There are dozens of temples strewn throughout the countryside around Siem Reap. The most famous, of course, is Angkor Wat. The others are by no means less impressive. The fantastic thing is that even though I’ve spent two days going from temple to temple I did not feel templed out. Each one is different from the others.
The first day I rented out a bike and went alone. I wanted a day for myself and there was a lot of ground to cover. The bike was your standard issue single speed gray colored piece which prowl the streets of Beijing. The brakes barely worked and the handlebars were bent in at an uncomfortable angle, but it did have a nice basket on the front.
I rode around lazily all day, going from one temple to another. I was avoiding the main ones and instead concentrated on the smaller ones which dot the landscape. They were stunning. Some consisted of just a few towers arranged in a line. Others were shaky sandstone ruins which looked like they may collapse at any moment. Yet others where huge structures with large towers which at one time housed Buddhas or Hindu deities. Overall, it was a very good day and I got to see some of the countryside as well. The sun went down and I found myself at the far end of the loop I was making. A good 20km separated me from home and it got dark quickly. I pedaled through forest and dodged Chinese tour buses and tuk-tuk drivers, but in the end gave up and piled my bike and myself into a tuk-tuk for the last leg of the journey home.
The next day we all went as a group to visit the big temples. Angkor Wat was impressive, but in the context of everything else that surrounds it it did not stick out as prominently as I had imagined it. It surely was huge, but the crowds of people and the ongoing renovations and safety barriers made this visit less phenomenal than I had expected it.
On the other hand, the Banyon complex was a sight to behold. Large, imposing, and with 54 large columns it looked like a fortress from the outside. Each column has four giant serenely stern faces looking in four directions. Walking through the complex you always find yourself being watched by humongous stone heads.
In the end, everyone’s favorite was the jungle temple of Ta Thom. Known as the “Indiana Jones” temple, it is exactly as we had imagined it. A sprawling network of walls, buildings and corridors being invaded by huge tree roots. Piles of rubble and partially collapsed structures gave this temple a very eerie jungle feeling. It is like a prototypical jungle temple of everyone’s imagination. We decided to go with the spirit of adventure and took some staged photos of the adventures which one may encounter in a setting like this.
At the end, the plan was to climb a small hill on top of an elephant to watch the sunset. However, everyone else had the same idea and the place was very crowded. Instead, we just went back home and had a fantastic evening out on the town.