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SOUVANNAPHUM - KHMER EMPIRE Temples

temples de Sovanapum

The Khmer Empire, known in India as Souvanaphoum

The Angkor Archaeological Park is the most visible part of an iceberg consisting of hundreds of vetiges of temples - somtimes entire cities - spreading over almost all of Cambodia and its neighbors : Thailand and Laos?
The shadow of Angkor Wat towers expends along the length of the Mekong and Me Nam Chao Praya areas.

Souvanaphoum Main Monuments

Muang sing

Muang Sing is an archaeological park located 60 km north of Kantchanaburi, in the foothills of the Tenasserim mountain range, which forms a natural border between Thailand and Burma, and is on the very old and very strategic road named the Three Pagodas Pass, which is the historical pass between the two systems of Mon kingdoms : Pegu - Thaton on the Burmese/Indian side and Dvaravati on the Siamese/Austronesian side. This road overland linked Angkor to the coast of the Indian Ocean and thus proposed an interesting alternative seaborne trade instead of the Straits of Indonesia. So Muang Sing was an important city from where this particular effort was undertaken during the time of Jayavarman VII (13th century) to develop it.. Muang Sin has the classic urban design of an Angkorian town unit, ie it is a town square surrounded by a wall and a moat, where you can now admire many vestiges of very simple and classic Mon Khmer styled monuments, built in the typical way of this region at this time: laterite blocks, stacked without traces of stucco, which may indicate that the decoration of the temples was not or only partially completed. Muang Sin has the classic urban design of an Angkorian town unit, ie it is a town square surrounded by a wall and a moat, where you can now admire many vestiges of very simple and classic Mon Khmer styled monuments, built in the typical way of this region at this time: laterite blocks, stacked without traces of stucco, which may indicate that the decoration of the temples was not or only partially completed. We can not say that the ruins of Muang Sing are an archaeological site of first choice, but the park is very clean, quiet, shaded and well laid out The importance of this site, corresponding to a territorial peak westbound of the Khmer empire finally makes the trip very interesting, especially since the Kantchanaburi area is absolutely beautiful… And the “nullissime” Bridge on the River Kwai, "the great local attraction" is definitively insufficient to satisfy appetites of tourists searching for“nice things to see."

Sukhothai

Sukhothai is a great (and gorgeous) Archaeological Park, filled with many monuments, which has today in the heart of the Thai people a similar value than to that of Angkor in the heart of Cambodian people: a historical / geographical starting point of their civilization. It must be said that the place is a Thai national symbol and is particularly strong ... Even if finally, Sukhothai was briefly capital of Siam, the city was founded by the first princes of the lineage of great Ramakhaèng and it is like a boundary marking the beginning of the process of moving Mohanokorian’s imperial leadership westward under the authority of Thai princes Thais. But Sukhothai was not founded by the Thais. At the north of the main area of the archaeological park's which is Ramakhaèng’s capital, there is another, smaller Mon Khmer town grasped from the Angkorian Khmer Empire by the Thais in the year 1238, and located on a road between Angkor and Pimay and thus Bagan (ancient capital of Burma). In this area there are several interesting monuments including the Mon-Khmer temple: Wat Prah Pai Luang – It can be said that it is Khmer because of the style of its decoration and its volumes, and Mon in its construction technique, using laterite covered with stucco… This stucco seems to be of outstanding quality and apparently superior to what was done at Angkor and is clearly visible over large areas with very well crafted bas reliefs. Sukhothai Archaeological City is located about ten kilometers from modern Sukhothai, itself located about fifty kilometers from Phitsanulok, Thailand's fourth largest city, which was itself a Mon-Khmer capital of importance as “Phitsanu Lauk” , which means “Paradise of Vishnu” and is homonymous with the ancient Angkorian name of the famous temple / city of Angkor Wat.

