Land of Tomb Raider

21:16 Alyson Tart 3 Comments

While the town of Siem Reap may offer visitors hospitality and charm, the main attraction (including for us) is the famous temples in the area. If you were to follow the posters, menus and others, it's really the land of Laura Croft, Tomb Raider, but this famed temple is only one of many.

Angkor, meaning city, was the head of the Khmer region. With over 400 sq km and hundreds of temples, it is impossible to see the sites in a day, much less a week. So most people, us included, start with the largest religious complex in the world and most famous in the area, Angkor Wat. Instead of trying to figure out what the ruins were ourselves, we hired a guide and tuk-tuk driver for the day to take us around.

After getting our tickets to the Angkor complex, we followed the crowds into the temple, first over the moat, then through the first gate into the larger complex area. Even at 10 am, it was already hot and humid, especially given my maxi skirt and shoulder coverings. When we finally made it into the shade of the temple, I was first happy for the coolness, then after taking a moment to observe my surroundings, I was amazed.

From the initial walk in, you see the iconic towers, rock darkened in many places, crumbling in others and sometimes missing altogether replaced by an errant plant sprouting from the ruins. It's beautiful, but to be honest, with hundreds of other temples in the area it's not exactly anything to write home about. I wasn't quite sure what the fuss was about until the moment we finally entered the complex.

The inner complex is covered with historic art - beautiful, intricate rock carvings. Around the whole outer wall, there's a depiction of the King, battles and mythical creatures. Inside, you'll find depictions of asparas, Hindu gods from it's original design and Buddhist figures from the later conversion. The detail is incredible and unexpected.

After a few hours of wandering, we headed to the nearby Angkor Thom to visit the Bayon temple. You know this complex is special as you begin the approach. The bridge over the moat is flanked on either side by statues wrestling a serpent leading you up to the walls of the complex, the top adorned with more ornate carvings, making you crane your neck up to glimpse more as the tuk-tuk rushes through.  The Bayon temple itself is famed for some of these carvings, specifically faces. As you wander throughout the temple, you'll see many pretending to kiss these faces (think like those pinching the Pyramids of Giza), but instead of doing that, we looked for the best vantages to see as many faces lined up as we could.

Finally, we made it to Ta Prohm (or the tomb raider) temple. Besides its association with Laura Croft, people love to visit this temple to see how it's been overtaken by nature. 

Over the years, strangler trees have grown up through, on top and over the ruins, leaving you with an odd combination of human creation and jungle. The temple is much smaller than Angkor Wat, but still crowded, so you don't quite get any experience to yourself here. After a long day in the tuk-tuk, we decided to head back to the hotel for another $10 massage and sleep for our early morning.

One of the things I had been most excited about Angkor Wat was the sunrise - which happened at 6:00 am unfortunately. Our lovely tuk-tuk driver picked us up at the far too early hour of 5:30 so we would have time to get our tickets into the complex and get a good spot.

 Or so we thought - upon arrival, there were almost more people than when we had arrived during the day yesterday. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people standing by the lakes in front of the temple waiting for the sky to put on its morning show.  Despite all the people, it was beautiful and so worth it.  

After soaking it all in, we decided to walk through the temple one more time - why not? We were already there. At that early hour, as many tourists headed home after snapping their shots, you felt like someone sneaking down the halls of the temple before anyone else woke up - enjoying the peace and chaos before everyone went to get about their business. Had we done it all over again, this would be the time that I visit the temple!

But, we were off through the fields and rice paddys in our tuk-tuk to visit Banteay Srei, a small temple, but with some of the best preserved stone work and often called the Gem of the Khmer.  If you weren't looking closely, you could walk around the area in less than 15 minutes, but we were there probably closer to 45, circling the buildings again and again to find new and beautiful details in the carving.

Then, back to the tuk-tuk, through the fields with cows, past the funny "gas stations" and tourist stands to Siem Reap, and onwards to Thailand.

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  1. Lol - I've always fancied myself on the set of Tomb Raider ;)
    Claire xx

  2. Lovely photos! I've seen many of the temples from afar before, but not as close up as this - it's fascinating to see all the details! Glad it lived up to your expectations :)

  3. These photos are amazing. Have been wanting to visit here for awhile now, hope I can find a good deal to go. Thanks for sharing :)