Sunday, July 17, 2016

Surprising Discoveries around Mahendraparvata: The largest Empire on Earth in the 12th Century?

See the locations on Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom Google Map

Picture by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra
Below the jungle of Phnom Kulen a big suprise: Mahendraparvata - a city as big as Phnom Penh

Many secrets still surround the famous temples of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom in Cambodia, the Khmer empire and its decline. They are hard to uncover by archeologists, as in the Khmer world masonry was used almost only for the construction of religous monuments, whereas urban structures around the temples, even the royal places of Angkorian kings, were made of earth, wood and thatch. Not much has remained of these structures.

Therefore the surprise was big, when The Guardian revealed in June 2016, that Archaeologists have found "multiple, previously undocumented medieval cities not far from the ancient temple city of Angkor Wat". Only two days later the Australian archaeologist Damian Evans, director of the University of Sydney's archaeological research centre in Cambodia, published his findings in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

To be exact: Surprising was how big these cities seemed to have been. Evans and his team were able to map them, due to a laser based technology called Lidar: by scanning vast areas from airplanes with laser. Lidar works by firing rapid laser pulses at the ground, measuring the time it takes for each pulse to bounce back. This method revealed multiple cities between 900 and 1,400 years old below the tropical forest floor. The Khmer Archaeology Lidar Consortium has revealed the surface of an area of 370 square kilometres.

Known so far: Elephants in the jungle at Srah Damrei and Damrei Krap

The first discoveries had been published in 2013, after the first flights with Lidar hat been analyzed. Then Evans and his team announced that they had uncovered a complex urban landscape connecting medieval temple-cities, such as Beng Mealea and Koh Ker, to Angkor. It was confirmed what archaeologists had long suspected: that there was a city beneath Mount Kulen, hidden under villages, rice fields, grasslands and the jungle. On the slopes of Phnom Kulen ("Litchi mountain"), a sandstone plateau 40 kilometres northeast of Angkor Wat, so far isolated ruins in the jungle, about ten temples, and ancient inscriptions simple and relatively small basic brick towers, massive statues of elephants and lions at Srah Damrei ("Elephant Pond") and a moss-covered elephant at Damrei Krap ("Kneeling Elephant"), and carvings of lingas on the bottom of the streams had been discovered. These were the remains of the ancient royal capital Mahendraparvata ("Mountain of the Great Indra").

Picture by Gareth Bogdanoff
Already famous: Lingas in a stream at Phnom Kulen. Now part of a bigger picture.

For centuries pilgrims have come to the mountain of Phnom Kulen, that was considered a holy place. It was here, where King Jayavarman II founded the Khmer empire be declaring it independent from Java and where he was declared Chakravartin (“ruler of the Khmer world”). From here he let build his capital near where Angkor Wat stands today. But Evans research showed, that Mahendraparvata was built before the reign of Jayavarman. "This is where it all began, giving rise to the Angkor civilisation that everyone associates with Angkor Wat," Evans said. The scan with Lidar showed a complex urban landscape connecting medieval temple-cities, such as Beng Mealea and Koh Ker, to Angkor. Highways – the largest one 60 meters wide and eight kilometers long – ran through Mahendraparvata, which had a massive pyramid at its center.

During the last year the search with Lidar was extended. This showed, that only a part of Mahendraparvata had been discovered before. So today Evans says: "This time we got the whole deal and it’s big, the size of Phnom Penh big." Mahendraparvata was sprawling over dozens of square kilometres. Vast city structures were found at Preah Khan of Kompong Svay as well. Lidar allowed to document a larger urban network, a grid of main and secondary roads linking temples, dikes, reservoirs, channels and human settlements. So far two dozens unknown temple sites were discovered. The village of Anlong Thom lies in the middle of this big city - none of the around 1200 villagers has known it. The expedition team has dated Mahendraparvata's origins to 802 AD. Mahendraparvata predates Angkor Wat by about 350 years.

Map by Journal of Archaeological Science
Areas scanned with Lidar: Orange 2012, red 2015

Map by Journal of Archaeological Science

There have been many reactions after these findings so far. Michael Coe, emeritus professor of anthropology at Yale University, was quoted: "I think that these airborne laser discoveries mark the greatest advance in the past 50 or even 100 years of our knowledge of Angkorian civilisation.” Peter Sharrock, who is on the south-east Asian board at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, said: "This urban and rural landscape, linked by road and canal networks, now seems to have constituted the largest empire on earth in the 12th century.”

