Temple Bakong…..blending old with the new

Temple Bakong…..blending old with the newOnce again, we are up before dawn heading to a temple. This one is further away from the center of Siem Reap than the other temples that we have visited so far.  It is a 45-minute drive and the first part of the journey is on heavily trafficked roads filled with construction, heavy equipment and a never-ending sea of scooters.  After about a mile, the tuk tuk driver stops to buy us face-mask.  I dislike wearing them because they make me feel even hotter… as if that is possible.  However, they do help with the dust and diesel fumes enveloping us as we chug along in our open carriage and so after weighing the pluses and minuses…hot versus black lung…I opt for the blue surgical mask.

Overlooking the Temple of BakongWe are heading to Temple Bakong, which is one of the earliest and most distinctive of the Angkor temples.  The temple consecrated in 881, is the first in a style called “Khmer Temple –Mountain” and was the State Temple of Indravarman l at Hariharalya the capitol city at the end of the 8th century.

It was originally a large complex – 900m X 700m that included two moats and three concentric enclosures.  What remains for us to visit is the inner enclosure, which consists of the pyramid, and the 22 regularly spaced brick towers. The pyramid has five tiers with a tower at the summit similar to the latter temples of Angkor Wat. The temple was dedicated to Shiva and all the sculptures and bas-relief carvings are Hindu, as Buddhism did not appear in Angkor until the 12th century.

The Temple of Bakong with one of its brick towersMaurice Glaize, a French Archeologist, painstakingly reconstructed the pyramid in the 1930’s.  Before this, the whole of the site was just scattered stones. The steps are steep and the edges of the stones, either well-worn or broken, makes getting to the top an effort for travelers of a certain age.  The long climb, which is punctuated by stops at the five tiers to catch ones breath and see if the knees and hips are still functioning properly, takes one to a summit surrounded by views of a lush tropical landscape, broken brick towers framed by palm trees  and the peaked  tile roof of the adjacent Wat Prasat Bakong.  I like this temple…it is simple and easy to appreciate.  It is not an endless series of collapsed galleries or grand courtyards but it is a very straightforward pyramid…you go up and by looking around can get the lay of the land very quickly.  The whole of the plan is self-evident, where as in the other temples constructed much later there is not a way to get a view that give one a sense of the overall layout.  In addition, I just like the view.

Wat Prasat Bakong

Wat Prasat Bakong

Another reason I like this temple is the Buddhist Monastery located on the grounds.  Wat Prasat Bakong is a 20th century construction filled with recently restored frescoes depicting the life of Buddha from a Khmer perspective.  The paintings are charming and this small laid back Wat was fun to visit.   We encountered two young monks who wanted to talk in English and a small boy who just wanted to hang out with the tourist and followed us wherever we went.

Young monks at Wat Prasat BakongThe old Abbot was holding a discussion with other monks in an open-air building that presented a great photo…with the blackboard in the background and the monks in saffron robes sitting, kneeling and standing it created great tension in the image.

Monks in class at Wat Prasat BakongA NGO group had recently raised money to help restore the Wat and its murals. The paintings were started in 1945 and work continued into the early 1950’s. The real significance of the paintings lies not in their greatness but in the fact that there are very few surviving temple paintings in Cambodia.

Interior of Wat Prasat BakongMy friend Barbara and I headed back to town with a couple of other stops at minor temples along the way.  She was leaving the next day on a bus to Bangkok and heading on to Hua Hin for a little beach time, I was heading back to Phnom Penh to see the National Museum and check out the visual art scene before returning to Chaing Mai.  On the road again….

About Larry Bosco

In 2010 I had one of those “Is this all there is” moments and so in January 2011 I retired from Real Estate Appraising, sold off all my worldly goods and headed out as a solo traveler in search of a new place to live. Since then I’ve traveled around the world, made new friends and had many great adventures and some not so great. After staying almost a year in Cuenca, Ecuador I have headed back to South East Asia where I began the journey in 2011. Currently I am living in Chiang Mai, Thailand
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4 Responses to Temple Bakong…..blending old with the new

  1. leigh brown says:

    I have been enjoying all the writing and the wonderful pictures. Take care and looks
    like you are enjoying life!!

  2. Jeanne says:

    In the countryside of France, just touring around and now have started to add pics to my post. You have become the “blogger” king.

    Will return to the states in October

  3. Claudia Hammer says:

    You are certainly getting an education in the native people and a geography lesson! I love the blogs where you write a little something. It means more to me than just a photo, even if it was just a caption explaining the photo. Thanks for taking the time to put all this together and send out to all of us.

  4. You have spent a lot of time in Cambodia; this makes you an exceptional source for what to do and see. Have you planned on writing a travel book?

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