March 20, 2009


Next up on my to-do list was the massive area of Angkor Thom. Rather than a single temple like Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom was the site of a whole city, and includes temples, an area for mass audiences, the king’s palace and even a circus ground. I’d been dying to have an elephant ride, and what better place to do it? Perilously perched on the tiny seat, I then precariously swayed my way from the gates of Angkor Thom to the Bayon, its most famous temple.

Jayavaraman VII, who built most of the Angkorian temples, including Angkor Wat, constructed the Bayon as a cheekily self-referential temple. All around, large faces cast their gaze upon you, each beguiling smile just a bit different from the next. Although the faces, carved out of huge boulders and built one on top of the other, are supposed to represent a god, they (surprise, surprise) all look much like Jayavaraman himself.

Before returning to the hotel and P, I just had time to take in Ta Promh. Overgrown by the jungle and spectacular in its wild abandon, the asymmetry produced by stones shifting over the ages had a genuinely eerie effect.

But it wasn’t the temple, cloaked in dappled shadow, its crumbling towers and walls locked in an embrace of vast root systems, that had drawn the crowds to this most remote site. No, that prize must go to Lara Croft - Tomb Raider (http://www.tombraidermovie.comtombraidermovie/) recently filmed here. The raised decking and photogenic backdrops the magnet for all the historically-challenged wannabee Laras out there.

I watch in horror as entire groups re-enact Lara Croft running out from the ‘Lara Croft temple’. One at a time they sprint, leap and hurl themselves towards their tour guide - and his video camera. More like a stampede of Harrods clearance-sale shoppers than responsible travellers in, for my money, one of the seven man-made wonders of the world.

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