Parts of the history of the world have to been rewritten after these findings in South East Asia. And the mystery, why and how the Khmer empire later collapsed, remains and has become even bigger.

Read more about the interpretation of the Lidar findings:
Lidar is Magic: Part 1
Lidar is Magic: Part 2 – Cool new finds

Read more about Angkor and The Khmer Empire:
What do we know about Angkorian society?
Off the beaten path at Angkor: A walk along the wall around Angkor Thom
The city around Angkor Wat

Pre Rup - the State Temple of King Rajendravarman I

See the location on Pre Rup Google Map

Pre Rup រាសាទប្រែរូប: The temple moubtain was built as the state temple of Khmer king Rajendravarman I and dedicated in 961 or early 962. The name Pre Rup ("turn the body") reflects a ritual at funerals: the ashes of the body are rotated in different directions.

Picture by Ashley

Picture by Ashley
This north east view from the top shows the temple grounds. The towers at the entry are later additions, possibly in Jayavarman V's reign.

Picture by Ashley
The lintel on the tower shows Indra on a single-headed Airavata (the five-headed divine elephant).

Pre Rup is located just south of the East Baray, aligned on a north-south axis with the East Mebon temple. Pre Rup's laterite and brick materials give it a pleasing reddish tone, more intensive in early morning and late afternoon sunlight. The temple has a square lay-out and two perimeter walls. The outer enclosure is a platform bounded by a laterite wall. You enter by a laterite causeway from the east. The four external gopuras are cross-shaped, having a central brick section (consisting of three rooms flanked by two independent passageways) and a sandstone vestibule on both sides. To either side inside the eastern gate is a group of three towers aligned north to south. Further ahead, through another gate, libraries lie to either side of the walkway on the second platform. Long galleries are running along at each side. The final squared pyramid, measuring 50 m at its base, rises in three steep tiers a dozen metres in height to a 35 m square platform at the summit. The lowest tier is surrounded by 12 small shrines. At the top you discover five towers, one at each corner of the square and one in the center. Deities carved as bas-reliefs are guards at either side of the central tower’s eastern door. The southwest tower once contained a statue of Lakshmi, the northwest tower a statue of Uma, the southeast tower a statue of Vishnu and the northeast tower a statue of Shiva. The last one has an inscription on doorjambs that dates from Jayavarman VI and is the only proof of his reign at Angkor.

Prasat Bakong - the first Temple Mountain constructed by the Khmer Rulers

See the locations on Prasat Bakong and Preah Ko Google Map

Prasat Bakong ប្រាសាទបាគង: The first temple mountain of sandstone constructed by the rulers of the Khmer empire and dedicated to Shiva in 881. 900 metres x 700 metres in size, Bakong includes two moats and three concentric enclosures. The pyramid is almost square (65m x 67m), and was reconstructed in the 1930's by Maurice Glaize. In the 9th century AD it served as the official state temple of King Indravarman I in the city of Hariharalaya, located in an area that today is called Roluos. There is a striking similarity of the Bakong and Borobudur temple in Java, for example if you look at the gateways and stairs to the upper terraces. The five tiers of Bakong symbolise Mount Meru, the mythical abode of the gods.

Picture by Ashley

Picture by Ashley
The Bakong temple at Roluos rises in four stages, and the first three have stone elephants at each corner. Eight brick towers can be seen from the lotus-shaped tower, at top, presumably a replacement for the original square crown. Some of the lintel work in Bakong's buildings survive but most of the sandstone decorations have been destroyed. Fallen stonework remains at the base, waiting to be restored.

Preah Ko ប្រាសាទព្រះគោ: Nearby Prasat Bakong you find Preah Ko ("The Sacred Bull"), the first temple built in Hariharalaya. The temple was built under the Khmer King Indravarman I in 879 to honor members of the king's family,

Picture by Ashley

Almost all of the buildings and galleries are in ruins. The six towers are based on a sandstone platform with three sets of steps, each guarded by a pair of lions. Three statues of the kneeling bull Nandi face the temple. Figures and lintels are carved out of sandstone, and include kala, mythical creatures with large mouths and bulging eyes; makara, sea creatures with trunk-like snouts and Garuda (Vishnu's eagle mount).

