Tomb Raiding the Tree-strangled Temple – Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia Trip #4

November 28, 2008 at 6:46 pm | Posted in itchy backside | 16 Comments
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If you have watched Angelina Jolie’s 2001 Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, you would definitely remember the many scenes shot at the various temples at Angkor Wat. The most memorable one for me (and I think many others) must be the one with the many many gigantic trees around. It was only later when we were going to Cambodia that I knew it was called Ta Prohm.

To reach the temple, we had to walk a short distance into the forest, which made it seemed more secluded and undisturbed from the noisy road outside. The moment I saw it, I liked it instantly!

The entry point to Ta Prohm…looked so quite and cool in the forest…
The air felt fresher here too

Just when we were admiring around we felt raindrops falling…and the rain came very quickly! We took cover immediately but found ourselves still getting wet as the ancient temple had holes every here and there on the roof….:p It was a different feeling looking at the temple in the rain, with the brollies and raincoats adding some bright colours to it. Unfortunately it was very dark to take any photographs inside and the rain was too heavy to take pictures outside without getting the cameras wet. In the end, we found one big stone dry enough to sit down and wait for the rain to stop. Incidentally, from where we were seated, we could see a big tree outside through the door. When the rain got smaller, some tourists started to explore around and posed in front of the big tree. Then when they passed by our door, for some unknown reasons, many looked shocked when they saw two living persons sitting inside….haha…I had fun looking at their expressions while Tisu Boy tried to wipe dry his newly bought Angkor Wat book. It was getting late and we decided to start early the next day.

But suay leh, the next day the moment we reached Ta Prohm, it started to rain again! 😦 But good thing was the rain made it cooler and also lesser tourists around…hahah…

Covered with algae…

Looking out from the many windows…the details still well preserved…

So intricate…

Soon we began to see big tree around the temple structure…

A fig tree. Many structures were damaged and collapsed probably due to age…

Then with a turn around the corner, we saw this HUGE tree with gigantic roots ‘drooping’ down from the roof of the temple structure and continued to spread across the ground….:O

The huge Silk Cotton Tree. How did the building withstand the weight of the tree?

By now the rain had stopped and more tourists had ’emerged’ from their hiding corners. The big root became a hotspot for pictures!

Tourists queuing up to take pictures. We had to wait at least five minutes
for our turn…

More excitment followed as we found more big trees….

Another big and tall Silk Cotton Tree engulfing the whole building…

See how tiny and insignificant Tisu Girl was? We should really give
more respect to the work of Mother Nature!

Built in the late 12th to 13th century, the temple had been left in its ‘natural state’ as when it was rediscovered in the 19th century. With passing time and the help of its dispersal agents, mainly birds, the seeds grew gradually into tall trees as its roots intertwine the temple. I supposed in the process of the growth, it might have contributed to the collapse of certain parts of the temple, but ironically at the same time, it acted as a support for the weakened structure too. Hence, the two had form an inseparable union whereby if the trees were to be removed or died naturally, the whole structure would collapse too…

Holding onto the building with its strong roots…

The two Itchyfingers turning into Hercules and Zena…! Now you know
what was Tisu Boy doing on the masthead liao?

And another one! Great photo spot!

Restoration work in progress…the roots look like the body of a huge serpent…

On our first night we met two ang mohs at the road side stall during dinner (it didn’t give us tummy ache!) and they had been singing praises to Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm and kept telling us to explore the ‘secret spots’ that many people might have missed. So we took our time exploring every nooks and corners that we could find….

Another headless buddha

Luckily some escaped the hands of tomb raiders and were left almost intact…

Keep an eye for the small details around pillars and door frame!


Many parts needed reinforcement to prevent further collapse…

I think these used to be the library…visitors were advised not to attempt
climbing up cos it might cause further damage…

The marks left behind…

When we were shooting around this area, we could see fruits dropping from the tall trees and the sound was loud! Need to wear helmet here to prevent head injury…hahah!

Fruits littered the ground…

The smell from the overripe fruits weren’t too nice though..

So they were from this tall tree call Irvingia malayana. The common
names are wild mango, African mango or bush mango

Beautiful door


What were these people doing in the canvas shade?

