The “root temples” of Angkor

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Ta Prohm

With a better understanding of Angkor and our own preferences for touring (and tolerance for heat), we decided to do without Chantrea on our second day. Instead, we negotiated with Sawat, one of the cluster of tuk tuk drivers and their families who seemed permanently ensconced in a sort of open-air living room just across from our apartment building. [We used these tuk tuks almost exclusively during our stay, paying $2-3 to be driven to restaurants, stores, etc. Usually, we’d text them using the phone Roberto loaned us when we wanted to be picked up or arrange a time in advance. If that didn’t work, we used tuk tuks obtained by the restaurants to avoid the occasional price-change scam.]

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Across from the entrance to our building: Sawat (on the right) with one of the local children. The “outdoor living room” is behind the tuk tuk in the center right.

For $15, Sawat agreed to drive us and wait while we toured. We got a leisurely start with plans to see two of the famous “root temples” of Angkor, have lunch and return home. We assured Sawat that we had no desire to stay longer than 45 minutes in any one temple, an estimate that turned out to be perfect.

I’d been afraid we’d start off hot by choosing the tuk tuk over the air-conditioned car, but the ride out to the Angkor complex was surprisingly comfortable. The breeze created by the moving tuk tuk kept us comfortable and the smooth road and open view made the trip a bonus part of the day, rather than something to be endured.

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In Sawat’s tuk tuk (pronounced “tuke tuke” with the double-O sounding as in “tool”)

First up was Ta Prohm, the exotic and gorgeous temple used as a location for the “Tomb Raider” movie. Sawat dropped us off in front of a stone gate around which vendors and stalls clustered. A long dirt path stretched beyond the gate, under overhanging tree branches, to the temple. Unlike Angkor Wat, nature has gone a long way towards taking back Ta Prohm. Huge trees known as “spung”in the local Khmer language grow from the ruins, wrapping their roots around walls, doorways and carvings. The effect is unreal, like something straight out of a fantasy novel or an Indiana Jones film.

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We loved Ta Prohm, but we weren’t so crazy about the crowds–particularly large Chinese tour groups–that flocked to the well-known temple making it hard to see much less enjoy certain parts of Ta Prohm.

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Crowds in Ta Prohm

The temple is marked with a route that takes you to the right as you enter, so you’re stuck dodging the groups until you reach the back courtyard of the temple ruins. There, we were able to double back toward the front, making a U that took us down the opposite side of Ta Prohm from the marked route. Finally, we had some of the magnificent ruins to ourselves or mostly so.

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David, alone at last, with Ta Prohm (and me!)
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Ta Prohm

Walking back to meet Sawat, we arrived exactly 45 minutes after we’d left him. Perfect! I did some quick negotiating with the vendors who swarmed our tuk tuk, buying a light cotton pair of billowy pants with elasticized ankles and a t-shirt. The pants were to add to my collection of modest clothing, necessary for visiting many of the holy sights in southeast Asia. Knees, especially women’s knees, are a big concern. Skirts and pants that are easy to pull on over shorts come in very handy. (The t-shirt was more a function of an proffered two-fer during the bargaining process.) David ended up with a $1 refrigerator magnet he had no interest in, but the purchase sure made a little boy happy. It’s hard when you simply can’t buy from all of them, and you hate to just give them money when they’re working, not begging.

From Ta Prohm, Sawat took us to our next requested stop, little Ta Som. Ta Som is another root temple, much smaller than Ta Prohm, further out, and not as well known. Consequently, it’s not crowded either. We really enjoyed this pretty little temple although it’s in no way as spectacular as Ta Prohm…except for perhaps its rear gate which is almost eerily beautiful.

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Front gate of Ta Som
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Ta Som
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Rear gate of Ta Som

After Ta Som, we were ready for a late lunch. We asked Sawat for an air-conditioned restaurant inside the Angkor complex, more from lingering PTSD from the previous day’s heat than from any excessive heat we’d experienced on this outing. The day had been hot and humid, but more cloudy than the day before and more often in the shade. Sawat came through with Khmer Angkor Kitchen just across from one of the prettiest and widest stretches of the moat. The food was good and the air-conditioning so cold we were chilled by the time we left. The outdoor dining balcony which has ceiling fans and a pretty view over the moat probably would have been great, but we got our a/c.

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Tasty lunch: Fish amok in the coconut bowl (considered by many to be the Cambodian national dish) and green mango chicken salad

With our touring done for the day, Sawat drove us home past more temples that dot the Angkor complex. We were back at the Dragon Royal apartments in time to enjoy the rooftop pool before heading into town for dinner and an explore of the night market.

The bustle and noise of downtown Siem Reap convinced us instantly that we’d chosen well in our apartment’s location. Old pop songs from the 70’s blared from a bar across the street from our retaurant, Khmer Touch Cuisine. The restaurant had been written up in the NY Times, and the service was super-attentive, but we thought it only good, not great. The prices were a little high for Siem Reap, but still low by home standards. Afterwards, we wandered the night market. I broke down and bought a gorgeous heavy silk scarf in royal blue and green for $9 in the covered market before heading out to the street market where I finally tried a fish pedicure for a whopping $2. The hungry little things tickled my feet like crazy, but once I got past the urge to jerk my feet out, it was fun and funny.

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Fish “pedicure”

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