Angkor’s Ta Phrom Temple is strangled by ancient fig tree roots
This description from Trip Advisor pretty much sums it up: “Angkor Wat, in its beauty and state of preservation, is unrivaled. Its mightiness and magnificence bespeak a pomp and a luxury surpassing that of a Pharaoh or a Shah Jahan, an impressiveness greater than that of the Pyramids, an artistic distinctiveness as fine as that of the Taj Mahal.”
It was an experience like no other walking around stunning, ancient temples that are surrounded by a tropical forest in the Kingdom of Cambodia. My faithful travel friend, Laura, and I began our adventure with a short 50 minute flight from Saigon to the north central Cambodian town of Siem Reap, which is the gateway to the city of Angkor. In Siem Reap, we settled in at the lush La Résidence d’Angkor which is ideally situated for exploring these treasured ruins.
Usually when people say ‘Angkor Wat’ they often are referring to the gigantic 400 square kilometre complex of over a hundred temples which is actually the Angkor Archaelogical Park. Angkor Wat is the largest and most preserved of all the temples in the park. These ancient temples were built by the Khmer empire between AD 802 and 1432. At one time it is believed that the city had a population of over one million at a time when London only had 50,000! This Unesco World Heritage Site receives over two million visitors every year. Many of the temples have been pried apart by humongous banyan (fig) tree roots. Of course, Miss Paul Studios produced a short film to document this wondrous place:
The most famous temple is Angkor Wat and is seen very much as a symbol of Cambodia. It is even on the country’s flag. At 500 acres, it is the world’s largest religious building and is surrounded by an unbelievable 600 foot wide moat. Angkor Wat was built over the course of 40 years by Khmer King Suryavarman II. Engineers estimate that it would take 300 years today to construct such a huge monument. Construction was not completed because the king died. Surprisingly, when Frenchman Henri Mouhot discovered the complex in 1860, the jungle natives thought the temple had been built by gods or giants. The temple is renown for the Hindu stories carved into the walls. My favorites were the many Apsara celestial nymphs everywhere with all their different hair styles and adornments. Although built as an Hindu temple, Buddhist monks eventually claimed the site and still travel to the site today.
Our tour guide extraordinare, Mr. Prem Sophiap
And as impressed as I was with this ancient marvel, I was equally affected by the beautiful people of Cambodia. Our tour guide for the duration of our stay was the oh-so-knowledgeable Prem Sophiap. He arranged a personalized tour that could not have suited us better. In addition to temple tours, he had great suggestions for photo ops, dining and shopping. After one rainy temple visit, Sophiap pointed out a group of young boys having the time of their life in a rain swollen ditch:
Cambodia does not have child labor laws and many kids work at these temples selling souvenirs or begging. Be sure there is an adult somewhere nearby to collect their earnings. The average Cambodian adult makes $30 a month, so every time a child earns a dollar it is equal to their parent’s 12 hour work day. These children touched my heart, especially the young girls. I wanted to put them in my suitcase:
I did not appreciate the architectural achievement that is Angkor until my visit. I only wish I were better able to articulate and share with you how astonishing it was. Words, photos and videos can never do it justice. Saigon LOVE to all, Lisa