Tomb-Raiding Angkor


“Soaring skywards and surrounded by a moat that would make its European Castle counterparts blush, Angkor Wat is one of the most inspired and spectacular monuments ever conceived by the human mind.” ~Lonely Planet

You can look at all the pictures of what is often called the 8th Wonder of the World you want. But NOTHING compares to visiting Cambodia and seeing the expansively moving temples in person. Even Lara Croft can’t resist their charms.

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, rear entry of Angkor Wat WM

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, admiring the gallery of carvings WMCambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, Buddha in the central tower WMAngkor (អង្គរ or នគរ, “Capital City”), as a preserve and park, is more than one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia; it’s one of the most important in the world. Stretching over a massive region just outside of the city of Siem Reap, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent ruins of many different ancient capitals of the Khmer Empire from the 9th through the 15th centuries. As such, Angkor has been designated as a UNESCO world heritage site since 1992, and many programs have been emplaced to help safeguard this symbolic place along with much of its surroundings. While, yes, of course Angkor Wat is the most famous and perhaps best known, there are many, many more temple ruins that, in many ways, are even more fascinating than the prime tourist draw.

Lara Croft's door at the Tomb Raider Temple.  Ugh.

Lara Croft’s door at the Tomb Raider Temple. Ugh.

Cambodia 2015, Ta Prohm, ruined tree 2 WMBut please, for the love of god, don’t bring up Tomb Raider or what has become to be known as the “Angelina Jolie Temple.” Oh, right: too late. Our guide was only too happy to refer to the 12th century temple of Ta Prohm in just that way. I’ll admit, not being either a Tomb Raider or Angelina Jolie fan, I was almost completely unaware that filming had occurred there in 2000. But locals don’t suffer from such a lapse; they’ve renamed the temple from the scene above after her.

The Majesty of Ta Prohm

The Majesty of Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm, along with the more familiar Angkor Wat both served as the setting for a long sequence of scenes in Tomb Raider. Okay, okay, I admit that we did rent and watch Tomb Raider when we got home from our trip, and although I kept falling asleep during most of the flick (not a fan, ‘member?), the scenes involving Angkor were curious and noteworthy.

lara-croft-ta-prohm1

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

For the movie, sets were built around Angkor Wat, providing more of a nondescript Oriental feel than that of Khmer. An exotically bucolic village was built around the and on stilts in the waters of the reflecting pond in front of the iconic temple. The scenes of Lara Croft paddling a canoe through the village are idyllic, but it’s the scenes of Lara following a sassy child and magical butterflies through Ta Prohm that have stolen the imagination for modern-day visitors to that site.

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, tower through the trees WM

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, admiring the galleries WMCambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, carved corridors WMThe ruins of Angkor are located amid dense rain forests and fertile farmland to the north of Tonlé Sap lake near modern-day Siem Reap city. The temples found there number over a thousand, although many are barely recognizable piles of rubble or as yet unearthed mounds still relatively lost in the jungle. Angkor Wat, the centerpiece and pride of the capacious complex, is described as the world’s largest religious monument. The place can be so spiritually moving to experience that almost two million visit annually, a unstainable number given the soft sandstone that those four million feet are trampling upon.

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, arriving at Angkor Wat! 2 WM

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, restful doorjam WMCambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, shooting in a corridor WMOur guide was crafty about visiting the various temple sites. Saving Angkor Wat for almost last (that last visit will be featured in its own blog!), we entered from the rear of the temple, almost entirely alone, with blue skies beaming over the steep ruins with the sun in our faces. Having been there previously in 2007 (see Power in Poverty for more on that particular Far East Fling), I had expected the “usual” entrance, walking the long King’s causeway to the main temple entrance. However, that route is what everyone else takes, and can be quite chaotic. We literally had the temple much to ourselves for the first half of our tour there.

Cambodia 2015,  Angkor Wat, candlesticks 2 WM

Ruins at Angkor

Ruins at Angkor

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, carved ceremonial headdress WMIn the last decade international team of scientists and archeologists concluded that Angkor had been the largest pre-industrial city in the world approaching an area of 390 square miles of ancient urban sprawl, a figure of which any modern metropolis would be infamously proud. Angkor is perhaps best characterized as a “hydraulic city” due to its extensive water management construction and engineering which systematically stabilized, stored, and dispersed water throughout the area, key to sustaining such a large population by using irrigated agriculture. It is believed by some that the complex supported up to one million people, although the actual number is hotly debated and most likely will never be known with any degree of certainty.

