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Mon Dec 12 2016: Alien Trees and The 200 Faces of Lokshvara

Mention the Khmer temple: "Ta Prohm" to anybody and they'll just stare back at you with no recognition.

Then say "the temple from Tomb Raider" and their eyes will light up, their heads will nod and they'll normally drop a comment about Angelina Jolie's body...

So we're visiting the Tomb Raider temple today. Or I should say, we're visiting the temple *VERY EARLY* this morning.

Just like the Internet told us to go to Angkor Wat for sunset, we read that the best time to go to Ta Prohm is first thing in the morning, to catch the sunrise over the temple, but also to beat the crowds. They recommended to arrive for the opening at 6AM, and then watch the sunrise half and hour later.

So we drove in the dark at 5:30 in the morning, no headlights because I keep forgetting to plug the fuse back in. Who knew we'd be doing so much night-time driving?!? Also... it's COLD at 5:30AM!

We arrive a few minutes before 6AM. The dirt parking lot is entirely empty. Awesome! We hate crowds.

It was hard to find the entrance because there wasn't anyone lining up. We walked around the whole temple. By the time we came back to the parking lot, it was after 6AM. Still nobody at the entrance?

The sun was starting to rise and we were standing around waiting all alone in the parking lot. Well, not entirely alone. A stray dog came over to visit us. He looked at us quizzically. "Yeah, I don't know what we're doing here so early, either..."

Around 6:45AM, a security guard drove up in a pick up truck. We asked him when the temple would open. He replied, "7:30AM".

DAMN YOU, INTERNET!!!!!! You owe me an hour and a half of sleep!

First one through the entrance of Ta Prohm. And just one other couple (we'll just call them Mr and Mrs Smith) who arrived at 7:30AM.
Obviously their Google-fu was better than mine...

The temples were interesting, but people visit Ta Prohm to see this: trees!

Or rather, they want to see the roots of these trees creep down into the stones of the temple

So photogenic and creepy! They look like alien ooze has dripped from an interstellar faucet above, cascading over the tops of the temples and then petrified over time.

Hm... that almost sounds like the plot of another Angelina Jolie movie...

Looking around for interesting things to take pictures of

So cool-looking!!!

The roots have clambered all over the temples walls, gaining purchase in the nooks and crannies in their thirsty march for nutrients, soil and water

The Khmer Empire fell in the 15th century and Ta Prohm was abandoned, left behind for the jungle to consume. Over time, these trees sunk their roots into the limestone to extract the moisture out of it, crawling all over the structures.

Today, there is scaffolding in place all around parts of Ta Prohm, as restoration work is ongoing to reclaim parts of the temple back from the greedy Ents. But they've left just enough of the tree roots to maintain the mysterious and atmospheric creepiness.

Hey, look who came in to join us! Our friend from (VERY EARLY) this morning!
We nicknamed him, "The Bone Collector"

Anywayz... back to the treez

I also found out that it's not one type of tree invading the temple. There are a few species that botanists have identified. I like the name of one of them: the Strangler Fig. That totally sounds like the title of an Angelina Jolie film. I'm going straight to IMDB to check...

The roots are so Maleficent-looking

Yes, we actually went inside the temple, instead of gawking at the trees. Neda is looking for a Tomb to Raid.

Inside, we find another alien covering the temple with its own ooze

Inside Ta Prohm's narrow passageways

Barriers have been set up to prevent people from climbing all over the tree roots. They're now just as important as the temple is.
Especially to the tourism industry!

I read that these trees are all decayed. I dunno, they look pretty alive to me...

The tree roots are everywhere. They pop up out of the ground in between the stone tiles. I was just thinking to myself, if you weren't looking down, you could trip over one.

And just then, I see Neda stumble ahead of me. She immediately grabs her right ankle and cries out in pain: "OW OW OW OW!!"

She hops over to a bench and we sit down to survey the damage. She reassures me that it's just a light sprain, but on the walk back to the bikes, she's visibly limping.

I hope that she'll be okay to ride. Thailand is demanding that we return in just 12 days (tick-tock)!

I felt horrible for Neda. We probably weren't going to be doing any hiking for a while, either... Hmm, is it a bad thing that I went straight there...?

It's funny (funny peculiar, not funny haha) that on this trip, she's injured herself so many times, just not while on the motorcycle: She's sliced open a tendon in her finger while using a can opener. She's slipped a disc in her back playing beach volleyball. I wonder if I should mention that she had to give up playing Candy Crush because she developed Carpal Tunnel Syndrome...?

Girl, Interrupted her game-play by bad wrists...

Our bikes, right where we left them, alone in the parking lot with no other cars around...

We spent over an hour at Ta Prohm, and only a few other tourists came in. Everyone else slept in! Or their Internet told them to come later on during the day!

So here we were, still early enough in the morning not to be stinking hot. We were originally going to do the third temple, Bayon, the next day. But since we were here anyway, we rode over. It was only 5 minutes away by bike.

On the way to Bayon, we saw this

From our education at the Elephant Sanctuary, we now know that it's bad for the animal to carry people on its back like that. Poor guy... :(

More free parking for our motorcycles. And we have shade too!

Inside Bayon temple

The name of the temple is a mispronunciation of "Banyon", a type of fig tree that takes root in the cracks and crevices of other trees or stones. It's also called a "strangler fig"...

Ah ha!

But there are no Angelina-Jolie-alien-ooze-movie-props here. If Ta Prohm is known for trees, then Bayon is known for:


The upper terrace of Bayon is home to the "200 Faces of Lokeshvara". Lokeshvara was a bodhisattva, someone who has attained Buddhahood. Bodhisattvas are a popular subject in Buddhist art. I guess they are kind of like the Saints in Catholicism.

Also, is it me, or is the word, "Buddhahood" one of the funniest words you can say out loud?

There are lots of these giant stone towers on the upper terrace, containing two, three or more often, four faces - one on each side of the tower

There are over 200 smiling Lokeshvaras carved into the 37 towers up here. There might have been more stone towers (maybe up to 49 of them), but some of them have eroded and crumbled away over time.

Although the faces are supposed to be of Loeshvara, some people think it bears closer resemblance to the king of the time, Jayavarman VII

Kickin' it in da Buddhahood

Another smiling face in the temple. Looking up at the Khmer stone faces, both in real life and on the blog page!

A shrine set up inside Bayon

Riding away from Bayon

Saying farewell to the Angkor Watt complex

I asked Neda what she thought of Angkor Wat. She replied, "You know the temples are amazing, but what made it special was that we were riding around them on our motorcycles!"

Totally agree! What fun!

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