tomb raider

ta prohm entrance

If these images of Ta Prohm look remotely familiar, it’s likely because of Angelia Jolie – the Angkor temple was used as a setting in the film Tomb Raider. Unlike most of the Angkor temples Ta Prohm has been left much as it was found: a photogenic combination of strangler ficus soaring out of the ruins and spung tree roots dripping like so much candle wax. It’s not yet part of the jungle, but the atmosphere sure suggests it’s merging.

ta prohm tomb raider

ta prohm panorama

ta prohm banyan roots

ta prohm detail


the great city

angkor thom

Though Angkor Wat is the largest of the Angkor temples, 12th century Angkor Thom is the most dramatic. Covering close to 4 square miles, Angkor Thom – literal translation: the Great City – was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire. Encircled by 25-foot tall walls and flanked by a moat, there are gates at each of the four cardinal points, from which roads lead to the striking Bayon temple at the center of the city.

angkor thom - bayon temple

angkor thom  - prasat chrung

angkor thom - gate


three monks alighting on a temple

three monks


more angkor

entrance to angkor

More than just temple ruins, Angkor is in fact an entire region of Cambodia, which served as the seat of the Khmer Empire. Flourishing from the 9th to 15th centuries it was the largest preindustrial city in the world, with an elaborate infrastructure connecting a sprawl of almost 400 square miles to the well-known temples at its core. Those temples, buried amid forests and farmlands, number over a thousand – from piles of brick rubble unearthed in rice paddies to the magnificently restored Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. Followers of this blog will note the similarities Angkor Wat shares in design – if not scale – with Wat Chaiwatthanaram in Ayutthaya. Both follow the basic plans of Khmer architecture: a temple mountain (“Mount Meru”) bounded by raised rectangular galleries, all within a moat and an outer wall – and all richly ornamented with decorative elements and statuary. Built in the first half of the 12th century, Angkor Wat is even more unusual in that although the site was neglected it has never been completely abandoned, remaining a significant religious centre through Hindu then Buddhist kingdoms, colonialism, and civil war – its preservation abetted by the expansive moat which kept the encroaching jungle at bay.

angkor wat

angkor courtyard

angkor wat - interior panorama

angkor way 4

apsara dancer detail


the ethereal allure of wat chaiwatthanaram

Compromised by the severe flooding which affected Thailand last year, the temple of Wat Chaiwatthanaram remains closed to the public but the grounds are open and the complex is easily visible behind a surround of caution tape. Constructed in 1630 by King Prasat Thong as a memorial to his mother, the composition of the temple layout is interesting in that it reflects the Buddhist cosmology: the large Prang that stands in the centre symbolizes Mount Meru, the central axis of the universe, surrounded by concentric rings of seven cosmic oceans and seven mountains. At the four corners of the universe are the four continents (the four smaller Prangs) where human beings live. Despite, or possibly because of, the limited access, I found Wat Chaiwatthanaram to be the most striking of all the temples in Ayutthaya. The grass, untrammeled, has grown in dense and lustrous. This luminescent lake of green makes an ethereal contrast to the red bricks of the Khmer-style structures, creating just the right mood for contemplating life, the universe, and everything.


fly over: wat phra sri sanphet

Three main stupas – which once contained ashes of the Kings Boroma-Tri-Loka-Nat, Boroma-Rachathirat III and Ramathibodi II – and a scattering of ruins are all that remain of Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, a temple inside the grounds of the former royal palace at Ayutthaya which once served as the family’s private chapel. By chance I happened to catch a plane flying overhead.


wipe your wheels & take off your shoes



stepping steeply up wat arun



man mo temple

Hong Kong’s magnificent Man Mo Temple is among the oldest and most well-known temples in the territory; built in 1848, during the early years of British rule. Though it’s been rebuilt a number of times, much of the original structure still remains. During the 1900s, it is said that locals came here to solve disputes that could not be solved by British law. The process of finding an equitable solution involved the legal system of the Qing Dynasty, which stated that both plaintiff and defendant should make a promise in the temple and write it – along with a curse or punishment – on a piece of yellow paper. They then killed a chicken, chopped off its head, let its blood drip onto the paper, and burned the paper. It was believed that because the promise was made before the gods, if the individual broke the promise they would suffer the indicated punishment. Many Chinese preferred this justice system to the British system. While the temple is no longer used for settling disputes, believers come here for a number of other reasons. Devotees burn huge bell-shaped coils of incense that hang from the temple’s ceiling in hopes of attracting the attention of the gods. Some also believe the incense is food for the “spirits” that have gone before.



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