I was 10 the first time I played Tomb Raider. Lara Croft, double pistols, roaming through temples hidden deep in the jungle, connected only by caves and canopy. At the time, I did not think too much about where these exotic locations were. They were fictionalized extensions of maybe one or two areas in the world. No temples like the ones from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Uncharted, or Final Fantasy VII could possibly exist, I thought.
This perspective may seem incredibly naive, but consider how limited your perspective of the world would be if you had never travelled or knew people that travelled; if every suburb you went to looked the same as your suburb, and every city the same as your city, you would begin to expect that the world could only deviate so far from what you know. When watching Star Trek, I do not think many people believe the planets that are visited could conceivably exist; in a way, reality can only be but so far beyond your own perspective.
But I digress.
My first two days in Cambodia began in Siem Reap where these once ‘fictional’ places sprung to life. I spent the days walking around in my own personal PlayStation game/movie set.
While Angkor Wat is the largest and most famous of the temples set around the town of Siem Reap it actually only refers to one of the dozens of temples here. I would have to spend the next four months researching and two weeks writing if I were to produce a quality blog on Angkor Wat, so instead I will leave you with some of my images and overall thoughts from my trip here.
Originally a Hindu then a Buddhist temple it was built as the main city temple for the city of Angkor, the one time capital of the Khmer (Cambodian) empire.
I have seen so many things named after this temple, including Angkor beer, numerous hotels, and even some banks. I have to say, after walking around Angkor Wat for a couple hours, I finally understand what all the hype was about. My visit here began with a quest to get that perfect sunrise picture.
I awoke early but arrived late (around 5:30am) local time because I had to get my entry ticket and already the best spots had been taken. I suggest getting the ticket a day before to avoid this. However, I did manage to squeeze my way through the crowd to steal at least one awesome picture.
Angkor Wat itself is certainly impressive. It’s a vast stone complex of inter-connected courtyards, towers and hallways.
The level of detail is amazing. Every available surface has been decorated.
Below are some wall carvings at Angkor Wat. To say that the walls are absolutely covered in these stunningly intricate carvings would not do it justice. This temple is sprawling, palatial, cavernous. And literally every interior and exterior surface of it is etched with this same degree of care. It’s like permanent wallpaper.
Although I started my previous day at Angkor Wat, I ended my second day there too; but this time it was on a bicycle that my guesthouse loaned me (for free). It was soooo good to be back on a bicycle after a few years and so happy that it was in Cambodia…
You pedal down wide, dusty paths while trying to high-five local school kids passing on the side of the road, relishing the cool-ish breeze in your face even as you sweat through all of your clothing. You pass playful monkeys and children riding bikes so adorably oversized that they look like Cabbage Patch Kids on Harleys. You pull your cycle off on the side of the road at the first sign of a place that looks interesting, or beautiful, or (thank you, low season) semi-deserted. When you’re done exploring a set of ruins/taking pictures of a tree, you just hop back on your bike and move on to the next one that strikes your fancy, like a hipster Indiana Jones.
Did you spot the rainbow? Scroll up and check again 🙂
Ok so bear with me here. Angkor Wat was the biggest and oldest temple but there are others that are just as mesmerizing
The next one I visited was Angkor Thom.
Lined up on each side of the causeway leading to the southern gate are statues of gods. On the left, are guardian gods called ‘devas’…
Angkor Thom is a walled region consisting of multiple temples.
It has many temples inside but the most prominent one is the Bayon Temple. It is unique for having carved giant stone faces in each of the four sides of every tower.
Bayon is a decrepit, decaying, pile of ruins, but its poor condition gives it a very authentic feel. This temple was built at the end of the 12th century and was originally a Buddhist temple that reverted to Hinduism then back to Buddhism at some point.
The really interesting thing about the Bayon temple is that there are 216 different faces carved into the stones.
Reminiscent of those on Mayan temples, each one of the faces has a solemn yet unique expression or character to it.
Ta Prohm was my last temple and this one made me as giddy as a school girl. Ta Prohm is the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed, so to me it represents the real world incarnation of Eidos’ classic, the inspiration for countless of other video games. Call me a nerd, but I walked through this temple peeking around corners for guards, mummies, zombies, and Russians (found some of those).
Aside from the Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm is one of the more popular temples in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It’s one of the temples overrun by the forest and gigantic trees have grown on it’s walls. It was originally called Rajavihara built under King Jayavarman VII as a Buddhist monastery and a university.
Enormous marble-coloured roots drape the temple walls and trees erupt from the roofs of many of the passageways. There is a botanical disagreement on the classification of these trees, but we can simply note that they are a massive, breathtaking sight. The overrun look gives the entire temple a “hidden gem” sort of feel. Ta Phrom is a true testament to the power of the Jungle.
Overall Verdict: While you may at first think that Egypt or India may be the lands of stunning temples, once you visit Cambodia, you will be mesmerized by the Khmer temples. What you will find here will surpass every expectation you may have. My pictures do not do the beauty of the temples justice.
Defining moment: I had read that there was a specific doorway to Ta Prom that featured prominently in the Tom Raider movie. However due to the amount of people there and the confusion of trying not to get lost, I was not sure which specific doorway this was. So I took pictures in a few doorways just in case!
Coming up next- Cambodia: The Coast