Te Prohm: Da Bomb

Trip Date: 10/8/2014P1040910 copy

Back in the 2000, Angelina Jolie did a little film called, Tomb Raider.  The most memorable scenes take place in the ruins of an ancient city and were filmed in Te Prohm, Cambodia.  (Kate and I are doing our best Laura Croft poses!)

1424832374_thumb.jpegTe Prohm is BY FAR my favorite site in Siem Reap!  Oh, the trees are glorious!  In the oppressive, wet heat of Cambodia, the lush, shady trees of Te Prohm offer magical amounts of shade.

We wandered, we sat in the shade and contemplated this ancient city.  We took lots of photos and took in this amazing city.

Te Prohm has numerous and winding paths to navigate.  Kate & I tried to find our way to the most picturesque spots with a map from my Lonely Planet.


We were mildly successful yet were spotted by an entrepreneurial local who offered to show us around, for a fee, of course.  We happily accepted and he guided us through the complex, pointing out note worthy sights, like this giant Bayan tree.

P1040937Everywhere we turned, the trees show their strength by slowly dismantling this ancient city with sinewy roots.


The empty nooks along this wall used to house statues of Buddha.  When a new (Hindu) king began his reign, he ordered all 180 of the Buddhas to be chiseled out of their nooks.


Gosh, I love Te Prohm!


On the way out, we passed by the ubiquitous stands of handmade treasures: paintings, carvings and trinkets.  The dealers are so insistant that you buy from them and I’d bet they would try to sell this darling, sleeping mouse if you looked at it twice.

Rest Day@ Backstreet Academy.

I had taken a day ‘off’ of touring temples (the heat really got to me) and I had found an awesome workshop where you could take lessons in traditional Cambodian crafts. I chose to learn how to sew a padded laptop case from an Elephant Brand cement mix bag.

It was a super fun afternoon! I tried on an Apsara headpiece made by this adorable gentleman. (I am a sucker for tiny, smiling old guys!)

After my rest day I switched hostels (to escape a sneezing/coughing Belgium boy who kept calling his mom and whining.) The Luxury Concept hostel was only 3 months old and a bit difficult to find since the Tuk Tuk drivers hadn’t heard of it and the ground floor was a travel agency. The process of moving hostels is not my favorite but my hard work was rewarded when I met my newest travel BFF, Kate!

This was Aussie Kate’s first international trip and Siem Reap with it’s dirty streets and persistent harassment had understandably freaked her out. Luckily, our spacious bunk beds were in the same dorm and I was looking to share a Tuk Tuk! I invited her to grab some dinner and explore the night markets with me – she accepted and we were inseparable for the next 10 days! Kate had a contact in town: a girl named KimLeng whose college education was being sponsored by one of Kate’s friends. We hired her father, Guitar, to take us to the temples the next day.

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Hire a guide for the Grand Circuit: Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom & Bayon

8am: My new friends had arranged for both a Tuk Tuk driver and a guide; Angkor Archeological Park has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since1992 and a guide enhances the experience ten fold.

Most tourists spend 2 days exploring the ancient temples. Day 1 is the Grand Circuit consisting of smaller temples, further apart. Day 2 is the Small Circuit, featuring 2-4 of the more spectacular temples. The Circuits’ names seem counter intuitive to me…anyways. Today was the 2nd day the boys had spent touring, so I accompanied them to see the Grand Temples on the ‘Small Circuit’. First up, Angkor Wat!

Without our guide I would have walked right past so many interesting details in the relief carvings. (For instance, there is a woman, washing someone’s hair just to the right of our guide’s elbow!) This impressive wall of reliefs was restored in 2012 and tells the story of the war of 1177 when the Cham people over threw the kingdom of Angkor. The Cham are taking seated Khmer people back to their land by canoe to be slaves.

Riding an elephant into battle. (I figured this out on my own!)

Often, our guide was able To tell us the history or mythology behind the carvings. I love hearing creation stories. My favorite was the creation of the Apsaras (aka. Celestial dancers with impossibly curved fingers.)

