As I perch on a single piece of temple stone that seems lonely for the wall it was once a part of, its fellows carted away long ago by ancient Khmer villagers, I sense the forest around me—moist, strong, and distinctly alive. I swear I can see the forest slowly encroaching before my eyes, ready to take back and crumble every man-laid stone in it’s domain. It is just past dawn, but soon the ruin of the Ta Prohm temple complex will be overrun with tourists, scrambling over the jumbles of stones to set up tripods, exclaiming at the aggressive tree roots that are growing through entire buildings like gigantic octopus tentacles, and generally disturbing the peace and quiet. For now, it is just me, breathing in the fecund smell of earth and the dusty smell of ancient crumbling stone, and—let’s be honest—indulging in my own Tomb Raider fantasy.
Cambodia is my favorite experience. Ever. I love the journey of exploration that is awaiting at Angkor Archaelogical Park, where you can satisfy your inner Lara Croft or get your Indie on. Angkor Wat, the most famous of the temples, is actually just one wat of hundreds ready for exploring just outside the village of Siem Reap. The sheer magnitude and majesty of the park is unbelievable! It covers more than 400 square miles–that’s larger than New York City! Add incredible sunsets and new discoveries around every corridor, and you have the perfect recipe for a highly romantic and mystical destination.
Another key draw of Siem Reap is its insane affordability. The food and lodging are simultaneously quality and cheap. A decent meal costs $4 while a clean room costs about $12 per night. And oh how I love the spirit of the Khmer people! It is especially touching to me, given the legacy of land mines and genocide and the pervasive government corruption they are currently forced with overcoming. Plus, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen how Cambodia does mopeds. One moped? Family of five? No problem! The pure inventiveness of how Cambodians stack, tie, and balance a dozen baskets of live chickens, 15 rolled mattresses, or even 3 huge hogs on the back of a single teeny moped just blows my mind. It is a testament to the sheer determination of the Cambodian people.
This picture of the Angkor Thom gate is fuzzy, but if you look closely, there are two pigs on the back of that moped!
Angkor Wat is the most famous of the Angkor temples.
Bullet holes, sober reminders of violence spent, @ Angkor Wat
Intricate carvings adorn every surface, like this one at Angkor Wat depicting war
I found what’s at the end of the rainbow! @ the Bayon
The Bayon originally had 196 Buddha heads carved into its 49 towers.
Waiting for sunset on top of Phnom Bakeng, the best place to catch a spectacular color display
Monkin’ around @ Phnom Bakeng
Greeting the sun @ Srah Srang, the meditation place of Khmer kings
Nature will overcome @ Ta Promh
Not a tourist in sight @ Ta Prohm
The view made famous by Tomb Raider @ Ta Prohm
Exploring the rubble @ Ta Prohm
A quiet lunch at Preah Pithu
Sanscrit @ Prasat Kravan
Angkor Thom gate, the gate to the royal city
The Elephant Trunk @ Preah Khan, the Temple of the Swords
Fine detail @ Preah Khan
The pink sandstone at Bantrey Srei, known as the lady temple, retained its intricate and delicate carvings better than others, giving us a glimpse into how detailed all the temples must have been decorated at one time.
The Lotus is the sacred flower of Cambodia that has been associated with prayer for both Buddhism and Hinduism since ancient times.