Lopburi

Lopburi is now a large city with a special emphasis on history. It began as a Mon ducal capital, perhaps even royal. Then a Mon-Khmer and Siamese mayoral city, and Antenna of Ayuthaya, the Siamese imperial capital during the era of the great reign of (Chaw Phra) Naray that astonished his fellow kings in Europe, beginning with Louis XIV of France, with whom he exchanged embassies, to the late 18th century. Lopburi is now well garnished with Angkorian monuments including two sets of particular interest: Prangk Phra Sam Yod and Wat Prah Park Sry Ratanak Mohathat. Prangk Phra Sam Yod, the Three Sanctuary Towers Monument, is located on a small hill near the rail station. As its name indicates, it consists of three towers connected by short galleries. The style is all Mon Khmer, "Khmer" meaning the texture of its decoration and the shape of its volume, and "Mon" its technical construction of laterite covered with stucco. The temple has undergone several changes, mainly a hallway, a late Siamese brick structure, rather grossly styled, at its central western facade. The whole remains very elegant but the visit is spoiled somewhat by the proximity of the dense urban environment – from the worse and trivial architecture of the twentieth century, first ... On the other hand, there are the particularly clever and enterprising, even down to their pilfering, monkeys that people – sorry, that plague - not only the temple but the entire town of Lopburi, where they are not only protected but also revered and so abundantly fed. Another spot is the architectural Lopburi Wat Prah Sry Park Ratanak Mohathat located a little further back in the south-central area of the rail station. It is an ancient monastery town with a dozen of large temples, some of them in very good condition because it is relatively recent. The very interesting and remarkable fact is : these monuments present a collection of links leading the architectural style of Angkor Khmer to the Siamese Mohanokorian style such as can be admired in Ayuthaya on many sites, or in Bangkok at its peak, for example at the Temple of Dawn - Wat Arun.

Phimai

Phimai is a small town, especially nice and pleasant to live in, located about sixty miles northwest of Nakhon Ratjassima (Khorat), the third largest city of Thailand. The center of the modern city is occupied by a large archeological park containing the Temple of Phimay, the central nucleus of the ancient medieval city.
The Temple is first surrounded by a large rectangular enclosure comprising at the middle of each side of Gopuras (entrance pavilions). They are in poor condition which is a huge pity because all the stones are there, and even in ruins, the buildings are of great elegance and a serious program to restore these would be welcome ... However, this state of the gopuras is the only fault as the archaeological park is very beautiful and has a very classic style of Angkorian Banteay with three main surrounding walls ... Many clues regarding the style for buildings that demonstrate the construction of the whole formation of the temple town occurred over several periods covering a range of 4 centuries (10th-13th) And these are not the work of an authority, artistic / political / religious that is purely Khmer. The great attraction of the archaeological park consists of the central sanctuary – vestibuled towers – and on the side of the main entrance is a large pavilion (Mandapa) ...The architectural style is that of major Angkor Wat contemporary wonders such as Banteay Samrê but the style of ornamentation - lightly unfinished – informs that the monument was built during the late 11th century. This sanctuary, adorned with white sandstone, is in exceptional condition, as rebuilt in the seventies by Bernard Groslier, a French archaeologist who led major archaeological program management and restoration of Angkor until it became pointless following the closure of Angkor during the dark (or red) years of Cambodia. The other attraction of Phimai is the archaeological museum containing beautiful and numerous stones from Khmer temples... But we emerge from this visit with a lot of questions about the origin - officially unknown – of the majority of the displayed stone antiquities.

Muang Tam

The Prakhon Chay region, in the south of Buriram has a concentration of archaeological parks, which are the remains of a large and beautiful Khmer city, which was a major milestone for ‘the Royal Way’,the common name given to a major axis connecting ancient Angkor to Phimai, and thence Sukothai and Pagan. This region contains many monuments including two main spots: Phnom Rung, and the lower city: Muang Tam.

Phanom Rung

Phnom Rung is probably the most amazing archaeological medieval site in Thailand. It is in the form of a majestic hill including, on its western side a monumental staircase, the size and design make it aunique and original Angkorian architectural object unseen at Angkor (except perhaps at the very former state of Phnom Bakheng, where it has disappeared) The staircase leads to a walled sanctuary with a design - central sanctuary – vestibuled towers – and on the side of the main entrance a large pavilion (Mandapa) - like that of Phimai. The site includes various layers of architectural styles: - The oldest is that of the two towers of bricks (tenth century) - The style of Prasat built in the Noy style similar to that of the Baphuon (eleventh century) - The other buildings, including the main tower (XIIth century) contemporary Angkor Wat. The restoration of the Central Sanctuary, led by the Thai Government with French technical assistance, is a perfect success, even if some cranky scientists do not fail to note that some of the stones (which we do not cite) are too good to be true, forgetting that every great religious monument, constructed theoretically for "eternity” is usually a sum of constructions, repairs and reparations: some can even be improvements. Muang Tam is a whole range of monuments built in the eleventh century, shaped as a lower town spread at the foothills of Phnom Rung. It's mainly a great Banteay - a fortified, walled, moated perimeter – having in its central part a sanctuary with five towers: the central tower has collapsed. The sanctuary is surrounded by a second wall with windows with balusters ... This sanctuary has a design reminiscent of Banteay Srey, in the Angkor region, but the craft quality of the construction of Muang Tam is far behind that of the "jewel of Khmer art", the first monument to have extended its central tower with a large Mandala (vestibule), which is not the case at Muang Tam but is the case in Phnom Rung. In the vicinity of the city is a baray (large artificial basin irrigation) which is still in operation.