The Hindu story: Once upon a time 54 gods & 54 demons were searching for the Elixer of Life. They discovered that they must wrap Vasuki the snake around a volcano in the Ocean of Milk and churn it back and forth for 1000 years. In the reliefs, this looks like a giant tug of war. After 500 years of churning, the Apsara sprung up from the froth and danced in the sky.


There are SO many carvings of Apsaras, in unique poses, with wild hairstyles that the Cambodian culture devised a very slow dance based on transitioning between the poses. Girls who aspire to be Apsara dancers when they grow up must start training their fingers to gracefully bend backwards at an early age.

Here I am, chiseling an Apsara at an interpretive station.

There are lovely views from the central towers in Angkor Wat. There are also shrines in each of the four directions. As the kings who ruled the area changed, the religious persuation of the temples occilated between Hindu and Buddhist. Therefore, most of the free-standing statues have been removed or vandalized. Luckily, this Hindu god has kept most of his arms.

Most of the original staircases have been closed or covered over with scaffolding; unlike this portion.

After 2 hours in Angkor Wat, we were ready to move on down the road… to Angkor Thom. (Which means Great City in Khmer.) These giant statues are playing tug of war with Vasuki the snake, as they churn the sea of milk.

Angkor Thom was founded by Angkors greatest king, Jayavarman VII , 800+ years ago. The most striking feature of Angkor Thom is the Bayon Temple at the center of the city. It is the place where earth and heaven join and it is decorated with 215 peacful, smiling faces.

It was hot as blazes by this time in the day, but those smiling faces kept me strolling for over an hour. These gentle faces are most likely the Bodhisattva Lokesvara, although some people think they are modeled after Jayvarman VII, himself. Either way- I could look at his serene face all day!

After soaking in the peaceful smiles of Bayon Temple, we headed to lunch to get out of the heat and rehydrate.

No, that is not us on an elephant on our way to lunch… we took a Tuk Tuk.

After lunch, slightly refreshed, we took on Baphuon.

P1040608It had an impressive raised walkway and children cooling off in the water.

Thoroughly exhausted, we headed back to the hostel for a nap!















Life List: Siem Reap

Angkor Wat has been on my 'must see' list since before I was 10. Growing up, I remember the colorful photos on the cover of G'ma's National Geographic alternating from 'boring' archeological digs to covers like this one-

Monks in saffron robes, the roots of jungle trees pulling down the walls of ancient cities. Who could resist dreaming about those leafy ruins?

Not me! I bought a ticket to Siem Reap on Bangkok Air and off I went! Since Bryan lives so close to the SkyTrain, I spent $3 getting to the airport instead of $27 to take a cab!

Siem Reap is small and very touristy. Everyone gets constantly harassed by Tuk Tuk drivers and 'massage therapists' – even if you wear this t-shirt.

I spent a day gathering information, maps & opinions and walking the neighborhood near my hostel The Welcommen. I had only stayed in Tokyo, Kyoto and Bangkok; all cosmopolitan cities compared to Siem Reap. This was the first time I saw street barbers and gas stations selling petrol out of Johnny Walker bottles. I crossed the river and followed the shade lined paths until I spotted this Wat, whose entrance is guarded by the 7 headed servant, Naga.

Apparently it was the monk's laundry day.

If you linger long enough at a temple, a monk will come to practice their English with you. “Where are you from? Is this your first time in Cambodia? How long will you stay?” This monk showed me this retention pond & asked if I wanted to go swimming…. No thanks. The second monk was listening to a teaching of the Dalai Lama on his MP3 player.

That afternoon, I rented a bike for $2 and rode the 5 miles to the entrance of Angkor Wat to buy my ticket. (Tip: If you buy your 3 day pass at 3:45pm the day before you can go into Angkor Wat for free that day from 4-5:30pm.) I rode up to the main temple just as the dark clouds rolled in over the entrance.

The dark skies added a bit of mystery to my first glimpse of these ancient ruins. The souveniers hawkers were selling $2 ponchos: it was a sound investment… Even though it didn't stop the deluge from filling my shoes with rain. Upon returning to the hostel, my 'drowned rat' appearance drew the sympathy of a pair of Guys from Toronto who invited me to tour Angkor Wat with them the next day. Early start tomorrow = early bedtime for me. Goodnight, Cambodia!