Picture by Ashley

Prasat Lolei រាសាទលលៃ: Lolei was part of the city of Hariharalaya. In 893 king Yasovarman I dedicated it to Shiva and to members of the royal family. Lolei was located on an island slightly north of centre in the now dry Indratataka baray. Lolei consists of four brick temple towers grouped together on a terrace. Originally the towers were enclosed by an outer wall access through which was through a gopura, but neither wall nor gopura have survived to the present. Today, the temple is next to a monastery. The towers are known for their decorative elements, including false doors, their carved lintels, and their carved devatas and dvarapalas. You can see the sky-god Indra mounted on the elephant Airavata, serpent-like monsters called makaras and multi-headed nagas.

Picture by Ashley

Monday, July 11, 2016

Phnom Kulen - the Holy Mountain, where the Khmer Empire was proclaimed

Picture by Xufanc
Phnom Kulen seen in the distance

The Phnom Kulen plateau lies some 48 km north of Siem Reap and is formed of sandstone. Phnom Kulen National Park was founded to protect the area. Phnom Kulen is considered a holy mountain by Hindus and Buddhists who come as pilgrims. It was at Phnom Kulen that King Jayavarman II proclaimed independence from Java in 804 CE. He was the founder of the Khmer Empire. During the Angkorian era the relief was known as Mahendraparvata (the mountain of Great Indra).

Kbal Spean is known for its carvings representing fertility. Just 5 cm under the water's surface over 1000 small linga carvings are carved into the sandstone riverbed.

Picture by Prerit
At Kbal Spean you find a series of relief carvings in sandstone formations of the river bed and banks

The waters are regarded as holy, the legend says that Jayavarman II bathed in the river and had the river diverted so that the stone bed could be carved. You find depictions of the gods Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Lakshmi, Rama, and Hanuman as well as animals (cows and frogs).

Picture by dalbera
Lord Vishnu in a reclining repose lying on the serpent god Ananta, with Goddess Lakshmi at his feet and Lord Brahma on a lotus petal.

Picture by BluesyPete
A grid pattern layout with the channel flowing out represents Yoni

Picture by Arian Zwegers

Picture by keatl

Picture by Ioreth_ni_Balor

Picture by M.

Picture by Andrew and Annemarie

Picture by krishna naudin

Preah Ang Thom Pagoda ពរះអង្គធំ with the reclining Buddha:
A staircase leads up to the Buddhist monastery founded in the 16th century. The reclining Buddha was carved into a sandstone boulder and is eight metres high. The view from the 487m peak is great. There are also two large Cham Pa trees nearby.

Picture by Charles Pieters

Picture by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra

Picture by Gareth Bogdanoff

See this video guide for Phnom Kulen.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Angelina Jolie filming in Cambodia from November

Angelina Jolie Pitt will start filming her adaptation of memoir "First They Killed My Father" in Siem Reap, Cambodia, from mid-November, reports KFTV. The film is based on story of how Cambodian author and human rights activist Laung Ung survived the brutality of the Khmer Rouge regime, which seized power in Cambodia in 1975. Ung was forced to become a child soldier. Ung has written three books and is working on her first novel.

Filming will run through to the end of January. Jolie will be filming for Netflix. The film will be co-produced by Oscar-nominated Cambodian director Rithy Panh (The Missing Picture, The Sea Wall), as Phnom Penh Post adds. Read about the final preparations.

Angelina Jolie has founded the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation in 2003, a Cambodia-based NGO that focuses on environmental conservation and rural poverty, mostly in the northwest of the Kingdom. The Battambang-based group has several ongoing projects, addressing issues ranging from female empowerment to elephant protection. Recently, the group uncovered an illegal logging project near the O’Tavao Waterfall in Pailin province.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Sihanoukville: From tourist hotspots to
pristine islands

See the locations on Sihanoukville Google Map
See Weather in Kep

Sihanoukville - in Khmer called Krong Preah Sihanouk and also known as Kampong Saom - has become a popular tourist destination due to the relaxed atmosphere of its beaches and Sihanoukville International Airport. So if you look for an abundance of undiscovered beaches, not yet ruined by the stream of tourists that flock to neighbouring Thailand, you can run into difficulties, as you can read here: The town that sold its soul to tourism. But Otres Beach is still a good place for people, who avoid the party. And there are unspoilt islands to discover nearby. But: As more and more tourists visit these islands, more and more resorts have been built, as Sihanouville Revisited notices.

