On this day I saw ancient, crumbling temples, the Hall of Dancers, and a dinosaur.
Angkor Wat Temple
My favorite part of Angkor Wat temple was seeing the interior hallways of columns and carvings.
After the sunrise we headed into the temple to walk on the top floor of the structure. The views were amazing from the top! We could see out along the complex and the jungle surrounding it. Once inside, you get to see more ancient carvings, altars, and architecture. Our guide was so knowledgeable and was able to interpret a lot of the carving’s meanings for us.
It’s amazing how ancient artwork can still convey an ancient story to the modern human. The artwork may be from a long gone hand, but that person’s voice can still be heard across the centuries.
It turns out our guide was secretly a talented photographer. He got shots of us over the two days I NEVER would’ve known/thought to get. Thanks to him we have so many awesome photos of us exploring the temples.
Ta Nei Temple
Next up was Ta Nei Temple. This was located off-road and deeper in the jungle. It’s hard to pick a favorite temple, but this may have been my favorite. Walking around this temple was different from the rest because it felt more secluded and untouched being so deep in the jungle. I felt like I was on the set of an Indiana Jones movie.
The stones were green with moss; bright green, teal, and blue-green colors against black and red stones. Some of the doorways were completely blocked by fallen bricks and you couldn’t walk through them. If you walked into one of the doorways that had a covered roof you would be the only tourist in there – but not necessarily alone. Each one served as a home for a family of squealing bats. You can guess I didn’t stay too long in those rooms.
The Hall Of Dancers
Throughout the day we saw images of dancers at the temples of Ta Prohm, Preah Khan and Bayon. We learned that when these images were seen on the walls it was believed the space was used as a Hall of Dancers. The Khmer dancers were called, apsaras or “heavenly dancers.” These dancers were seen as sacred people and would perform for religious ceremonies in the temple’s dancing hall. The dancers were seen as living bridges between heaven and earth.
During the Cambodian Genocide (1975-1979) that was carried out by the Khmer Rouge Regime, the regime targeted intellectuals and artists. If you wore glasses, spoke more than one language, had light skin, or knew about ancient Khmer traditions – such as traditional Khmer dance – you were executed. Your intelligence represented an elitism that was frowned upon by the Khmer Rouge. Your light skin meant you didn’t have to work outside, further “proving” your privilege. The Khmer Rouge wanted to erase all traditions and essentially “reset” the culture, wiping out any memory of ancient Khmer culture.
A third of Cambodia’s population was killed off in four years. Within this third, 90% of Khmer dancers were killed. 9 out of every 10 dancers were killed.
Only a few dancers survived, and with them the ancient dance traditions survived too. One dancer, Chea Samy, was able to hide her dancer status. When the war was over she taught new generations about these almost lost dance traditions. Can you imagine how close to extinction this art form was?
If you’re interested to learn more on this, I recommend watching this Ted Talk from Prumsodun Ok — founder of Cambodia’s first all-male and gay-identified dance company. He talks in depth about the dancing tradition and how it was almost lost forever.
Ta Prohm Temple
Ta Prohm temple is where they filmed the Tomb Raider movie starring Angelina Jolie. While filming this movie on location it is said Jolie fell in love with Cambodia and began her life long philanthropic and human rights causes she leads in Cambodia. She also adopted her first child while visiting a Cambodian orphanage. Paul and I watched Angelina Jolie’s movie she directed about the Cambodian Genocide, “First They Killed My Father.” It’s not an easy movie to watch but I felt it was historically accurate and helped both of us learn more about the genocide. The movie is based on a memoir of the same title.
The Ta Prohm temple is the most popular/crowded temple you will see. It’s important to go at an “off” time so you can see this temple in all it’s glory. I’d say go when people are (1)eating lunch, (2)really early, or (3)really late in the day.
Your guide will most likely point out a “mysterious dinosaur” to you. It’s a carving that looks exactly like a Stegosaurus. There are a lot of theories on this carving. Is it a hoax? Is it inspired by the ancient carvers digging up a fossil of a dinosaur? Was it not meant to look like a dinosaur? Personally, I think this was based on a fossil someone found of a dinosaur. They had to have found ancient fossils when digging around in the jungle building their temples, right?
The reason this temple is so cool is for its iconic photography shots: An ancient buddha statue’s face peeping out from a strangler tree.
Thousand of years old trees growing up from the roof of the temple, that have wrapped their roots around the ruins so nature and architecture are one. Every corner of this temple is an opportunity for “the perfect shot.” If you’re a photographer you need to get to this place ASAP!!!
Experiencing Angkor Wat and the rest of the temples in this complex was one of the most memorable and spiritual things we did during our trip around the world. It’s a place like no other.
Temples and sites we saw on Day 2:
- Angkor Wat (one of the largest religious monuments in the world, built in only 35 years)
- Ta Prohm (the temple featured in the Tomb Raider movie starring Angelina Jolie)
- Ta Nei (located off-road, deep in jungle, quiet and peaceful)
- Ta Keo
- Banteay Kdei (In 2002 the Japanese Archeologists rediscovered 274 Buddhas in the pit)
- South Gate of Angkor Thom (the big walled city to be built by Buddhist King Jayavarman VII)
- Bayon (the state temple and temple mountain of Buddhist King, located exactly at the middle of Angkor Thom)
- Baphuon (the tallest pyramidal temple that was closed 27 years for restoration by the French)
- Wall of Royal Palace
- Elephant and Leper King Terraces
- Chao Say Tevoda & Thommanon