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East Mebon: Once an Island, Still a Wonder

Did you know: East Mebon temple used to be perched on a man-made island in the middle of a vast and intricate man-made reservoir? Built around the same time as the East Baray and dedicated in 953 AD, this mountain temple was built in the same style as Pre Rup. Last
East Mebon: Once an Island, Still a Wonder

Did you know: East Mebon temple used to be perched on a man-made island in the middle of a vast and intricate man-made reservoir?

Built around the same time as the East Baray and dedicated in 953 AD, this mountain temple was built in the same style as Pre Rup. Last month, we highlighted the mysterious construction and use of Pre Rup’s crumbling towers and decorative inner gallery. Today we highlight East Mebon.

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What to See at East Mebon

Enclosed by two walls and three tiers, East Mebon temple was built from not just one material like many Angkor temples, but rather from most of the durable Khmer construction materials of the time like brick, stucco, sandstone, and laterite.

Like Pre Rup, East Mebon represents Mount Meru, a mythical mountain. East Mebon does not have the same pyramid-shaped tiers of  Pre Rup, however. At the top of the temple tiers is one central tower mounted on a square platform and surrounded by a smaller tower at each corner, much like a castle. These five towers represent the five peaks of magical Mount Meru.

A bas relief at East Mebon

Three-Headed Elephants

East Mebon Temple is best known for two things. First is its unique location on a man-made island in the middle of a vast reservoir. Second are its high quality carvings. While some Angkor temples like Ta Keo are almost entirely devoid of decorative carvings, the stone carvings and sculptures that adorn East Mebon are renowned the world over for their quality and variation.

“Its main attraction is its intricate lintels, that are very well preserved and are among the best in Angkor. – Renown Travel

Many of these carvings depict beloved Hindu scenes in bas-relief – and then there is the two-metre-high free-standing elephants carved from single blocks of stone. These pachyderms stand at attention on each corner of the temple’s first two tiers, but they are not the only elephants at East Mebon. Religious scenes in bas-relief also include the Hindu god Indra riding his three-headed elephant Airavata.

Top of the East Mebon

Island Life in Siem Reap

If you climb to the top tiers of East Mebon and look out over the land, squinting slightly, you can almost imagine the land surrounding the temple when it was covered with water. Although the area has long since dried up, there are still sneaky reminders that the temple was once floating on a 120-metre island, like the four landing stages at the base of the temple that are constant reminders that East Mebon was, at the peak of the Angkor civilization, only accessible by boat.

From Siem Reap Hotels to East Mebon

Where does East Mebon fit into your holiday schedule and how much time should you spend at the Angkor Archaeological Park? East Mebon isn’t far from Angkor’s main attractions like Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm, on a north-south axis with Pre Rup – located about 1,200 meters to the south just outside the reservoir – so it fits in nicely with a day trip to the temples.

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