The Tomb Raider set
Angkor What?? Oh… Those temples where Angelina Jolie shot the movie “Tomb Raider”!… For some people, that is the first thing that comes to mind when Angkor Wat is mentioned. For others, they’d remain asking the question. Angkor Wat is one of a group of ancient Khmer temples that can be found in the Siem Reap region of Cambodia. These days, bus loads of tourist flock to this magnificent 13th Century temple to admire its grandeur and exquisite bas reliefs, carvings and construction.
The Moto experience
I travelled to Cambodia 3 years ago with my best mate from high school. It was our very first experience of backpacking and travelling in not-so-much style. Prior to this trip, I was used to travelling in tour groups and staying in reasonably good hotels that I didn’t know how I’d live up to staying in hostels and riding on the back of someone’s motorcycle. Well, the fun all began the minute I landed in Siem Reap in Cambodia. At the airport in Siem Reap, we had an option of taking a normal taxi, or a much cheaper alternative called a “Moto”.
We didn’t know what a moto was, but we were dead set on having an adventure and trying new things out. And, since they’re the cheapest, and we wanted to stick to our backpacking theme, we thought we’d give it a go. It turned out that a Moto is basically a bloke with a scooter, and you’re supposed to ride on the back of his scooter! I’ve never really ridden on the back of someone’s motorbike, let alone a scooter, so I was beginning to feel uncomfortable there. Anyhow, my friend and I each hopped on to a scooter, and had our backpacks “hugged” by the moto driver (see photo). We breezed through the Siem Reap traffic, through the tiniest gap in traffic, through the dust, until we got to our hostel looking pale and still clinging on to the back of the scooter! Our drivers must be the Michael Schumacher of Cambodia! We’re so happy to get to our hostel without a single scratch!
Angelina Jolie’s favourite hangout
On our first night at Siem Reap, my friend and I managed to have a traditional Cambodian meal in one of the small restaurants around. We had this dish called Larb, which is basically meat and veggie curry with coconut and fish sauce. It was really good, thoroughly enjoyed it. We walked around town and found this place called the Red Piano. It looked like a good bar and so we went there for a nightcap. As we went through the menu, we learned that the Red Piano was the favourite hangout of Angelina Jolie while she was filming “Tomb Raider”, and that she even made a signature cocktail drink which they served! Well, my friend and I thought it would be a shame not to try it. It was called “Tomb Raider Cocktail” (funny enough..)
Sunrise at Angkor Wat
The day after we arrived, we set out early from our hostel. We negotiated with our trusted moto drivers to pick us up early in the morning so we could watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. We got to the checkpoint of the temple complex where we had to purchase a 3-day pass, which would enable us to go to the different temples as many times as we like for the next 3 days. When we got to the entrance of Angkor Wat, it was still pitch dark, and there were absolutely no lights around. People were bringing their own torches, and since we didn’t have one, we just followed those who did. The sun slowly crept up the clear blue sky, and slowly we can see the majestic temple of Angkor Wat. The sunrise effect on Angkor Wat made it look very dramatic, and indeed, it looks just magnificent! What makes this temple fascinating as well is the fact that Angkor Wat was abandoned after the fall of the Khmer kingdom in the 14th century, and was forgotten by the rest of the world for centuries until a French explorer, Henri Mouhout, discovered it again in the 1800s. When it was discovered, it was nearly completely overrun by the jungle, with trees growing on the temples itself, and everything was in shambles.
A Temple of Many Faces
The Bayon is one of the fascinating temples you’ll find in the whole Angkor archaeological complex. This temple is part of the Angkor Thom complex, and has an entranceway lined up with dozens of statues of mythical Hindu creatures. The temple has the top moulded with huge faces of the King Jayavarman VII, the king who built this temple. My friend and I went around this temple in awe of the intricate design, and the beautiful bas reliefs. This is a must-see of the Angkor temples!
Temple overrun by the jungle
The next destination we had in mind is the temple of Ta Prohm. This temple has been left in its original, unrestored state. One can see huge trees growing on top of the temples themselves, slowly crushing the structures with its massive roots. This must have been how the French explorers would have found Angkor Wat, overrun by the jungle around it. The trees that grew on top of the Ta Prohm are just so massive that it’s really quite a sight to see!
There are so many temples to see in the Angkor archaeological park, but these are the more well-preserved and popular ones. If you can spend at least 3 days, you can easily tour the entire archaeological complex, which stretches out 40kms from Siem Reap. The road going to the outer sites can be rough, but it’s all well worth the adventure. There are sites in the Kulen mountains, where the rock at the bottom of the river is all carved with lingas (a holy male-female symbol), plus a nice waterfall. On the way is Kbal Spean, which has more rock carvings that is set also on a river bed.
A visit to Angkor is definitely one of my most memorable trips, and one that I encourage people to go and see before it is totally too commercialised, and before the hoardes of tourists start to make an impact on its deteriorating state.
Til the next journey!