Lost in the temples of Angkor Cambodia

a man sitting in temple ruins

When I say lost, I don’t mean absorbed and enthralled in the breathtaking temple structures of Angkor. Although that is true, I hate to say it but were literally lost in the symmetrical temples and it was no longer funny as the sun set and it turned dark….

So this story will just be a short excerpt out from the whole story about our time in Cambodia which I will pen down in multiple posts. To give you a brief introduction, we bought a three-day pass to explore the temples of Angkor wat and Angkor Thom in Cambodia. On November 13 2017, the pass cost 62 $. It is a non refundable and non transferrable pass with your photo on it. On the third day we headed out to a remote temple which was off the usual tourist track.

Temple Entrance

We rode on our Honda scooter for about 30 mins from Angkor Thom to reach this temple. The scooter cost us 12$ a day after we haggled over the initial price of 15$. It is definitely worth it to have your own vehicle because unlike in hampi, India, here one can explore this mammoth archeological site with a private vehicle. It is cheaper than the rip off tuk tuk tours and one can efficiently use the 3 Days time to explore the remains of khmer empire. But riding in siem reap is in itself an adventure, if you have only little experience with riding a bike in asia then I would not advise you to rent a bike and ride in siem reap. It is not safe and I REALLY MEAN IT. I am from India and I have driven countless kilometers on Indian subcontinent and I felt, I was at home while riding in Siem reap, which is not a good thing for a rider with less experience. The Chaos can be overwhelming. So now if we go back to the original story where we left,  we were on our bikes for about 30 mins heading to a temple ruin we randomly found on the maps.  Now  to be honest with you I don’t remember either the name of the temple or the location. There are many temples and archaeological sites like these scattered all over Angkor. So we set off on our scooter after we dropped the pin as location towards this temple.

The Structures inside the temple were falling apart

The temple as one can see in the picture above is falling apart. There were only handful of people inside the massive temple complex. Out of the few tourists who were in the temple there were also couple of people from the archeological department of siem reap erecting support structures made out of wood, which were being placed under the walls and pillars in order to restore and reclaim the temple back from nature. It was a stark contrast to the heavily crowded temples in Angkor Thom, which are filled with loud tourists. Here it was peaceful, one of those places where you lose track of time. We just sat down and spoke nothing for a few minutes. Both of us were absorbed in the surreal things we were perceiving. I don’t remember having any thoughts going through my head in that moment. I was just there.

In this place the border between man made structure and nature isn’t distinct. The tree that you see in the picture below actually started out as a tiny plant on the top of the perimeter wall. As time passed , its search for soil and water made the roots shoot out to the bottom. Now it stands tall and bare displaying its strength, the roots now consuming the same pillars it once used as support to grow to its current extent.

Perimeter wall of the Temple

while we were in this trance marvelling the architecture, nature and the amazing symmetry with which the temple is built, it was already 5:30 pm and the sun slowly started to set. One quick glance at the clock and we were back in reality. It started getting dark and realized it is was high time to head towards the exit. The huge square shaped temple complex had 4 exits and because of the symmetry of the temple we had no clue whatsoever which section of temple we were in. We ended up taking the wrong exit. Although we immediately realized that, this isn’t the right exit, we decided to walk around the temple complex towards the exit where we parked our scooter. We took this decision because we found this particular exit with great difficulty after going through the maze like pathways and we didn’t want to head back in to the temple and get lost while we try to find the right exit. We thought walking around the square shaped temple complex is safer as it was getting dark and it will eventually lead us to the correct exit.

The temple is surrounded by a moat and we were walking on the edge of the forest. As it was almost dark there was an air of nervousness. the sounds of the forests were getting louder. we didn’t want to panic and tried to distract ourselves with some lame humor about what if we really get lost and can’t find the exits or our bike. Little did i know after walking for 10 mins we would hit a dead end. A wall of nature, thick dense forest. nowhere to go other than through the forest. My worst fear was slowly turning into a reality. The voices of locals were ringing in my head, when they warned us about not straying from designated paths as cambodia is infested with millions of landmines. Images of people we saw in siem reap walking on amputated legs were running through my head. This sent chills down my spine. I was genuinely scared for my life. As i looked down on the ground I could hardly see anything, it was already dark, in this moment we realized we were in deep trouble. we started sprinting back to enter the temple through the exit we discovered earlier. All we could do was hope that we don’t step on any landmine while we sprint back. I was quite literally scared to death.

By the time we reached the entry point into the temple complex, I was mentally prepared for a long sleepless night in the ruins of this temple. The only source of light we had to maneuver through the ruins and collapsing walls was the flashlight in our phones. After 20 mins of walking through the symmetric maze like pathways we somehow found our way back to the correct exit in the dark where our bike was parked. We set off on our bike in a flash only to realise that, we were being chased by some people who stopped us and started checking our belongings and passports.
They were the same people from earlier who were working for the archaeological department. As our bikes were still parked outside the temple despite the fact that it was already dark. They were waiting for us at the end of the street which leads to the temple, to check if were doing some illegal activity in the complex .They started going through the photo gallery on our phones to see if there was something suspicious captured on our phones. After they asked countless questions, we explained everything in detail, that we were really lost and we had no ill intentions. They took photos of our passports gave back our belongings and let us go.

After thirty minutes or so my heart resumed pumping blood at its normal rate as I tried to process what really just happened and we headed back to our hostel……
to be continued