West Baray in Siem Reap
West Baray is a popular recreation spot with the locals living in Siem Reap. It is a rectangular handmade lake with in its center an artificial island containing a temple, called West Mebon.
Most tourists don't visit Baray as it isn't mentioned in the travel guides. There is still some mystery about it, as it is not clear how it arised. Baray is not a natural phenomenon but was handmade. Baray shows that Khmers could not only contruct temples but are also experts in creating systems for irrigation.
The barays or the reservoirs had as function to irrigate the many rice fields. They made sure that a lot of crops could be harvested the whole year round. They are part of a hug irrigation system created and set up by the Angkor ancerters. Later they ware also used for ceremonies, like coronation of kings or religious events. In addition each Baray has a sacred temple in its center and was built as dedication to the gods. In total there are four barays. They believe they contributed to the richness, health and hapiness of the Angkor Empire and it critizens.
Indratataka, constructed in the 9th century, is the first Baray and was the work of King Indravarman I. Today this Baray belongs to the famous Rolous Group.
The East Baray or Yasodharatataka was the second one to be built and got its form in the 10th century. King Yasovarman I was responsible for the creation of this 2km by 8km amazing lake. Eastern Mebon is the holy temple which stands in the center of this baray. Nowadays the East Baray is used as rice fields. It lost it orignal function as reservoir.
West Baray is the most well-known Baray and is the largest and deepest lake ever built by humans. Nowhere in the world you will find a bigger one. It was made to sustain the water and to pour the water to the local rice fields and to grow crops for the population of Angkor Wat. King Jayavarman V gave the command to construct this enormous lake in the 10th century, but it took many years to finish. It had an outline of 2.5km by 8km and had a dike of five to eight meter high. The central temple Western Mebon stands on an island in the middle of West Baray. Previously the island contained a large bronze statue of Vishnu. To protect and to preserve it, the statue is now displayed in the National Museum in Phnom Penh. On the insland you can still find a linga which was to believe to make the water fertile so that many corps could be grown.
The last Baray or Jayatataka was done by King Jayavarman VII in the 12th - 13th century.Neak Poan Temple forms the center of this Baray. This small tower stands out the water and was wrapped by two dragons. The dragons symbolized the water and protection. It present the perfect combination of earth and water. The people used this holy temple for health care and thought is would also protect the soldiers which were enlisted to go to the battle field. They believed that the water in the pools of Neak Poan temple would give energy and health to the people of the Angkor city.
Today West Baray is the most famous. It is nice to visit if you want to have a relaxing and lazy day. You can hang in a hammock and enjoy the scenery. Try the Cambodian roasted chicken or the fish. On a hot day you can take a splash in the water or take a boat ride to the island. The water is not completely hygienic but harmless. It is a very popular place with the Cambodians to have a day out with the family. You just follow road 6 to the airport. On the aroundabout you go straight and you will soon see an sign on your right leading you to Baray.