I see. They were the ‘legalised national tomb raiders’! Archaeologists
doing excavation for study…:p

These broken pieces were numbered so that they could be put back
in the exact order later

I couldn’t remember exactly which trees were the ones shown in Tomb Raider though we were at Ta Prohm till our tummies reminded us it was lunch time. But we love Ta Prohm so much that we eventually went back for the third time on our second last day after our tethered balloon ride to see Angkor Wat. It was already the weekend and both Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm were swamped with human locusts! I think many must be in those three days over-the-weekend short tour trip. Luckily we came on weekdays so we could get most of our pictures without people around. I was still having tummy ache every now and then after the balloon ride, but went ahead to take a last look at Ta Prohm, hopefully to find more ‘secret spots’.

Sweeping at this quiet corner

We din manage to find anything else and my tummy was starting to play up against me again. I tried to bear with the pain and we decided to call it a day in another 15 minutes’ time. And we were so glad we din leave then cos somehow I think we took a different turn in one of the building and immediately I saw a familiar sight! The huge strangling fig tree! The same one in Tomb Raider! The one where Angelina Jolie picked a jasmine flower before falling through the soil…

I was so excited! But so were the at least or nearly hundred of tourists surrounding the tree! I heard tour guides and tourists saying that was the tree shown in Tomb Raider. 😀 Wow! Finally found it! So glad we stayed for 15minutes! My tummy ache was gone…:D

The fig tree had its roots intertwining the building…there were actually
many tourists around waiting for their chance to take picture…this was
one of those seconds where one finished and another was about to go
up to pose for pictures

Tisu Girl imagining herself in Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider suit taking
photo with the magnificient strangler fig…

Itchyfingers strongly recommends (more than) a visit to Ta Prohm, easily one of the most beautiful temples in Angkor despite its partly collapsed ruin state. You will definitely marvel at the wonderful work of both man and nature!

Also see related posts:
Steps, Steps and More Steps! – Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia Trip #3
> Walls of Art – Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia Trip #2
Up, Up and Away! – Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia Trip #1


Steps, Steps and More Steps! – Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia Trip #3

November 23, 2008 at 12:07 am | Posted in itchy backside | 3 Comments
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After spending quite some time looking at the various galleries of bas-reliefs, we decided to explore around the architecture itself. The place was so big with many corners that I lost Tisu Boy…and was wandering on my own looking around when suddenly out from nowhere, this guy appeared smiling at me and asked me to follow him to a ‘room’ to pay respect to a buddha statue inside. I hesitated as it was dark inside, except for the tiny flame from the burning joss sticks…and there was no one else around. It was around lunch time, and most tourists would have gone for lunch. He kept waving to me to go inside, and I thought it was kinda ‘compulsory’ to pay respect whenever you see a buddha statue wrapped with yellow cloth. So ok lor, I went in, and took the joss sticks from his hand and offered it to the stone statue. Immediately, he pointed to a tin container at the side and asked for donation money! “Lucky, lucky!” he said, pointing his fingers at me and then at the container. Oh, only then I knew it was a way to earn some money from ignorant tourists! Arrrgh! :O

From the galleries, we could see stupa…

This flight of stairs had ugly wooden planks…I thought it was because
the original stones ones were giving way so these were for reinforcement…

The ugly wooden stairs from far…

It was only when we walked around the compound that we realised that the original stone steps were actually quite steep, so those ugly wooden planks were there to make climbing up easier as they were made to a gentler slope…

Tisu Girl in front of the stone steps…

It might look ok on picture, but the steps were actually quite steep and narrow, and they were not in the best of condition…

This flight of stairs seemed to be in the best condition out of the rest…

Tisu Boy wanted to go up to check it out, as now we could see where the tourists were…up there! :p While I have no problems going up, I always have problems coming down…so I told him to go up while I explore around…Initially I was happy just staying put taking pictures, but then I met another local guy who appeared again from nowhere and asked if we needed a guide. I declined politely but he continued and said he was a director of some free school for poor children. After the first encounter earlier, I was more alert this time and suspected that he was attempting to seek some donation for his ‘school’. Before he could go on, I smiled and walked away to join Tisu Boy up the first ‘easier’ level of stairs up…Wait for me! :p

I was glad it wasn’t too tough a climb!

Weather beaten…

There were many many apsaras on the walls and pillars…

So many and beautiful….

Different expression and postures…

Different costumes and head gears…see how well preserved these are?

You could just spend your time looking and counting them! 😀

Notice none of them shows their teeth? I read later that there was
only one apsara that smiled and showed her teeth…too bad didn’t know
that earlier…if not could have look for her 😦

Maintenance and preservation work in progress

Then Tisu Boy said he wanted to go up the second level to take a look. But hor, this time I seriously hesitated liao! So steep!

