After visiting Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom on day 1, we took a few days off before returning to the role of part time explorers. Getting up early to climb temples all day in the Cambodian heat can be pretty tiring, so it’s nice to get a break. This is one of the reasons the 3 day (or 7 day) Angkor Pass is great, as it allows for visits on non-consecutive days. Fully rested, we headed back into the jungle.
We had good luck with the day we picked to visit the Angkor Temple complex for our second visit, as the sun was out and it was a beautiful day. Our first stop was Ta Prohm, which is a sprawling temple that is at least 700 years old. While the temple’s age is not unique, as all of the temples in the Angkor Temple complex are old, Ta Prohm’s age is emphasized by the multiple giant trees that have grown on and over the stone walls. Nothing highlights the ancient feel of a place quite like having a giant tree growing over it.
Showing up first thing in the morning meant that we had the temple mostly to ourselves, which was quite a contrast from the start of our first day. The sunny weather combined with the huge trees and lack of other tourists meant that we captured our best pictures at Ta Prohm. However, the relative lack of tourist density wasn’t going to last forever. Near the end of our exploring, a few tour buses showed up and began releasing dozens of other tourists into the site. These were likely people who managed to get to Angkor Wat for sunrise and then chose Ta Prohm for their second stop of the day. It wasn’t too bad though, as while Ta Prohm is popular, it’s nothing compared to the crowds that descend on Angkor Wat.
If you watch a lot of bad movies or have a crush on Angelina Jolie, you may recognize Ta Prohm from the Tomb Raider movie. I haven’t seen that one and didn’t realize the connection until our tuk tuk driver filled me in. Apparently that’s one of the main reasons that Ta Prohm is popular. Luckily, knowing a crappy movie was filmed there isn’t a prerequisite to enjoy the temple. In fact, of the dozen or so that we visited during our stay, I would choose Ta Prohm as my favorite.
Next we made a brief stop at the nearby Ta Keo temple. Normally, we would have climbed to the top for the view above the surrounding jungle, but this one was lacking the hand railing accompaniment to the very steep steps like at the Baphuon Temple. I was also not the most sure footed this day. I happened to take a wrong step while wearing flip flops at a local market a couple of days before and I took out a nice chunk of skin on my foot. This caused some swelling and pain, and I didn’t want to risk tumbling down those steep stairs with a misstep. Even without the view from the top, it was worth the short stop.
Our last stop on day 2 was the Banteay Kdei temple, which was really fun to explore. It had some similarities to Ta Prohm as it was also built wide instead of tall. Additionally, it has the same huge trees growing throughout the site and even on top of the stone temple walls. However, Banteay Kdei is not as well preserved as some of the other temples, with a number of crumbled walls and ceilings. I’d describe it as the poor man’s Ta Prohm.
The relative lack of preservation didn’t diminish my enjoyment though, as the dilapidated condition allows for more of an Indiana Jones experience. Climbing over these old rocks and searching through the nooks and crannies of the ancient ruins delivers the feeling of adventure. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that most of these temples had been overrun by the jungle and needed to be reclaimed from the massive tangle of trees and vines. Someone had to rediscover these temples. In another life, it could’ve been me.
As nice as the weather was for the second day of our visit, the third day just didn’t want to cooperate. The rain started early and never let up. Luckily, we only had light rain when we made our initial stop at the Preah Khan temple. This turned out to be the best stop of the day. Preah Khan is a sprawling site that allows for lots of fun exploration.
One highlight was an entrepreneurial worker offering to take our picture. This isn’t uncommon, as there are a lot of workers at these sites that don’t have much to do as they are watching after the temples. However, this one was a bit different. He had us pose near some large tree roots and took our picture. I thought that was the end of it, until he decided that we needed to walk over and pose near a wall too. He was pretty pushy about it. Then all of a sudden, this worker turned and quickly walked away with my phone through the temple maze. We hurriedly followed, until he stopped and had us pose again. And then one more time. After that last picture, I insisted he return my phone. But first, he had to scroll through all of the pictures he had taken of us and tell us how great they looked. “Beautiful. See?” *swipe* “Very nice.” *swipe* “You like, yeah?” *swipe* I think you get the idea. Then he hands me my phone, looks right at me, and asks “tip?” Ugh. Anyway, here’s what a dollar gets you these days at Preah Khan.
It didn’t take us long after we left the Preah Khan temple to stumble upon another adventure. Needing to use the restroom, we followed a sign across the street for the WC (water closet). However, this was not an official Angkor complex restroom, but a private enterprise. After paying our $.50 each, we were shown to a corrugated metal shack. Inside, you can probably guess what we found. Yes, it was a squatty hole “toilet”. It wasn’t the first one we’ve seen, but usually both the squatty and the sitty options are offered so you can pick the one you’re most comfortable with. Not in the private toilet shack though. On the plus side, we can now claim our official world traveler badges.
Next we stopped at the Neak Poan which is reached by following a raised walkway over some swampy ground. It was a small site with a shrine in the middle of a pond. It was very different from a lot of the other sites, but that’s about the best of it. It also started raining a bit harder here, so we didn’t stick around too long.
After the brief Neak Poan stop, we visited Ta Som. It felt similar to Banteay Kdei and Preah Khan, but on a smaller scale. That’s one of the issues with visiting temple sites for multiple days, as a lot of the sites can start to feel similar and blend together. Not that we didn’t enjoy ourselves, but there just wasn’t a whole lot that felt unique about it compared to the others. The rain probably dampened some of our enjoyment of it as well.
We ended our Angkor Temple complex visit at Pre Rup. This temple is tall and commanding in its space. It also has stairs crafted at a somewhat reasonable angle, which as I’ve learned, is a bit of a rarity in a 13th century temple building. The views of the surrounding area also would’ve been great on a clear day. But as it stands, this was not a clear day. We decided to end our visit after this, as we were wet and tired, but also satisfied with our 3 days.
I’ve wanted to visit Angkor Wat since I first saw a picture of those temple towers rising above the jungle. What I didn’t realize before I got here was just how vast and amazing the remainder of the Angkor Temple complex really is. There were so many interesting sites and features, it felt nearly limitless. It is truly one of the wonders of the world, and I’m very thankful to have been able to experience it.