Picture by MSNina

The Beaches of Sihanoukville

The most popular beaches are Ochheuteal, Sokha, Independence and Victory. The beaches from north to south:

Victory Beach: At the northern end of the beach is located the deep sea port.

Picture by Houston March
Twilight near the port.

Picture by .vav

Lamherkay Beach: Also known as Hawaii Beach. Here you can hire a boat to nearby islands.

Picture by

Koh Pos Beach:

Picture by -AX-
Koh Pos Bridge

Independence Beach: At the northern end of the beach you find Independence Hotel and Koh Pos Beach with a tiny island 800m off the coast.

Picture by -AX-

Sokha Beach: "Stunningly beautiful, a perfect private scallop-edged strand of immaculate white sand, dotted with palm-thatched beach umbrellas and a backdrop of a pretty, manicured garden promenade", wrote This beach is privately owned by Sokha Beach Hotel. Very good reviews on

Picture by Un rosarino en Vietnam

Picture by Un rosarino en Vietnam

Serendipity Beach: Here you find guesthouse rooms right on the beach and beach huts serving meals and drinks. Don't be surprised, if you are contacted by a lot of hawkers, who try to sell their goods. Don't be suprised by restaurants serving Western food. Don't be surprised by garbage lying in the sand of the beach. The party of mass tourism has arrived here.

Picture by WanderingtheWorld

Picture by HappyTellus

Picture by Em and Ernie
Along Serendipity Beach

Occheuteal Beach: A long and narrow strip of sand lined with Casuarina trees, grass umbrellas, rental chairs and little drink huts as well as bigger restaurants and night-time party spots.

Picture by Sandvand

Picture by Sandvand

Picture by Lorna87
Vendors of fruits

Otres Beach: Less developped and crowded and known for its long stretch of white sands.

Picture by Stefan Leitner

Hotels and Guesthouses in Sihanoukville

Beach Club Resort: From 25 USD. 23 Tola Street. 5 walking minutres from Ochheuteal Beach. With pool. Very good reviews on

Chez Claude: From 25 USD. On a hill between Independence and Sokha beach. Wooden bungalows with ventilator, shower and toilet and Balcony with a spectacular view of the sea with islands. And with a restaurant, which is famous for its French and Asian seefood kitchen. See video with rooms and restaurant.

Holiday Palace Resort: 2 Thnou Street, Independence Beach. All rooms with views of the ocean waters of the Gulf of Thailand. Private Beach. Quite good reviews on

Sokha Beach Hotel: From 150 USD. Street 2 Thnou, Sangkat 4. "The hotel is a bargain for what it offers (spa, huge pool, gym, tennis courts)", recommended Excellent reviews on

Picture by Lomacar

The Independence Hotel: From 155 USD. Street 2 Thnou, Sangkat No: 03, Otres Beach. The seven-story "modernist beauty with a few endearingly kitsch Miami Beach-style bells and whistles - a round dining room, two round ballrooms and a kidney-shaped pool - was designed by the French architects Leroy and Mondet and was one of the chicest hotels in Cambodia when it opened in 1964; locals insist that Jacqueline Kennedy, invited by King Norodom Sihanouk, was among its first guests, wrote The hotel has improved its amenities and now has a lift from the beach to the hill and a pier from the beach with sitting areas, from where you can enjoy the sunset. "One of the advantages of the Independence is it is a few miles from town and so is set in huge grounds and very peaceful. There is a regular free shuttle bus or Tuk Tuks are always available", notes pauleaston on, where the reviews are very good.

