Blog Cambodia Siem Reap


In our last post we wrote about two of the more ornate temples from our visit to Siem Reap’s Angkor temple complex; the world-famous Angkor Wat, and lesser known but super-beautiful pink temple of Banteay Srei.

Both have been carefully restored following deterioration over the years, but now stand proud once-again; showcasing ridiculously beautiful examples of amazing ancient decorative carvings produced 900 and 1050 years ago respectively.

In this post, we are going to show you our two favourite (and in many ways slightly more primitive!) temples…

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The first temple we visited (no less than 3 times!), is Ta Prohm; most popularly known as the ‘Tomb Raider’ temple, being the where Angelina Jolie’s character, Lara Croft is lead through the ruins by a swarm of yellow butterflies… which happens to be the first thing that instantly made this temple more magical to us… yep, the butterflies actually exist!

Obviously, we don’t know if they were from the official cast of Tomb Raider or not (epic claim to fame!), but this is the only temple in the complex we saw them at, lending to the overall strange, ethereal feel of the place!

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The site is in much the same condition as it was found (though with the more recent inclusion of some structural supports and boundary fences for conservation purposes). The rainforest is simply given a gentle manicure to allow tourists to explore without the need for a machete…

Claimed very much by the nature that surrounds it, Ta Prohm stands in awesome contrast to Angkor Wat. If Angkor Wat exists as a reminder of the power and genius of the ancient Khmer people, then Ta Prohm serves to remind us of the fragility of empires, and the ever-present power of nature.

The temple was built in 1186 and was home to some 80,000 people at the time(!). It served as a Buddhist temple dedicated to the mother of Jayavarman VII (A pretty fancy gift for your mum tbh… I normally just plump for flowers).

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Nowadays, it’s an intrepid explorers delight – super easy to get lost in as you meander round narrow corridors, scale different levels and encounter a maze of closed courtyards.

Crumbling bricks and thick green lichen entice you down dead ends; nature surrounds you in creeping plants, beds of moss, and mighty trees that grow; roots intertwined with the heavy stone, from the towering roofs.

Each time we visited, we came across new areas, feeling like Indiana Jones, discovering new history each and every time.

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There are many famous spots dotted around the site that draw in millions of visitors each year, making it one of the most popular temples in the region.

First, and most popular is the ‘Tomb Raider Tree’, where in the film, Croft picks a jasmine flower before falling through the doorway into the fictional temple below.

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Another famous scene is that of the ‘Crocodile Tree’ – a huge tree whose roots strangle one of the halls.

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Our personal favourite however is the ‘stegosaurus’ relief. We won’t tell you where this bad boy is – half the fun is trying to find it! But when you find do, ask yourself this… Stegosaurus? Or buffalo with a palm behind it?… we know which theory we prefer! (The entry-way to Jurassic Park obvs.!)

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Our next temple is the iconic Bayon ‘heads’ temple. This was the official state temple of Jayavarman VII (The same guy who got his mumma a temple)… Here he went all out and built himself a cracker too!

And the main feature of this temple…. his own face! What a legend… the Kanye West of ancient Cambodia!

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A total of 216 massive smiling faces look down at you from 54 gothic towers at this temple, overlooking the carvings of another 11,000-odd figures that adorn the walls.

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The carvings on the first level depict normal every day scenes, the second tier depicts coffins being returned from the battlefield and the third tier, Jayavarman VII returning home on horseback followed by legions of concubines – a rockstar and his groupies!

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Having so many levels, it felt like walking through an Escher stair painting; every staircase we went down seemed to lead to another… but we never seemed to find the exit!

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After being attacked by monkeys in one of the quiet side courtyards and missing out on a great Buddhist monk photo because some guy was talking to me about my camera (Thanks, man!), we finally found the exit and left just as the heavens opened.

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So what do you make of these amazing temples? Have you ever considered building one and adorning it with massive carvings of your face? Of the temples we’ve shared, which is your favourite? – answer our questions / ask your own in the box below – you know you want to!

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Part one of two posts over three days spent exploring the mighty Angkor complex...