WANDERLUST| Angkor Wat on a tuktuk

WITH over hundreds of temple ruins covering at least 3,000 square kilometres in the Angkor Archaeological Park and in nearby areas within Siem Reap, it is almost impossible for a tourist visit each and every structure.

Since I have visited the major temples in my last two visits, I decided to just have a quick tour in 3 of the most visited Angkor temples during my recent trip to Siem Reap for the 1st Cambodia Travel Mart last November 17-19.

TUKTUK tour around Siem Reap

TUKTUK tour around Siem Reap

 As most of our time was spent inside the travel expo, I was able to squeeze in barely a half-a-day to re-explore this amazing UNSECO World Heritage Site with the help of their three-wheeled motorized public vehicle known as “tuktuk”.

MASSIVE trees growing on top of Ta Phrom's temples

MASSIVE trees growing on top of Ta Phrom’s temples

 Once buried, almost forgotten, deep in the forests of Siem Reap, the ancient capitals of the Khmer Empire, which thrived from 9th to 15th centuries, contained some of the most astonishing architectural and artistic accomplishments of the ancient world.  Angkor was a known as megacity then that held at least 0.1% of the global population from 1010 to 1220.  King Suryavarman II built the principal temples of Angkor Wat during his reign around 1113 to 1150, which eventually became the seat of powerful leaders.

TA Phrom form the outside

FACES of smiling Buddha in Bayon

 When the Angkorian period was about to end around 1431, the temples were pillaged and looted by Ayutthaya invaders, the same time when its civilization started its decline around 13th and 14th centuries. By 15th century, nearly all of Angkor was abandoned, except for Angkor Wat, which endured time as a Buddhist shrine.

 For many centuries, almost the entire temple complex was enveloped by the forest until the end of the 19th century when European archeologist Louis Delaporte and ethnologist Adolf Bastian visited the site and made it known to the western world. This led to an extensive restoration process initiated by French archaeologists from 1907 to 1970 when the forest was cleared, the structures’ foundations repaired and drains were installed to protect the buildings from water damage. The rest, as they say, is history.

 Fast forward to present time. What was once an ancient empire is now one of Southeast Asia’s top tourist destinations. In 2016, Angkor Archaeological Park (almost) singlehandedly attracted 5 million tourists to Cambodia. The Tourism Ministry projected a total 5.6 million tourists by the end of 2017.

TWO of Ta Phrom\s temples

TA Phrom form the outside

 Back to my tuktuk ride, I proceeded to Pub Street, a popular souvenir, food and nightlife destination in Siem Reap, to grab a ride after a quick solo photo safari. The driver charged me US$15 for a late afternoon (supposedly) sunset tuktuk tour (it was already 3 PM at that time), covering Ta Prohm, Bayon and Angkor Wat temples. The price of a single-day ticket to the temple complex ranges from US$20 to US$37 while a 3-day pass is from US$40 to US$62, and a 7-day ticket ranges from US$60 to US$72. It’s kinda pricey, thus, it’s best to share the tuktuk ride with a friend or two.

 First stop was Ta Prohm, a very popular temple due to its publicity in the Angelina Jolie film “Tomb Raider”. Here, one can see massive tree roots jutting out of the crumbling temple walls. Bayon, our next stop, is also one of my all time favorite temples. It is characterised by gigantic smiling faces of Buddha in almost all spires and walls of the temple. The smiling Buddha somewhat creates a happy vibe as one wanders around. There is also a giant Buddha hidden in one of its chambers.

TWO of Ta Phrom\s temples

TWO of Ta Phrom\s temples

 Before I advanced to the last temple, the rain started to pour out of nowhere. It was still sunny when we started the tour. Dreched in rain, I had to cut short Bayon, searched for my tuktuk driver, then asked him to take me to the next stop. The lesson here is to always bring a handy umbrella because that will protect you from both the scorching heat of the sun and from the torrential rains.

AN ID like day pass issued to guests

AN ID like day pass issued to guests

 Since sunset by Angkor Wat was definitely out of the itinerary, I just strolled around the dark chambers of Angkor Wat and revisited some of the sites within the sprawling complex. The rain has stopped but the skies remained gloomy. Soon it became too quite, then I realized that the crowd has gone and I was the last person left behind. I had to find my way out from the dark chambers until a temple guard found me as he scoured for remaining guests. He said that there are no lights inside the temple and we need to cross the moat using the temporary floating bridge (the original is being restored) before it gets even darker. That’s when I remembered the horror stories about the ghosts lurking inside the temples. Fortunately, I didn’t get to see one but I’m pretty sure they saw me.

 If you want to travel back in time, a visit to Angkor Wat and the rest of the Angkor Archaeological Park is the next best thing for you to do.

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