It was our third straight day of temple hopping and to be honest, we were quite templed out. We’ve really had enough of temples dedicated to Shiva and the millions of Hindu gods. But this was a special day. Today we get to visit Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. Two temples I’ve read with wonder on my History of Architecture book back in college. Today we get to see them in real life.
|TA PROHM TEMPLE, AMAZINGLY DEVOID OF TOURISTS|
Together with our ever reliable tuk-tuk driver from Happy Guesthouse, Nga, we again zipped through the forest roads of Siem Reap. Our target, five temples; Angkor Wat, Banteay Kdei, Ta Prohm and Angkor Thom’s Phimeanakas, Baphuon and Bayon temples.
|HAZY MORNING AT ANGKOR WAT|
► A N G K O R W A T
The best time to visit Angkor Wat is during sunrise. But we spent too much time in Pub Street the previous night that even the simple act of contemplating an early morning visit to this UNESCO World Heritage site quickly induced headaches.
So, we arrived at around ten in the morning. And the place was swamped with tourists.
We asked Nga to turn go past Angkor Wat and visit the next temple instead, we’ll go back at sunset; not only does this temple deserves a less cluttered visit, it also deserves a separate article.
|ENTERING BANTEAY KDEI’S GOPURA|
► B A N T E A Y K D E I
Sitting right across the Srah Srang water reservoir, Banteay Kdei was our first proper temple of the day. Entering its east gopura or gate, we were greeted by a giant carved face, built in the Bayon style of architecture by architect Kavindrarimathana. It is said to be carved after the face of the Great Builder, King Jayavarman VII.
|THE MAIN TEMPLE OF BANTEAY KDEI|
Banteay Kdei, which means A Citadel of Chambers or Citadel of Monks' Cells, is a Buddhist temple built during the mid-12th to early 13th centuries A.D. It is similar in plan with the Prasat Ta Prohm, which we would be visiting next, and Preah Khan, which we visited last during our Big Circuit Temple Tour.
|COLUMNS WITH FRESCOES OF DANCING APSARAS|
By this time, the temples we were visiting were all starting to look alike. I mean, they still have their charm, and being a history and art buff, I’m still amazed by the intricate carvings along their columns and walls.
|AN ARTIST SELLING SKETCHES AND PAINTINGS INSIDE THE TEMPLE|
Passing through narrow galleries, dodging tourists and shooting as we go, we came upon a chamber with a kid sitting cross-legged, busy painting on a thick paper. Surrounded with numerous finished artworks, we paused and watched as he went stroke after stroke through an Angkor scene filled with orange-robed monks.
|APSARAS ETCHED ALONG THE COLUMNS OF BANTEAY KDEI|
As we went through more corridors, we conferred if we’re finally gonna buy an artwork from one of these kids. Priced at 15.00 USD, these are definitely not cheap. Well, especially for us who were on a tight budget.
|PAINTINGS SOLD OUTSIDE THE MAIN TEMPLE|
We passed another kid manning a wall of paintings right after the main temple along the forest path leading to the exit. That’s when we decided to finally let go of a few dollars and went back to the previous kid.
|MOTHER AND CHILD, TAKING A BREAK FROM THEIR TEMPLE RUN|
We nicely asked if he could give us a discounted price, he shook his head. We asked if he could do a smaller one, he shook his head. We asked if he could do two artwork on a single sheet of paper for the same price, he nodded his head. Finally!
|BANTEAY KDEI’S WEST GOPURA|
We walked around Banteay Kdei a bit while waiting for our customized artwork to be finished. When we returned, our piece was almost done. We then found that he was a college kid who sells his work to fund his school fees. Way to go kid.
|A PORTAL TO TA PROHM TEMPLE|
► T A P R O H M
Popularized by Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider movie, Ta Prohm can rival Angkor Wat in terms of visitors per square inch. The place is by no means large, but the number of tourists inside its walls is simply… too much.
|THE ELEVATED CAUSEWAY TO TA PROHM|
Access to the temple is through its east gopura. From there, you pass a forested dirt path that leads to an elevated walkway. Everything is surrounded by lush vegetation and old gnarly trees.
|TA PROHM, A PLACE WHERE THE TEMPLE MEETS NATURE|
Reaching the main temple of Ta Prohm, which means ancestor Brahma, it’s quite hard to picture it as something much more unique to the other temples we visited.
|A SILK-COTTON TREE CLAIMING PART OF THE TEMPLE|
That is until we went inside and found these towering silk-cotton trees hugging the temple walls.
Ta Prohm was built by the same guy that did the previous temple we visited, King Jayavarman VII. It was originally called Rajavihara, monastery of the king, and functioned as; yes you guessed it, a monastery and a university.
|BOULDER BLOCKS STREWN ALL AROUND|
Much of the temples are in ruin. A state which restorers left it to, even with the UNESCO inscription on the World Heritage List in 1992. They said Ta Prohm has all the characteristics of a temple that has almost been swallowed by a forest, but is still in its recognizable form.
|A HIDDEN CARVING OF AN APSARA DEVATA|
With its current state, much poetry has been waxed about its mysterious and raw beauty. But try visiting this on a sunny weekend, and let’s see you wax your poetry with the throng of brightly clad tourist with their umbrellas and group shots and what-nots along your path.
|A RELIEF ALMOST ENTIRELY EATEN BY A ROOT|
It’s most famous spot can be found by wending your way through one of its dark corridors with slits of windows looking out into a courtyard. I was actually quite curious what the fuss was about, looking at what a guide was pointing to his herd. And then I saw it. A face almost eaten by the twisted root of a tree.
|TOURIST RUSHING THROUGH THE PATHWAYS OF TA PROHM|
I have to be honest, the first time I visited Ta Prohm, I was mightily disappointed. It’s really not because of the temple, which is really beautiful and quite romantic in its own weird and twisted way, but due to the hordes of travelers we met along the way.
|A LIGHT SHAFT INSIDE TA PROHM TEMPLE|
The second time, a few months after the first, was much more enjoyable. There were lesser visitors and the place finally has that quietness and mystery that it longs to have. I can almost feel it breathing its own deep silent breath.
|ANGKOR THOM’S BAYON TEMPLE, GOLDEN ON THE AFTERNOON LIGHT|
► A N G K O R T H O M
Our last temple of the day, or supposedly our last, is Angkor Thom. This complex is so huge that this too deserves a separate article in itself too. On its site, the temples of Phimeanakas, Baphuon and Bayon are located; that last one, my favorite among all we visited. We spent the whole afternoon at this site, and I didn’t think we’ve even seen everything.
Again, our day ended with our heads filled to brimming with reliefs, carvings and giant smiling faces erected from stones. We were, again, totally templed out as we headed back to the city center and asked our tuk-tuk driver to drop us at Pub Street. The only Angkor we really want now can be found inside a can, and on a bar called Angkor What?.
Siem Reap Angkor Temples and Small Group Tour
Address: Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Entrance Fee: None, but you have to purchase a temple pass beforehand
Angkor Wat GPS Coordinates Map: 13°24'45.0"N 103°51'60.0"E
Banteay Krei GPS Coordinates Map: 13°25′47″N 103°53′54″E
Ta Prohm Coordinates Map: 13°26'05.7"N 103°53'21.7"E
Baphuon Coordinates Map: 13°26'37.6"N 103°51'21.4"E
Bayon Coordinates Map: 13°26'28.4"N 103°51'31.9"E