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Siem Reap Day 2 - Angkor Wat & Angkor Thom

The Monkey King. The Leper King. Monkey Mind. The Monkey Do's and the Monkey Don'ts.

sunny 30 °C

It was a sunny day, but not unbearably hot. It' only 3 to 4 degrees above an almost perfect walking temperature.

Our 1st stop of the day was the much anticipated (for almost a decade) of the UNESCO listed Angkor Wat. The largest temple complex in the world. Like everything else, nothing could be popularised quite the way Hollywood able to. Angkor Wat is no exception. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) did a much better job in reaching some segment of tourism market than UNESCO ever could. My mate Lan told me that while she visited in 2002, the tour guide gave her blow by blow account where the film was shot. Much to her frustration, she never watched the movie.
Apart from its famous outline of the main temple that appears on the Cambodian national flag, are the various bas-reliefs along the temple walls. The wall depicted 8 different themes/stories/mythologies as described by this website.

The best bas-reliefs (and not just my own opinion), at least from the preservation point of view, is the Battle of Lanka. This part shows the scenes of Khmer's version of Hindu Epic Ramayana where the monkey-army battles with the demon king Ravana.

Monkeys seem to feature strongly in Asian culture and mythology. Hindu has Hanuman, Chinese has Sun Wukong (孫悟空), and the Japanese has Three Wise Monkeys that are well known in the West. One could easily argue that the Sun Wukong - aka Monkey King - the most interesting, lovable and central character in the Chinese literature classics Journey to the West, would likely be inspired by Hanuman. After all, the story was about a Chinese monk's pilgrimage to India to obtain the Buddhist Scriptures. And when Buddhism continued to spread eastwards to Japan, the monkey character went along for the ride as it had done for the Chinese Classic (only in the opposite direction). Monkey - the central character in Journey to the West - symbolises spiritual progress from our busy, restless lives towards peaceful enlightenment. This is shown by the fact that Sun Wukong in the early part of the story turns the heaven upside down in Havoc in Heaven causing a mess in Heavenly Order where he demanded to be called "Great Sage, Equal of Heaven" (齊天大聖), and at the end of the story, he has become an obedient, calm, well adjusted members of the pilgrimage - a team player. In Zen Buddhism, the restless mind is often called Monkey Mind.

An eureka moment zapped me as I'm typing this why Journey to the West is THE Chinese classics. This story - or accurately the central character Monkey - captures and resonates with the 3 Chinese cultural System of Thoughts - Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. The changing, mercurial nature of the Monkey reflects the Taoist philosophy, the obedient Monkey represents Confucianism, and the spiritual progress implies Buddhism. In fact, while it's a story about Buddhist pilgrimage, the allegory of the story is at its very heart, very Confucian. Play nice, be a team player, don't be a rabble rouser, know your place. This is the central messages of the story. The core of Confucianism.

Sorry I digress. I think it's more than Hindu influence that the Monkey lore arose in China. Monkey is 1 of the 12 Chinese zodiac, which predates the Chinese classics by centuries. Even the original Hanuman begs the questions, why monkey? Here's my theory, the monkey is the product of the marriage of 2 things - animism and the widespread of monkeys in Asia. Many temples I had gone to in Asia, I run into these animated creatures. Batu Caves in KL, temples (the names escapes me) in Bali, etc. The question is, which comes 1st? Monkey or the temple? Do Hindus deliberate build temples where many monkeys dwell? Or do the clever simian would come to the temple because they are being fed (and never mind being revered)? Who know? It's of those eternal chicken or the egg question.

Back to the bas-reliefs of theh Battle of Lanka in Angkor Wat. The Japanese 3 Wise Monkeys are found in a temple, so they're monk monkeys. That's why they need to follow don'ts. Don't do this, don't that. The monkeys in this bas-releifs are warrior monkeys. They do.

The monk monkeys have commandments, the army monkeys have mottos. So instead of see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil; they bite your leg off, bite your torso off, bite your head off. All these R-rated action-pack battle scenes are meticulously and lovingly carved on the wall. Do warn the kids not to monkey see, monkey do.

Angkor Thom is only 1.7km north of Angkor Thom. Close enough to walk, which was what we did. Just like Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom is surrounded by a moat. And both sites are connected via causeways. This causeway is more memorable than its Angkor Wat's, franked by large sculptures of devas on the left and asuras on the right.

We made our 1st stop in Angkor Thom to Bayon. This is a very richly decorated temples that would be described as baroque style of the Khmer architecture.

The wall on the eastern gallery has a mixture of mythology, every life scenes, and history.

On the historical front, this bas-reliefs depicts a battle marching scene. 2 types of soldiers could be seen. The one marches in the front has buns on their tops, and some have goatee. Anyone who has seen the entombed warriors knows that these are Chinese soldiers. And it is. The Khmer soldiers who marches in the back have no buns in their hairs, have very long ears, and are clean shaven. It's too small to make out in this photo, I could tell you that the Khmer soldiers are barefoot (the individual toes were exquisitely carved) while the Chinese soldiers wear army boots. The facial features of the 2 groups are also quite distinct. And the mounted military general (I assume) would be Chinese, judging from his bun, goatee, short ears, and facial feature. In short, the carving details are very well preserved, and meticulous.

The battle scene shows that the Chinese fought side by side with the Khmer against the neighbouring army of the Kingdom of Champa (in present day central and part of southern Vietnam). In a way, history has not changed much . Vietnamese today isn't in such a freindly term with PRC (much worse off in the last 2 decades), while the most important political figure of modern Cambodia - Norodom Sihanouk - always had close life-long ties with China. In fact, he died in a Beijing hospital in 2012.

Our driver cum tour guide from the villa (read my previous diary "Siem Reap Day 1") took us to Banteay Srei before the lunch break. This temple is notable for its small size. What it loses in size, it gains in its generous intricate and rich decorations. It's also known among tourists as "Citadel of Women" or "Citadel of Beauty" for its dimunitive size and delicate charm when compares to its grander cousins like Bayon or Angkor Wat.

It's built using red sandstone, which is something Aussies (at least Sydneysider) know all too well as construction materials. Many of Sydney public buildings were made out of this suff that gives it the red hue (Sydney sandst

Read the rest of this article here...

Posted by FrancisQ 23:54 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia angkor_wat angkor_thom angkor bayon battle_of_lanka sien_reap toruism banteay_srei

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