Throughout the turnover of centuries of civilisations, wars, kings and emperors, the temples of Angkor remain engraved in the Jungles of Cambodia. Even Pol Pot and his cruel Khmer Rouge Army recognised the sacredness of this national heritage site and kept it intact during their ruthless attack on the country.
Today, millions from all over the world visit the Angkor temples, leaving little space for the adventurous heart to experience the temples in silence and to enjoy getting lost in a timeless zone of nature and ruins.
Find the forgotten temples
When we visited the Angkor temples in Siem Reap, we had one goal and one goal only: To find the forgotten temples, the ones that nobody goes to, where you can walk between the ruins with only the sound of crickets in the background. We were less interested in watching the sunrise from Angkor Wat or seeing Ta Prohm where Tomb Raider was filmed, than driving along small allies of jungle roads leading to unnamed pieces of history.
Get your own bike
We knew that hiring a Tuktuk for the whole day wouldn’t make the cut so we decided to get our own bike as it is the best way of exploring the temples with total freedom of time, pace and road selection. We didn’t want to play by the book, following the same circuit, big or small, as everybody else. We wanted random, raw and remote. With perseverance, we overcame muddy dead ends and inevitable disappointments, before landing at some precious gems such as Chan Ta Uon where we sat alone in the shadows of its ancient walls, contemplating the farmers working the earth, rejoicing from the scene of pure and authentic culture.
Drive that extra mile
Although most of the 89 temples of Angkor are concentrated in one main area, some of them are quite off-track and far. We made the right choice of driving that extra mile as we stumbled upon Banteay Kdei . With four identical entrances it is hard not to get lost in this beautiful maze-like temple. And before we even realised, we were roaming a dark hall pierced by beams of sunlight, bats flying over our heads and a Buddhist monk meditating in a corner, waiting for us to join him in prayer before he wrapped strings of luck around our wrists. We escaped the tunnel through a small window, climbed over fallen stones and here it was, with its roots tangling between the ruins, a giant tree, the perfect symbol of nature’s claim over the work of men.
Lose the crowd
Some temples like Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat are still worth the visit even though they’d be cramped with people. But what if I tell you, that you can lose the crowd and enjoy them all for yourself? – Well almost. It is all a matter of time and direction.
At noon, when most people head for lunch, the temples become free of the noises of clicking cameras, free of the voices of countless tourist guides reciting the history behind each sculpture, basically free of any noise pollution.
Also, going the opposite way of everyone else can be very handy. We noticed that visitors tend to follow a similar path, stopping in the same spots, posing next to the same tree… Applying a simple change to our trajectory, such as tackling the exit first, made a huge difference.
All in all,
There is always something new to discover, even in the most touristic places. While guidebooks are very informative, sometimes it is better to leave them behind and opt for a more adventurous option. Getting lost in the Angkor temple was no easy job for us but we managed to live very special moments, unique to our experience and that we will cherish for the rest of our lives.