Picture by
Independence Beach with Independence Hotel

Picture by thomaswanhoff
Beach Bar

Jasmine Hotel: Basic hotel 50 meters from Occheuteal Beach with mixed reviews on

Picture by Eternal Vagabond

Picture by Eternal Vagabond

Markara Guesthouse: From 27 USD. 14 Mithona St. | Occheuteal Beach. With pool and green courtyard. Good reviews on

Picture by Eternal Vagabond

Orchidee Guesthouse: From 16 USD. Only a few minutes walk from Ochheuteal Beach you find 69 rooms. 12 rooms are situated around the swimming-pool. See video of the guesthouse. Mixed reviews on, where the owner seems to be commenting every post, what is a bit strange.

Picture by Magalie L'Abbé The pool

The Cove Beach Resort: From 21 USD. To the west of Serendipity Beach. Bungalows in lush tropical hillside gardens with views of the nearby islands Koh Ta Kiev, Koh Chu Lu and Koh Tres, from traditional Khmer Style Bungalowswith fan to apartments witth AC. Rather disappointed reviews on

Picture by Amber de Bruin

The Secret Garden: From 80 USD. 10 bungalows with fan or A/C, private outside showers, and also a swimming pool. The beach is fantastic here. What bothers guests right now (March 2013) is the noise of nearby construction. The reviews on are quite good, but many say that the prizes are a bit too expensive. See this video.

And here you find more Hotels and Guesthouses in Sihanoukville

Eating out in Sihanoukville

Chez Claude: Kam Pegn hill, phone 855 12 824 870. The restaurants has great views of the Gulf of Thailand from its hillside location between the Sokha Beach and the Independence Hotels.

La Paillote: Weather Station Hill, phone "The best restaurant in town", according to French and Cambodian cooking served in an open-air garden setting (Weather Station Hill, phone 855 12 633247).

Starfish Café: Downtown, behind Samudera Market, phone 855 12 952 011).The American baker Deidre O'Shea has taught local women to make Western bread and pastries as a way of supporting themselves and earning money for the philanthropic projects the café oversees.

Sihanoukville Downtown

Ekareach Street, the main street, runs from near the port through the town center to Golden Lions roundabout near the Ochheuteal Beach. Be aware of sex tourism and read Sihanoukville: Surf, Sun and Sex. You learn to avoid the bars of Victory Hill. "For every backpacker there seemed to be two sex tourists. They skulked around its bars leering at local girls who looked to be barely in their teens", Gallivanting Georgia describes the experience of a woman. "There were a large number of middle aged white men in the area, and a lot of them were with young Cambodian girls, many looked under 20 years old", observed Neil and Jackie. But nowadays the business seems to fading away as you can read in The Fall of Victory Hill.

Be aware, that there have been brutal rapes of Western woman and other attacks lately in Sihanoukville. One women was raped, when she was alone on a beach. Another women was raped, after she fell asleep on a taxi. Read more on Khmer Times.

Victory Hill:

Picture by Wilson Loo

Picture by Wilson Loo

Picture by Luther Bailey

Psar Leu Market:

Picture by Luther Bailey
Read the blog of Luther Bailey: Sihanoukville, Cambodia and the mysterious fried things

Picture by spotter_nl

Wat Chotynieng: also known as upper Pagoda or Wat Leu, located on a hill and overlooking Sihanoukville town. It is dedicated to Prince Chourn Nath, a Cambodian Buddhist leader.

Wat Kraom: Down Pagoda. Located in Sihanoukville downtown and dedicated to Yeay Mao, a southern Cambodia divinity.

Picture by Em and Ernie

Picture by Wilson Loo

Read more: Sihanoukville Travel Guide and Canby Publications Sihanoukville.

Discoveries around Sihanoukville

You can take water taxis to the nearby islands for diving, snorkeling, and game fishing. The city is also besides the Ream National Park. Or do a day trip to Kep - famous for its seafood -, Kampot, known for its sleepy French colonial charm and pepper plantations or atmospheric Bokor, an abandoned 1920s vintage casino and hill station.

Koh Pos: Also known as Morakot Island or Snake Island, 800 metres off of Victory Beach. It is under development by Russian investors to become a luxury holiday destination. It was linked to the mainland with a bridge in July 2011.

Koh Rong:
It is situated west of the Sihanoukville coast. It offers a fantastic beach on its southwest, stretching about 5 kilometres. It has a bustling fishing community on the southeast.

