This time he was actually where he said he was going to be. Lying on the backseat cushion of the tuk tuk half asleep with his hat over his eyes, not unexpected for the heat of the day had also made me a bit drowsy. Unfortunately I did not have the luxury of time as he did. ‘Ready to go’ I asked in a soothing voice that roused him from his stupor. He pulled his hat from his eyes and gave me a sidelong glance, ‘yes.’
No doubt, my last driver had been much better. He hadn’t spoken much English but he understood that keeping me happy was paramount. That understanding between us had earned him a good tip but this driver didn’t seem to care. I shrugged; a tip is earned not just given.
‘Let’s stop at Ta Krep for a few minutes,’ I said pointing at a map and gesturing to a place just outside Ankor Thom where we presently stood. As he nodded understanding I climbed in the back and stretched my legs out in front of me. Even though I had started this day later and gone slower energy was still being sapped from me at an enormous rate. Ankor Wat, Ankor Thom with Bayon and those five temples, now Ta Krep. It didn’t seem like that many temples but it was.
Ta Krep stood tall in the afternoon light. The steep stairs that led five flights, or rather six if you count the small temples on top, had been an interesting climb two days ago. ‘Though,’ I thought to myself with amusement, ‘not as interesting as yesterday’s temple mountain.’
…the previous day…
I stood with my back to the wind surveying the surrounding countryside. All around verdant green jungle palm trees waved in the unseen breeze. In front of me a slowly setting sun still shone bright high above the horizon outlining everything with sharp lines. Though the day was getting late and our star wasn’t burning as hot the air still shimmered in the ambient heat of the sun soaked stone.
Five grayish pink towers rose in the same pattern as on a die, a large monolith with a statue of Buddha sitting serenely in the dark with one smaller shell of stone guarding each of the four points. This all sat 4, or was it five, sets of stairs up on an expansive terrace. Each level constructed of the same stone and filled with the same ruddy earth that lined the roads.
An angry growl of thunder rolled across the land echoing back and forth, and then another. I turned around. Behind me had crept up a front of clouds, black as night and angry as a devil. Far out I could see the gray of rain approaching. I laughed.
The air began to roil and reeked of water. I could feel an electricity tear through me as the wind sucked and blew in breath-like spurts. All the tourists around me fled to the safety of their tuk tuks and taxis in fear of what was to come but still I stood.
I leaned against the temple, which had weathered many such storms, and wondered what these rocks had seen in the span of their existence in this structure. Oh the stories they could tell had they tongues to tell them with.
A drop, then two, three, four, rain began to fall. ‘Not yet,’ I said to the coming storm, ‘not yet.’
Wiping the sweat from my brow I looked around the top of the temple mountain, ‘yep, still the same as yesterday.’ Similar to the temples I had just seen, Ta Krep was a rough hewn piece of work that seemed unfinished compared to its brothers around the area. The stairs, now those had been a piece of work. More climbing than anything else it had been a bit harrowing to actually get up here.
The view was rather short and the statues sparse so after a few minutes of looking about and talking with the locals who made their perch at the top trying to sell one thing or another I clambered carefully down.
My tuk tuk driver was waiting where I left him. ‘Ta Prom’ I said in a weary voice. My body rejoiced in the knowledge that the end was near. Only two more temples…
Though I was weary of temples and tired of walking and ready to go home I would not exchange the experience I had at Ta Prom for anything in the world. The hour was getting late and the shadows getting long. By now most tourists had either gone home or made their way to Ankor Wat to try and catch the sunset. I, instead, was on the opposite end of the field of temples in the middle of the jungle almost completely by myself.
Ta Prom, even on a bad day, is stunning. When you think of a temple deep in the heart of a jungle Ta prom is what you are thinking of. Featured in Tomb Raider this temple took my breath away the first time I saw it but the second time…
Trees pushed carelessly through rocks that had been stacked upon one another for ages toppling them into meaningless piles. Moss grew where it will in neon green patches. Ancient towers stood about unused for uncounted years. Half collapsed corridors ran in straight lines from one building to another.
The silence was almost absolute as I perched myself about the stone.
You could feel the age here, lost deep within the heart of a jungle. ‘To have been the first one to discover this place…’ I let the thought cook in my head.
Above the birds began their harsh laugh-like call, as they will do in the evening. Flock upon flock descended into the surrounding trees adding to the cacophony. It was so different than it had been two mornings ago. ‘Like night and day…quite literally’, I laughed.
Suddenly a silence descended upon the place. Stones stood in stately composure as through the trees the soft melodic chant of monks began to flow freely.
I could feel the blood flowing through my veins, I could make out every smell wafting in the air, I could feel every sensation in my body, my senses were as clear as they have ever been. Heart beating a steady rhythm in my chest and with my eyes closed I felt myself brought to another time in this mysterious place.
Then with a start I realized it was over and the birds began their loud chorus once again.
‘Yes, this was Ankor Wat, this was the experience I had been looking for, a true taste of what is here.’ Three days of searching had finally paid off. The magic still wove its spell upon me as I made my way out.
‘Next temple?’ my driver asked. ‘No, back to Siem Reap,’ I said still in daze. To go to another temple in search of the same experience, to hope for something better, no, that was not a good idea. I had found my Ankor Wat and it was time to go home. ‘Yes, back to Siem Reap,’ I said to no one in particular as I sat back in the soft cushion of the tuk tuk.
So that was Ankor Wat…