Surin

The area of Surin, Thailand’s last Khmer-speaking region, is well covered with monuments of the Khmer-Angkor period. It is located in beyond the northern border of Cambodia, along (west - east) side the valley of the Se Moun River, which was an important traffic artery linking Voat Phou in its confluence with the Mekong, with the Menam valley as the highest waterway point is located a few tens of kilometers from Si Thep, located on an arm of the Chaw Praya. It was the cradle of a civilization older than Angkor: perhaps Zenla himself mentioned it briefly and vaguely in the Chinese annals; or perhaps a very ancient Mon-Khmer civilization that increased thereafter, for several centuries under the suzerainty of the Khmer Empire before merging completely with the Angkorian civilization. There are many sites to visit in the area of Surin... Not all are spectacular or in good condition ... They met various fates: sometimes they are the core architectural / spiritual area of contemporary monasteries ... Sometimes they occur in the middle of the countryside where they are - as in Cambodia - centres of cults which are often non Buddhist.... Sometimes, they are enthroned in the middle of an archaeological park, often large, crowded, and easy to find The dating of these monuments is in the range between the 9th century to 13th century AD. Prasat Sikhorapum is the most interesting site in the region. It appears as a beautiful archaeological park contained by U-shaped moat.The buildings are constructed of brick and stucco in the Mon Khmer classical style and date from the 12th century. The fascinating question posed by this temple is that of identity of its builder It has an Angkorian design, the five- towered mountains temples, which are in Angkor royal foundations dedicated to the God (Siva) king (his representative, the Emperor of Angkor), the Devaraja. But no information cites this temple as of Royal Angkorian origin, therefore the possibility of an unknown builder-King, perhaps Angkor’s turbulent vassal, who dared to proclaim himself Devaraja by the will of Siva at a time when the state religion of the Khmer Empire turned to Vishnuism then to Buddhism.

Wat Phou

The historical axis of the Semoun Valley, - Phimay, Korat, Buriram, Surin - ends in Laos where it reaches the Mekong. To the south of the small and pleasant town of Champasak stands an Angkorian archaeological site, Wat Phou, from the 6th century, whose historical importance is exceeded only by Angkor itself. About the origin of the civilization which has created this site, several opinions confront them. Some think that the city that Wat Phou is the the starting point of the Angkor civilization, which spread using three rivers-axis: North Mekong to Laos, South-Mekong to Cambodia, West Semoun to Siam. Others claim that the civilization of Wat Phou came from the northern Mekong and so, would be a first of effect of Thai influence spreading southwards. Yet others say that the civilization of Wat Phou is an ancient Mon-Khmer kingdom, which spread into the Semoun valley from the site of Sy Thep and reached a first peak at Wat Phou, before moving down to Cambodia and spreading, mainly by river until it reached the Tonlé Sap, giving birth to the Angkorian civilization, elements of which it will re-influenced a few centuries later. Once upon a time, "Brahmins" passed this area of the Mekong and discovered a high mountain whose summit is in the form of Linga ... Impressed by the symbol, they decided to build a sanctuary around the gushing source, consisting of the magic water of this sacred mountain ... An important city soon grew and experienced a long history of at least 10 centuries, until the decline of Angkor. Wat Phou is in the form of a large square, which starts with a Baray (large artificial irrigation basin) and climbs to the foot of the mountain in a progression that recalls -with Gopura, palaces and sanctuary at the end of the climb – the neighboring temple of Preah Vihear with which it is connected by an ancient road bounded by several Angkorian ruins, but less easy to access.
prasat hin prah vihan
Preah Vihear is probably the most breathtaking Angkorian site after Angkor Wat itself Preah Vihear, perched atop the Dangrek Mountains, on the northern boundary line between Cambodia and Thailand, and is not always accesible as the political situation, on one side or the another becomes turbulent It is a temple, and is easily accessible from the Thai side but difficult (however, the roads are improving and increasing in number each year) from the Cambodian side. The linked article has been written following a visit in May 2008, at a particularly quiet time in terms of political tension between the two brothers, now unfortunately, enemies ...