Monday, April 20, 2009

The Temples of Angkor

It was the day everyone was excited about. We woke up at 4AM to leave the guesthouse at 5AM. We were able to leave around 5:30AM though, and the sun was already rising when we arrived at the entrance gates of the Temples. We paid $20 each for a single day entry, and were given I.D. tickets that even had our faces (photographed on the spot). We rushed to the entrance of Angkor Wat, our first stop and the largest religious monument in the world. I ran as fast as I could, moving my way through the crowds to take a picture of the glorious sunrise with Angkor Wat in silhouette. 

It was amazing. The last time I went, I was struck in awe, and wasn't able to get great pictures since I was new to photography. Now, I ran and found the spot I wanted to have great shot. There were hundred of photographers in the same line, and I had to bump someone off to take a spot. Nevertheless, the atmosphere was calm and serene. Everyone was just admiring the sunrise and the grandness of Angkor Wat.

So, after taking pictures, I finally saw my companions who also were satisfied with what they saw. It took us more than hour to get satisfied with shots. After that adrenaline rush, we had our breakfast in a nearby eatery before actually entering the temple grounds.

After a heavy breakfast, we decided to split up in groups and just meet up after an hour and a half at the entrance. We approached the temple when I saw a monkey snatch a bag of food from a tourist. The monkey was aggressive and made groaning sounds to defend himself. It was funny, but the monkey was scary.

I looked back from the entrance and saw the diminishing number of tourists who had gone early to watch the sunrise. It was already 830AM and the Asian tourists were now arriving in huge groups.

Angkor Wat is indeed a wonder of the ancient world, a treasure in every sense. The architecture is stunning and the vastness of the place was overwhelming. Essentially, it had 3 levels. The topmost (the roof duck) contained the towers, which at that time was being renovated so we weren't able to go up. The middle level and lower level are parallel to each other in space. The lower level contained various bas reliefs that told the stories of the people of the Khmer empire. 

Of course, Angkor Wat is still a religious monument, so proper behavior is a must. There were a lot of relics of Buddha and other gods around the temple, some headless and smashed as the Thais invaded and destroyed the temples a long time ago. I wonder how the Thais would feel when they visit Angkor Wat. Nonetheless, Thailand and Cambodia are still in silent conflict, and the recent skirmishes at their border are evidence that the two nations still won't forget their unforgiving past.

We then moved on to our next temple, the Bayun. Located inside the Angkor Thom complex, the Bayun is unique for its spires etched intricately with huge heads. The Bayun is in ruins, so there were rocks and debris everywhere. It is also significantly smaller than Angkor Wat.

Exploring Bayun will take you less than an hour, so it's best to do this after Angkor Wat. The heat will be more extreme as we moved further into the temple complex. There's the Elephant Terrace beside the Bayun and another temple (the name of which I forgot). We didn't go to these places anymore though, because of time constraints. We also didn't want to get so tired from temple hopping, so I recommended only the best and most significant ones.

Next up was Prae Khan, a long, one level temple that is perhaps one of the most devastated temples. Walking through the temple is like walking through a very long hall of small rooms. It was also located in a forest, so trees were also all over the place, wrapping their roots onto the walls and roofs of the temple.

It took us less than an hour to go from one entrance to the other end and go back to the same entrance. Prae Khan used to be my favorite temple, but I guess we visited it at a wrong time of the day, noon time. We were already hungry so we decided to head out for lunch in a traditional Khmer restaurant by the lake.

We arrived at the Khmer Village Restaurant which was situated beside a lake. The food was traditional Khmer of course, and so we were excited to taste authentic Cambodian cuisine. The prices were a bit expensive from the ones in the food stalls outside the temples, but the place had a more cozy ambience.

Below is a photo of my favorite Khmer dish, Fish Amok. Amok is Cambodian curry, so you can substitute the meat. It is served on a coconut shell. This was the hit dish during lunch, that we had to order seconds.


It was already 2PM, and we were tired and wasted from a satisfying lunch. We then decided to go to a temple that was 20 minutes away - the Bantay Srei.

This temple is very small, and more like a monument in a garden. What makes it special is the intricate carvings on the pink like structures. It had a very different design from the previous temples.

It was so hot that time, so we weren't able to get up close to appreciate the carvings. We had to work ourselves under the shade. This didn't stop us from taking a lot of pictures though.

Finally, we moved on to our last temple for the day, made popular by the movie Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie. The temple of Ta Prom has always alluded its guests with its towering trees that have engulfed the structures of the temple. Ta Prom is located deep inside a forest, hence, you need to walk around 5 minutes before getting to the entrance (there is however another entrance that leads you directly there).

Ta Prom is one mysterious temple, no wonder it has been used as location for the Tomb Raider movie. Ruined hallways, tall ceilings and tree roots snaking their way through the open cracks, give the temple that Indiana Jones feel.

Ta Phrom is indeed one of the favorites among tourists, for each door leads to a new chamber or space that makes you want to explore. However, Ta Phrom is now more protected, and a lot of barricades surround the place. Last time I was here, there were no planks, no ropes that hindered you from going inside chambers. I guess, it's a way of protecting the temple from the increasing number of tourists. It is after all a temple in ruins.

So that ends our tour of the Temples of Angkor. We went back to Siem Reap at 4PM, hot and craving for ice cream. Good thing there was Swensen's in a new building near the Old Market. The air-conditioning was very inviting and soothed our heads after a very tiring and hot tour.

1 comment:

  1. Your photos are amazing! You've enhanced the otherworldly beauty of Angkor. I wish I had done it justice in my photos, but I only had point-and-shoot. :)

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