras at the eastern and western ends, and a brick inner enclosure wall, measuring 24 by 24 m.

Some of the most beautiful reliefs to be mentioned:
- Combat between Vali and Sugriva is depicted on the western gopura;
- Burning of Khandava Forest;
- Fight between the Asura brothers Sunda and Upasunda over the apsaras Tilottama;
- West-facing pediment on the northern library depicts Krishna slaying his wicked uncle Kamsa;
- Duel of the monkey princes Vali and Sugriva, as well as Rama's intervention on Sugriva's behalf;
- The lion-man Narasimha clawing the demon Hiranyakashipu;
- The many beautiful carved apsara’s and devata’s which probably is the reason for the name Banteay Srei.

The sanctuary is entered from the East by a doorway only 1.08 m in height: inside is an entrance chamber with a corbelled brick roof, then a short corridor leading to three towers to the west: the central tower is the tallest, at 9.8 m. The six stairways leading up to the platform were once each guarded by two kneeling statues of human figures with animal heads.

For more information about Banteay Srei
pictures Banteay Srei

We continued with the temple Preah Khan, built by Jayavarman VII, who reigned from 1181 until 1215, to honor his father. Probably it was his temporary capital during renovation of Angkor Thom after destroyed by the Cham.
The temple is named after the holy sword of Jayavarman II. The most impressive  part of this temple is the Hall of Dancers, West of the third eastern gopura on the main axis, with gorgeous carvings on walls and lintels. Each time you visit the temple you see more details.
The walls are decorated with Apsara’s. Buddha images in niches above them were destroyed in the anti-Buddhist reaction under Jayavarman VIII. North of the Hall of Dancers is a two-storied structure with round columns, probably a store house. No other examples of this form survive at Angkor, although there are traces of similar buildings at Ta Prohm and Banteay Kdei.

The entrance to the temple has a causeway over the moat with Deva’s and Asura’s carrying Naga’s. The outer wall of Preah Khan is of laterite, and bears 72 Garuda’s holding Naga’s, at 50 m intervals. Surrounded by a moat, it measures 800 by 700 m and encloses an area of 56 hectares. To the East of Preah Khan is a landing stage on the edge of the Jayatataka Baray, which measures 3.5 by 0.9 km.
For more information about Preah Khan
pictures Preah Khan

After some days relaxing we had a last trip with Affinity Angkor. The plan is to visit the temple Phnom Bakheng, famous for the sunset view, and the Roluos group, Preah Ko, Bakong and Lolei. It is Monday 25 March.

Phnom Bakheng is a Hindu and Buddhist temple in the form of a temple mountain. Dedicated to Shiva, it was built at the end of the 9th century, during the reign of King Yasovarman (889-910). To reach the temple we first had to walk upon the hill where the temple is located, 65 m above the surrounding plain. The reason why it is nowadays a very popular tourist spot for sunset views of the much bigger temple Angkor Wat, which lies amid the jungle about 1.5 km to the South-East. The large number of visitors makes Phnom Bakheng one of the most threatened monuments of Angkor. Since 2004, World Monuments Fund has been working to conserve the temple in partnership with APSARA.
The temple is a symbolic representation of Mount Meru, home of the Hindu gods, a status emphasized by the temple's location. The temple is built in a pyramid form of seven levels, representing the seven heavens. At the top level, five sandstone sanctuaries, in various states of repair, stand in a quincunx pattern, one in the center and one at each corner of the level's square. Originally, 108 small towers were arrayed around the temple at ground level and on various of its tiers. Most of them have collapsed.
It is said that there is a specific symbolism of the temple, a kind of astronomical calendar in stone, which I hope you understand.
The temple sits on a rectangular base and rises in 5 levels and is crowned by 5 main towers. 104 Smaller towers are placed over the lower 4 levels, placed so symmetrically that only 33 (33 is the number of Gods who dwelt on Mount Meru) can be seen from the center of any side. Phnom Bakheng's total number of towers is also significant. The central tower represents the axis of the world and the 108 other, smaller, towers represent the 4 lunar phases, each with 27 days.
The 7 levels of the monument represent the 7 heavens and each terrace contains 12 towers which represent the 12-year cycle of Jupiter.

During day-time it was rather quiet at the temple; late in the afternoon, mr. Tay remarked, it is sometimes very crowded with tourists. Queues with waiting times for hours to watch the sunset above Angkor Wat are common. Some tourist queuing up will probably not even see the sunset. Visitors can go up sitting on elephants and walk the special elephant-path. But since there are no tourist and no elephants we took the path to go down. At the lowest level of the temple we found the Buddha footprint and some statues just scattered in the open air, instead in the museum.
For more information about Phnom Bakheng
pictures Phnom Bakheng

From Phnom Bakheng we went to Roluos, a small modern town about 13 km East of Seam Reap, to visit the Roluos group, three temples which are presumed the earliest permanent structures built by Khmer. They mark the beginning of classical period of Khmer civilization, dating from the late 9th century. Some were totally built with bricks, others partially with laterite and sandstone. Roluos group at present is composed by three major temples: Preah Ko, Bakong, Lolei.