Can you see how steep this is? No? :O

See Tisu Boy needed to use his hand to aid in climbing….and these
were the most well-maintained stairs on the second level…!

Side view of the steep and narrow steps…

This was what Tisu Boy saw from above…a scary-baby Tisu Girl staying
below taking picture… 😮

There were many other tourists sitting around watching others climbing up and down the stairs. So I wasn’t the only scary-babies around…:o Then I saw Tisu Boy coming down…

Aiyo! See the steps! So steep, narrow and irregular!

See how these people needed to hold on to the railings at the side?
Only this side of stairs had the railings…

Tisu Boy urged me to go up to take a took. “Come lah, must see, very nice!” So nice meh? I looked at the many people who climbed up and came down safely…ok lor, since I came all the way here, should really go up and take a look….So with the help of Tisu Boy, I climbed up that most well-maintained stairs gingerly, one step by one step…wow! Si bay steep!

Another tourist struggling up…I couldn’t even see the steps from the top…
unless I were to take another small step nearer to the edge….NO WAY!
So scary…!

The view was nice…you could see very far and then…er…what’s that yellow thing…?

From here you could see the balloon!

See how tiny the balloon was? We should have know that no way we
could expect to see Angkor Wat nice and big from the balloon!
(We took the balloon on our second last day at Angkor Wat…)

Many buddha statues were left headless….many were exported to richer
neighbouring countries for private collection or sold to museums overseas

The biggest tower of Angkor Wat…

We were impressed by the sheer size of Angkor Wat and especially the many beautiful carving and bas-reliefs that had survived through time that we din realised how long we had spent there. Hungry and thirsty, we wanted to get some food. But hor, what goes up must come down….Now, how do I go down???!! :O The steps were so steep and narrow and I always have this phobia of going down….:O

In the end, I went to ‘queue’ at that flight of stairs with the railings to go down. Tisu Boy had to go down first to show me how to do it properly – by facing towards the stairs and not the other way round. Many old ancient temples had these tall and steep stairs constructed so that people would have to face the stairs, head down when climbing up or down, to show that human are more humble than god. I had to plunge all my courage to take the first step down, hands holding onto the railings all the time and eyes only concentrating on the next step down. I dunnu how many steps there were…maybe around fifty? Or about slightly more than one storey high? Not very sure…but because it was so damn steep and narrow, it was seriously very tough to make every single step! I found myself holding dearly onto the thin metal railing, worrying that it might give way under all the weight of the people. There were people above and below me, but I couldn’t make it any faster….:O The steps seemed so far apart, even with the newer extra steps added on, I found my legs were somehow not long enough to extend down fully….not realising it was due to my nervousness that all my leg muscles had cramped up…:O  I dared not look down beyond the next step…”Are we almost there? How many more steps” I kept asking Tisu Boy, who was at the same time trying to grab on to my foot to make me feel safer. “Almost liao, almost liao…” Wow! Reminded me of the time when I went trekking in Nepal – whenever you asked the guide if we were reaching, they would always smile and answer, “Twenty more minutes only!” 😮

Finally, after dunnu how long, I saw the last few steps and the many smiling (or gloating?) faces of the tourists sitting comfortably at the bottom looking at the people climbing up and down…I had made it! I made it! :O

Tisu Girl surviving the ordeal…:O Come on, four more steps to go!

By now my face was covered with cold sweat, my thighs were stiff from muscle cramps and had difficulties walking…even my arms felt sore…but I tried to put up a strong front and gave an awkward smile to the people looking at me…:o The way down certainly felt like eternity…Aiya, it was really very steep leh…there were cases of people injured from falling and in fact, this railing was added after a tourist’s wife (French I think) fell and died here. He donated money to add this railing to prevent more tragedies from happening and thanks to him, more people are able to appreciate Angkor Wat safely.

Walk around the compound to look for the angle where you could see
all five towers together..can’t remember this was facing which direction though…

A sunrise or sunset at Angkor Wat is definitely worth waiting for!