Broken Heart Guesthouse: From 25 USD. Private Bungalow. Also drom available.

Coco Bungalow Resort: From 15 USD. 15 Bungalows with balcony located along the beach.

Lonely Beach: From 30 USD. 4 Bungalows with attached bathrooms surrounded by forest and a dormitory. See their Facebook. Very good reviews on

Treehouse Bungalows: From 23 USD. On the north coast of Koh Rong. With 3 km of long white beach and mangroves.

Picture by MSNina

Picture by MSNina

Ferries to Koh Rong cost 20 USD (return ticket) and leave Silhanoukville (pickup outside Koh Rong Divers) at 7am and 4pm and Koh Rong Island at 10am and 4pm daily.

Koh Rong Samloem Island

"Landing at Saracen Bay, I’ve never seen a beach so breathtakingly beautiful. The clear blue waters swirled across the white sands in a snaking pattern that formed tiny circular sandy islands and warm water pools. The sea glowed with a range of blue hues under the glorious warmth of the sun and the entire coastline was quiet, except for the soft lapping of the waves on shore", describes Backpacker Becki her paradiese found in Cambodia. "Koh Rong Saloem is just two hours' and yet a world away from Sihanoukville", writes At the top of the island sits a small fishing village called Mai Pei Bei or 23 in Khmer. Marine Conservation Cambodia, an ecotourism project, is based here and offers volunteering opportunities to visitors such as teaching in the local village and marine conservation. There are many snorkelling and diving opportunities. Read more about animals and plants on Koh Rong Samloem Conservation. And read about

Picture by expressionposthumus
Saracen bay

Picture by Catherine Murray

EcoSea Dive & Bungalows:

Saracen Bay Resort: 45 USD. Bungalows amidst a lush vegetation, with fans,en-suite western style bathrooms and a verandah with sea view.

M'PayBay: 20 USD. M’Pay Bay is an eco-tourism project. Bungalows within 30 meters of the beach. Each bungalow offers a bed with mosquito net, en suite shower/toilet, fan, lights and a power point (electricity available from around 6pm until about midnight). Outside, there is a veranda, with a hammock for those idle moments, and a table with a couple of chairs. The restaurant offers Khmer and Western dishes.

Sun Island Eco Village: Bungalow tents, covered with a grass roof, with private showers and toilets. See video.

The Beach Island Resort & Beach Club: On the white sandy beach of Saracen bay, with 8 beachfront bungalows (some with shared restrooms) and a dorm room for up to 40 people. A 2 hours boat ride from the Serendipity pier at Serendipity Beach. See video of the resort.

Lazy Beach: 40 USD. Beach side bungalows with balcony and ensuite bathroom set on a golden sandy beach, surrounded by tropical jungle.

Picture by Catherine Murray

Picture by Catherine Murray
Picture by Catherine Murray

Koh Dek Koul: Private island 7 kilometres off from Victory Beach with Russian owned Mirax Resort.

Koh Ru (Bamboo Island):

Picture by jimdavidson

Picture by blikbrein

Picture by Tiddle

Koh Russei: Also called Bamboo Island. A few kilometers out from Otres Beach or Ream. There arewa small navy base and some beach bungalows.

Koh Ta Kiev:

Crusoe Island: From 15 USD. If you’re after air-con and luxury resorts, turn back now. Koh Ta Kiev is inhabited only by a handful of Cambodian soldiers and fishermen. You arrive with a traditional Khmer longtail boat in less than an hour. Bungalows: You choose between a hut, where just curtains separate you from the jungle, a TeePee and other quite open sleeping facilities.

Picture by Crusoe Island
Inside the TeePee

More islands: Koh Thmei and Koh Sei.

How you arrive in Sihanoukville

Flights: Cambodia Angkor Air serves Sihanoukville three times during one week from Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. See Flight Schedule.

Bus from Thailand: From Trat minibuses to the border depart every 45 minutes between 06:00 and 18:00, taking between 1.5 and 2 hours. Cheaper are songthaews. First take one from Trat to Ban Khlong, then another one to the border. Onward travel from Koh Kong to Sihanoukville is by air conditioned buses, which leave from Street 3, or by taxi. Read details on Thorntree.