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Cambodia (October 2 – 5)   1 comment

Angkor Wat

Six kilometers outside the tourist town of Siem Reap sit the ruins of Angkor which were built mainly in the 12th century by the Khmer Empire. As Magan and I peddled our bikes along the humid road filled with tuk-tuks and locals on bikes we were thankful for the area’s lack of hills. Even on the bus ride in from Thailand we were struck by the flat rice paddies that stretched to the horizon punctuated by the odd collection of palm trees or stilted houses.

The first temple we visited was Angkor Wat, built between 1113 and 1150. This is the largest religious structure in the world and a symbol of national pride as is evident by Cambodia’s flag. To reach the temple we first had to cross a 190 meter wide moat ending at a large stone gate. On the other side we found ourselves on a long causeway stretching out towards the main temple with its iconic three towers. The path was lined with smaller temples, but it was hard to tear our gaze away from the main attraction. Inside the temple we were in awe of the size and detail of the structure. Everything was covered in bas reliefs depicting buddhist and hindu tableaux. In the center were a series of steep stairs leading up the central tower. Once up the stairs an impressive new level of rooms, corridors and carvings opened up.

Angkor Thom

Continuing through the large complex of temples we headed toward Bayon which sits in the Angkor Thom complex. This impressive temple is famous for its carved faces. On our way to this temple we crossed a bridge lined with carved statues culminating in a massive gate topped with a large carved face watching all approaching visitors. Once through the gate we cycled along a shady road passing other temples that, if not in the shadows of Bayon and Angkor Wat, would be main attractions in their own right.

Bayon really brought out the awe factor for us in this area. The complex containing this temple is gigantic. Just pondering the logistics, time and energy necessary to build the walls surrounding this temple, as well as the temples themselves, is enough to impress. But climbing this giant structure with dozens of faces looking in every direction was unforgettable. It’s what you would dream of finding if blazing a trail through a remote rain forest in some un-explored jungle. The surreal nature of the temple’s construction, primarily the faces, makes you think of something in a movie or video game.

Farther through this complex we rode visiting large temples that, while immensely impressive, simply pale in comparison to the famous Angkor Wat and Bayon.

Ta Prohm

Another few kilometers down the road we came to the temple complex of Ta Prohm. It was towards the end of our second day but still early morning as we headed to the last large temple complex. On the map Ta Prohm is listed as the Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones temple because it is over grown with vegetation. The trail had turned to mud, but our biking skills had been forged on Bolivia’s death road and honed through hilly southern China. Eventually we came to the entrance which was a small stone gate  lined on either side with a crumbling wall. While walking through the initial gate we were impressed but were beginning to get templed out. Entering we found a short trail leading to a stone building at the end of a stone bridge over a swampy marsh. Through this building we entered a small open area with a stone walk leading farther into what looked like a small complex of short stone temples. The surrounding area was impressive with trees growing near the walls and vines covering sections of the temples.

My high expectations were beginning to falter as it seemed this would be an underwelming experience. However, as with the other temples in Angkor I grossly under estimated the size of this complex. As we entered the stone hallway or narrow doors and crumbling walls we emerged in an enormous area unseen from the outside. Inside this complex were dozens of interconnected temples all dilapidated and partially reclaimed by the jungle. This truly was a great experience as well as our favorite temple.

Tall trees were growing out of the side of the walls of buildings. Everything was covered with moss and grass. A few places were wrapped in the roots of trees that were either holding them together or had knocked them down. Because it was still early in the morning and the complex is so large we were virtually alone. It truly was as though we had found abandoned ruins.

Twisting down the claustrophobic corridors we would come to a sudden dead-end due to a collapsed ceiling only to find an escape through one of the collapsed walls. When completed the temples must have been confusing, but in there present state  they act as a labyrinth. Each open courtyard was beautifully constructed by nature containing buildings covered in green moss with trees punching through or growing over them blending chaotically together to create an environment where it seems time has stopped and forced the past and present to become one and freeze in its current glory. The beautifully constructed temples and the reclamation of the Cambodian jungle have formed one of the best sights we have seen on this trip.

The Angkor temple complex not only has masterfully crafted temples created from giant stones, covered in bas reliefs and architecturally stunning, but is also spread out over a massive area. These factors elevate this region into the category of man-made wonders alongside the pyramids of Giza, Machu Picchu and Petra.

Posted November 6, 2012 by Magan and Brenden in Asia, Cambodia

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