Tomb Raider Movie Poster
The little I knew of the temples of Angkor was from the popular movie Tomb Raider, in which Angelina Jolie goes skulking through Cambodia in the search for the “Triangle of Light”, and of which I’ve only seen approximately 20 minutes. I’d switched the TV on for background noise while I was running around my tiny studio apartment, trying to find clothing appropriate for teaching kindergarteners about animals (my preferred method was to yell out an animal name and have the little guys act it out, then walk around and correct their interpretation: “a little more roar. Your lion sounds like it ate a canary”). Angelina Jolie was smart mouthing some colleagues, and I was instantly intrigued – I love watching daytime movies, and this one looked like a beauty. Alas, my tiny students were waiting and to this day, I’m not entirely sure what the triangle of light was, and why Lara Croft was searching for it.
Scenes from Tomb Raider had been running through my head since my friend Donna and I had arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The temples of Angkor are among the most spectacular in the world, inspiring and unforgettable, where thousands of people flock yearly to pay respect to their astounding beauty (according to our Lonely Planet, which we had come to consider a crucial text, akin to a space traveler’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”). We couldn’t wait. We’d already decided to hire a car and driver, as some of the temples are spaced widely apart, from our guesthouse. Hiring a car and driver cost us $20, which is standard. We’d also decided to hire a guide, which cost an extra $10. Having someone to explain the history of the temples and the surrounding area is amazing and well worth it, so if your budget isn’t too tight, splurge on a guide. Most guesthouse and hotel staff will be more than happy to help you arrange for this sort of thing, and if not, there are many storefronts along the main roads that advertise Angkor tours. It is also possible to approach a driver on the street and try to arrange something.
Sophorn Ke! Photo Courtesy of Donna K.
Our tour guide was a short, slender man from Penom Pehn named Sophorn Ke. He was our age, 25, soft spoken and extremely friendly. He was wonderful. Before we’d even arrived at the temples, he’d not only introduced us to our driver (a smiling, bright eyed man with a wonderful deep chuckle), he had given us 20 minutes worth of background information on the temples, including colorful stories about the Hindu and Buddhist gods we would see decorating the temples. As we drew closer to our first stop, Angkor Thom, we were drooling with anticipation, craning our necks to be the first to glimpse the temple amidst the trees. We had no idea what we were in store for!