Smack in between Ta Prohm and Sras Srang, Banteay Kdei is one of the more derelict temples in the Angkor region. Many stones lay around, and also, the stones forming the walkway are may not have been properly laid.
But this temple is a true temple of "As it is". This may have been how it was found. So it feels rather special to walk through the compound. It'll make you feel like the explorer that you have always wanted to be.
Traditional Khmer music feels the air as you walk out the east gate of Ta Prohm. It adds to the unique experience of visiting these traditional temples. The team of musicians dish out lovely sounds to entertain tourists and what they hope for in this impoverished nation, is a small donation to get them going.
These musicians are actually war veterans who have been handicapped by the insane fighting and the irresponsible use of mines.
What is special about Ta Prohm is that the temples and the trees come together as one. But what is truly unique is that along the walkway, there's a little statue carving that the roots did not grow through it, but around it.
Try to find that statue! ; )
Within the premises of Ta Prohm is a chest thumping location called Prasat Kuthrum. My guide told me that people with problems and are heavy hearted would stop by this building to thump their chest.
Firstly, one would have to have their backs to the wall. Then start thumping your chest and what you hear would be the unique reverberation. Loud but with surprisingly soothing sound.
Also, it was said that the complex was lined with many precious stones.
Well, you just have to try it out yourself.
Like other temples, the walls of Ta Prohm are adorned with various carvings - Devatas, Apsaras and Animals. One interesting animal, if you can find on the wall, is a carving of a stegosaur. With this, questions are abound. Were there stegosaurus during the time of the carving somewhere around the 12th and 13th century? Were there other animals that are thought to be extinct, still in existence today? Look out in your local dailies. The news might just come your way sooner rather than later.
Anyway, do ask your guide where you can find that carving.
There are so many temples to visit and many a times I do not recommend tour groups is because they would just ship you off from one destination to another. If you really want to experience the temple to the fullest, travel by yourself. Hire a guide if you think you want to hear more abou the temples. If not, a visitors' guide may be good enough.
But one other good thing when visiting the temple is to also look at the locals who lodge around the temple area. This little girl was moving along Ta Prohm and she looked so accustom to the place that it is not difficult to bring yourself back in time and thinking that this little girl came from that era.
As the western saying goes, "Take your time to smell the roses", and you will be able to immerse yourself, albeit superficially, to the Khmer culture.
The temple had been abandoned since the fall of the Khmer empire in the 15th century and was only discovered about 500 years later. This allowed the Spung trees and other destructive trees such as Stranglers Figs to over-run the entire complex.
As what one can see when visiting the castles of Scotland, moats prove to be very effective form of protection against the enemies. It slows down the progress of the intruders and make it difficult for them to enter the compounds of the area once the main doors are closed.
With the Khmer saying of "Where there's water, there's fish", I'd believe that this was also a place where the inhabitants can do their fishing.
Today, these moats have dried up and have been taken over by trees.
Originally known as Rajavihara, Ta Prohm is a must-see after Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. King Jayavarman VII built this temple as a dedication to his mother. This locale was used as a monestary and also a university.
In its heyday as listed in a Sanskrit inscription, the temple took about 80,000 people to maintain and it also came with priests and dancers. It is also said that the temple also housed many valuable items such as pearls, diamonds and precious stones.
These guys were rich!
So many hands went into building this temple, but none were able to put the finishing touches to it. It started with Jayavarman V, then continued under Jayaviravarman and finally Suryavarman I.
The temple known as the "mountain with the golden peaks", was built as a depiction of Mount Neru, home of the gods. It was also located near the East Baray, making it a pretty scenic sight in it's day.
It was said that with the death of Jayavarman V, the following kings did nothing much to the completion of the temple.
My guide has his own beliefs. He learnt that since the temple was the highest building in its time, lightning struck it three times and with that, the kings deemed this place as more than a curse than a place to seek good health and fortune.
Like the Mini Tour, the Grand Tour is a driving tour that takes you to several of the lesser known Angkorian ruins. Again, it is well-marked and all the drivers know the route intimately, dropping you off at one side of a site and picking you up at the other whenever possible. Not actually part of the Grand Tour but often visited in connection with it is the amazing site of Banteay Srei. One of the best preserved of all the ruins, it also is one of the most special, with intricate ornamentation second to none. Before commencing on the Grand Tour, which generally takes in Ta Som, Neak Pean, and Preah Khan, among other sites, have your driver take you to Banteay Srei. It is well worth the 30-kilometer drive from Angkor Wat.
If you hire a driver to show you around Angkor Wat, be sure to ask him to take you on the Mini Tour, a driving tour that takes in some of the lesser known nearby temples. If you are on your own, simply head north from Angkor Wat and follow the signs. In addition to Angkor Thum, the tour should include stops at Ta Keo, Ta Prohm, and Banteay Kdei, among others. Ta Prohm, a 12th century temple-monastery, is probably the highlight. Instead of being cleared and restored, it remains somewhat overgrown with trees, with roots and tree trunks intermingling with crumbling stones to make for a magical effect.
At sunset, Phnom Bekheng is heaving with tourists in a circus-like atmosphere similar to the one found at Angkor Wat at sunrise. Nevertheless, the commanding views of Angkor Wat and the surrounding countryside are enough to compensate. And the crowds are easily avoided by going up a few hours before sunset and coming down as the crowd builds.
I'm not sure what species of monkey inhabits the Angkor ruins, but they certainly are fun to watch. They look like they have mohawks, they love bananas (no surprise there), and they also seem to be fond of bicycle horns.
There is a Buddhist shrine inside the temple which still attracts local devotees.
Walk around the courtyard dotted with pink and fuschia portulacas which make a good contrast against the apsaras. This is the only temple we visited with such a pretty courtyard.