Also see related posts:
> Walls of Art – Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia Trip #2
> Up, Up and Away! – Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia Trip #1

Walls of Art – Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia Trip #2

November 17, 2008 at 8:08 pm | Posted in itchy backside | Leave a comment
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We arrived at Siem Reap in the early morning, took a short rest after checking in before heading straight to the much anticipated UNESCO World Heritage Site. You would need to pay for passes for unlimited entries into the various temples. We paid for a one-week pass (US$60) as we wanted to take our own sweet time exploring the different temples. :p  Other kind of passes available were the day-pass (US$20) and the 3-day pass (US$40). Passport photos were needed for the 3-day and one-week pass so no one could borrow another person’s pass to save money for beer. :p Do not even attempt to sneak into the temples as guards were around to check passes and there’s a penalty of US$300 if you were to be caught…:O

It was a weekday morning but there were already many tourists. Around the perimeter, there were lotsa tuk-tuks, cars, tour buses, hawkers selling food and souvenirs as well as restaurants and eateries. Before coming to Angkor Wat, I read that there were many many bas-relief galleries, and it would take a long time to view all of them. Built in the early 12th century, it was one of the temples that faces the west. We had to cross this long causeway over the moat before entering the temple. Even though it was just the beginning, I already had one word to describe Angkor Wat – MAGNIFICIENT!

We followed the guidebooks’ recommendation of viewing the bas-relief galleries in an anti-clockwise direction. At approximately 600m long by 2m tall, they were indeed very impressive. Although there were many sections where the details were blurred but there were many others that survived the test of time and you could still see the intricate details of the facial expression, customes etc.

Bas-relieft depicting the Mahabharata, a Hindu epic

Elephants were used during wars…

At this point, I wondered how the artisans at that time came up with stunning and lively visuals like these? I was particularly impressed by those depicting fighting scenes. Did they have to sketch down the ideas first on papers before carving them on stones? How did they manage to transfer the ideas from paper to stone? And how did they assemble the stones together so perfectly? I wanted to go nearer to scrutinise them…but…:(

Do not touch! Now visitors had to stand behind these to view the bas-reliefs…
By the way, not too sure why were there rectangular holes on some of
the galleries…

I dun think I had seen these on guidebooks….but I think they had their reasons for preventing visitors from going too near to the artwork. After centuries of exposing to the elements as well as touches from curious visitors, one could clearly see the many shiny glossy spots on the reliefs…

See how some areas, especially those nearer to eye level and below,
were darker and shinier? All thanks to visitors’ itchy fingers….:p

Some of the bas-reliefs were more three-dimensional than others…could
it be due to age or just the difference in skill level of the artisans?

We were already so impressed by the scale and intricacy of the bas-relief galleries….try to imagine these galleries in their heydays….gosh…must be such a sight!

We were surprised to see this gallery depicting the Heaven and Hell cos it reminded us of our own Ten Courts of Hell at Haw Par Villa…It was divided into the upper and lower levels, where Heaven was obviously on the upper levels whereas Hell, the lower ones.

Procession of the great and good of Khmer society, carried on thrones
and palanquins, confidently to Heaven… 

King with subordinates and his people worshipping him…

Heaven was great. It was grand, but too orderly for my liking….hahah…so I prefer Hell…:D More action action….hahahah 8)

The two levels of Hell showed different torture scenes here…:p

Stepping, pulling, biting….all in Hell….

Not too sure what were they trying to do here though…dunu why when
it comes to torturing, people are always so creative…


Pulling by the nose….or maybe the tongue….ooouch…!

Banished as slaves in Hell…

One of the most famous and well-maintained galleries must have been the one called “Churning of the Sea of Milk”. Based on a Hindu mythology, the gods and asuras (demons) rotate the mountain for 1,000 years to churn the cosmic sea – the Sea of Milk (the elixir of immortality) – by pulling alternately on the body of the giant naga (multi-headed serpent) Vasuki, which is coiled around Mount Mandara.

Pull and pull….

I think this side is the asura…

This side should be the gods? Notice both sides had something ‘flying’
on top?

These are the beautiful apsaras – celestial dancers who entertain the gods.
See how Tisu Girl posed as one on our masthead? :p

In the middle was Vishnu – the protector and preserver.

A closeup of the details…

We spent quite some time looking and taking photos of the different galleries as well as the architecture of Angkor Wat. Every gallery had a little writeup as you entered to give an brief outline of stories depicted on the bas-reliefs (that’s why it’s important to view from the correct anti-clockwise direction). Many backpackers were also seen reading their guidebooks while viewing the galleries for a better understanding and appreciation of the work. I think even if you do not know the actual stories, the powerful visuals themselves are quite self-explanatory. But if you are cheapskates like Itchyfingers, you could also try to stretch out your ears longer to listen for any interesting stories behind the bas-reliefs whenever you see guided tour groups. The guides gave vivid and entertaining narration…but hor…provided if you know all the different languages they were speaking lor…:p

Also see related posts:
> Up, Up and Away! – Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia Trip #1
> The Gate is Opened! 

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