Toward the end of the 8th century, the Cambodian king Jayavarman II conquered territories near the great lake Tonlé Sap. He established his capital at Hariharalaya (today called Roluos), where he died in 835. Jayavarman II was succeeded by Jayavarman III and then by Indravarman I, who were responsible for the completion of the royal temple mountain known as the Bakong.
Indravarman I also constructed the much smaller temple called Preah Ko (“Sacred Bull”), dedicated in 880.
First we visit Preah Ko, small but special. The six towers, all of sandstone and of different size and specially placed, are dedicated to the royal family. The center front tower, the highest, is the most important and is dedicated to Jayavarman II, the left tower to Prithivindreshvara, father of Indravarman I, and the right tower to Rudreshvara, his grandfather. The three towers in the back are dedicated to the wife’s of these men. The name of the temple is derived from the three bulls, representing Nandi (the white bull who serves as the mount of Shiva), which are placed in front of the temple.
The towers are decorated with reliefs of mythic figures like Devata’s, Dvarapala’s (guards), Kala’s (big eyes) and Makara’s (elephant nose). On the towers there are also many decorations from Shiva.

The second temple we visited is Bakong which is the first temple mountain of sandstone constructed by rulers of the Khmer empire at Angkor. In the final decades of the 9th century it served as the official state temple of King Indravarman I in the ancient city of Hariharalaya.

The structure of Bakong shape is a stepped pyramid, popularly identified as temple mountain of early Khmer temple architecture. The temple looks similar to the Borobudur temple in Java. Architectural details such as the gateways and stairs to the upper terraces, suggests strongly that Borobudur was served as the prototype of Bakong. There must have been exchanges of travelers, or missions, between the Khmer kingdom and the Sailendras in Java. Transmitting not only ideas, but also technical and architectural details of the Borobudur.
Big statues of elephants presenting guards, are placed on the edges of the three lower levels of the temple. Statues of lions are guardians of the staircases. The size of the basis of the pyramid is 65x67 m. The site including the outer canal is about 900x700 m. The temple, largely damaged, still shows the image of the past.

In 889, Indravarman I was succeeded by his son Yasovarman I, who constructed the temple Lolei (a modern corruption of Hariharalaya) on an artificial island in the middle of Indratataka. At Lolei, completely under construction for renovation, we walked across the bridge to the temple, although now, during dry season, the level of water in the Baray almost dried up. Placing a temple on an island is probably a symbol of identification with mount Meru, in Hindu mythology surrounded by the world oceans.
The temple has four towers made of bricks, placed on a terrace. Also this temple is dedicated to Shiva and the royal family of king Yasovarman I. He built this temple with towers dedicated to his father and grandfather, the front towers and to his mother and grandmother, the back towers. Originally, the towers were enclosed by an outer wall access through which was through a gopura, but neither wall nor gopura have survived. The temple towers have decorative elements false doors, carved lintels, carved devatas and dvarapalas.
Between the four towers a linga is placed with to four directions, the Sumasutra, used for the removal of the water or milk used in the rites.
Nowadays a monastery is built next to the temple, just as in the 9th century it was next to an Ashrama, a spiritual hermitage or monastery in Indian religions.

We finished the day and returned to our hotel. Once again it was amazing to see all these impressive sites and temples, some new to us. It never bores and every time you visit these temples, you learn more about this wonderful Khmer civilization. Probably the reason why the next day – instead of relaxing - we visit Angkor Wat again.
For more information about the Roluos group: 
Roluos_(temples)
Preah_Ko
Bakong
Lolei
pictures Roluos group

26 MarchAngkor Wat. It was a bright sunny day and we went by tuktuk ($ 12, for the whole day) to the temple. At closing time (kicked out) we finished our “inspection” of the temple. Again with great impressions, now even more focusing on the details of all the beautiful carvings, reliefs and paintings.
Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, on a site measuring 162.6 hectares. Originally constructed as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu for the Khmer Empire, it was gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century. It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in YaÅ›odharapura (now Angkor), the capital of the Khmer Empire, as his state temple and eventual mausoleum. Breaking from the Shiva tradition of previous kings, Angkor Wat was instead dedicated to Vishnu.

Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple-mountain and the later galleried temple. It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology: within a moat more than 5 km. long and an outer wall 3.6 km. long, are three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. At the centre of the temple stands a quincunx of towers. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the West. Why is still unknown.  The temple is famous because of the architecture, its extensive bas-reliefs friezes, and for the numerous devatas adorning its walls.

The temple bears a series of large-scale scenes mainly depicting episodes from the Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The western gallery shows the Battle of Lanka (from the Ramayana, in which Rama defeats Ravana) and the Battle of Kurukshetra (from the Mahabharata, showing the mutual annihilation of the Kaurava and Pandava clans). On the southern gallery follow the only historical scene, a procession of Suryavarman II, then the 32 hells and 37 heavens of Hinduism.
On the eastern gallery is one of the most celebrated scenes, the Churning of the Sea of Milk, showing 92 Asuras and 88 Devas using the serpent Vasuki to churn the sea under Vishnu's direction.
Angkor Wat is decorated with depictions of Apsaras and Devata; there are more than 1.796 depictions of Devata in the present research inventory. Angkor Wat architects employed small Apsara images (30 cm-40 cm) as decorative motifs on pillars and walls. They incorporated larger Devata images (all full-body portraits measuring approximately 95 cm-110 cm) more prominently at every level of the temple from the entry pavilion to the tops of the high towers. We had some nice views at the end of the day because of the sunset light.
For more information about Angkor Wat
pictures Angkor Wat

The last days were used to relax until our last day, Friday 29 March, returning home. A good balance between all we have seen, Singapore, Thailand and Cambodia in combination with days to rest.
To be mentioned:
- Hashi, Japanese restaurant, with delicious dishes, from which the Wagyu and Sashimi are the favourites, 15 minutes walking from the hotel.
- Restaurant Indochine: spring rolls, Amok from fish, fried rice with pork, crab salad, meat with Kampot pepper, opposite of the hotel.
- Korean restaurant, Master Suki Soup, next to the hotel.
- Restaurant The Red Tomato in Pub Street, 20 minutes walking from the hotel.