I think that one of the most important things when you travel with someone, especially for an extended amount of time, is the ability to be independent at the same time. Our second full day in Siem Reap, Ella and I split paths: she went zip lining and I went to check out more temples. Since I had purchased the three-day pass, I wanted to make sure to get my money’s worth and see all the temples I could. I hired the same tuk-tuk driver we had hired the day before and we set out to visit some of the lesser-known temples in the area around Siem Reap.
Our first stop was the temple complex at Preah Khan. Preah Khan is another one of King Jayavarman VII’s (the same Khmer king responsible for Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm) projects, built in the 12th century. King Jayavarman had Ta Prohm built in honor of his mother, and Preah Khan in honor of his father. It is estimated that about 100,000 people lived here during its heyday when Preah Khan was a city, a temple, and even a Buddhist university. Similar to Ta Prohm, most of Preah Khan was left like it was found, although some vegetation was cleared in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Not much restoration work has been done since not much information exists about the historical appearance, although work has been done to stabilize the ruins and avoid further deterioration.
The second stop was yet another one of King Jayavarman VII’s projects, Preah Neak Pean. This is a very small temple, located in a man-made lake (although it was dry when I there). Only about 350 meters across, the monument features the four great animals: elephant, bull, horse and lion at the four cardinal axis points though the only thing remaining is part of the horse. It was once a very sacred place, thought to have healing powers. As Lonely Planet puts it, “It’s a safe bet that when the Encore Angkor Casino is eventually but inevitably built in Las Vegas or Macau, Preah Neak Poan will provide the blueprint for the ultimate swimming complex.”
The next stop was Ta Som, a small temple and yet another project of that prolific builder, King Jayavarman VII. It is somewhat similar to the other temples, with faces on the towers (like the Bayon) and some overgrowth of vegetation (like Ta Prohm and Preah Khan).
The fourth stop on the temple tour was East Mebon, which is a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva and built by King Rajendravarman. When East Mebon was built in the 10th century, it was located in the middle of the East Baray reservoir. The East Baray was a huge reservoir, measuring about two kilometers long and seven kilometers wide, with the temple only accessible by boat. However, this reservoir is now totally dry so it is a lot easier to get to. The temple is extremely impressive, with a number of really great animal carvings, including elephants at each corner on each tier, and lions at each staircase. The temple has three tiers and is built like a mountain to symbolize Mount Meru, a sacred mountain that is considered the center of the world in Hindu theology, as well as Jain and Buddhist theology. This temple was great since it was not crowded at all – several times I was the only person around.
The last stop was the nearby Pre Rup temple, located along the same north-south line less than a kilometer apart. Pre Rup served as the state temple for King Rajendravarman and was dedicated in 961 AD. It is similar to East Mebon in many ways, including the carvings. Pre Rup is also similar in size and shape, as well as being another temple mountain dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva. Pre Rup is not in as good of shape as East Mebon, but taken together the two temples are incredibly impressive. Pre Rup and East Mebon were the first two temples built after the Khmer capital was moved back to Angkor.