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, carved hands WM

Visiting Restrictions

Visiting Restrictions

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, carved hands WMThe temple was much as I remembered, except there were many more visitors to Angkor than I experience eight years previous. The biggest change was the control exercised by park officials in controlling not only the number of guests allowed at any time in the highest central tower, but the enforcement of a respectable dress code, which required women to have skirts/dresses below their knees and their shoulders covered.

Library at Angkor Wat

Library at Angkor Wat

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, khmer female carved in stone WMCambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, temple tower 2 WMAngkor Wat was originally founded as a Hindu temple (Wat is Khmer for “temple grounds” or literally “enclosure”), but gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple toward the end of the 12th century, a not uncommon occurrence in ancient Khmer as different rulers declared different national approaches to religion. It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in the then capital of the Khmer Empire as his state temple and eventual mausoleum. It is, at once and without doubt, the best-preserved temple of Angkor, and is believed to be the only site to have remained a significant religious center since its foundation. It is so an indivisible part of Cambodia’s culture that it is the national symbol appearing on Cambodia’s flag.

Cambodia 2015,  Angkor Wat, reflecting WM

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, carved woman WMCambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, Kevin resting at the top levelThe temple is at once a study in grandeur of architecture and harmony of purpose, and is known for its extensive bas-reliefs along the ground-floor galleries and for almost innumerable stone devata adorning its upper reaches. Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple-mountain and the galleried temple. The center of the wat is meant to represent the quincunx of peaks of Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology (devas are also a feature of Buddhism). Surrounding the temples central towers are three long rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. This layered approach elevates the already tall towers, resulting in a primeval yet enduring skyline well above the surrounding jungle. The sheer size of the structure is stunning; I continue to attempt to fathom how a people living on the edge of existence could build such massive stone structures without tools or machinery. Constructing Angkor Wat today would be tough, even using our modern approaches and equipment.

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, corner tower from the courtyard WM

It seems that Tomb Raider has really not done any favors for Angkor. Tourists come and perhaps role play the part of Lara as an adventurer and explorer, often climbing over and otherwise treating Ta Prohm more as a movie set than a profoundly sacred site that which it is. In fact, you can find the temple actually called “Tomb Raider Temple” in some guide books, and every tuk-tuk driver knows exactly where to take you when the movie or Ms. Croft is referenced. Back in town in and around Siem Reap, tourists can easily find the “Tomb Raider cocktail,” nothing more than a mixture of Cointreau, soda and lime, but which is claimed to be one of the favored adult beverages of Angelina. These modern facets of visiting Angkor Wat blurs the boundaries of what is real and authentic, with that which is purely fiction. The result is that Angkor for some (or even many) is slowly being cheated of its culturally and historically importance known to the few, and becoming more of a disemboweled Hollywood visual spectacle to the masses.

Cambodia 2015,  Angkor Wat, in love with Angkor Wat WM

 

Getting There: A 5-6 hour bus, taxi or boat ride gets you from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. However, it’s the close and convenient airport in Siem Reap that offers the best option, providing regular service to Phnom Penh and abroad to international destinations such as Bangkok, Singapore, and Seoul.

Visiting: The bustling tourist town of Siem Reap is the gateway to Angkor. There one can find lodging, dining, and tour-packages to match any budget or taste. Those interested in exploring more remote and off-the-beaten-path areas can hire cars with guides, tuk-tuks for a day for about $20, or, as the cheapest option, motorbikes which provide perhaps the fastest if not most dangerously adventuresome way to tailor an itinerary. The yellow tethered Angkor balloon ride is a great way to get a unique aerial perspective of Angkor Wat, but only go in the afternoon when the sun favors the view from above. See Monkeying Around in Cambodia for a truly terrific zip-line experience that can be had within the archeological park..

When to Go: Peak tourist season runs late November through early February, during Cambodia’s dry season where temperatures and humidity are not so oppressive. “Feels-like” heat starts to soar in spring, peaking in April and holding steady through the monsoon season of May and June. Rains continue, albeit reduced, through the summer until October, becoming more sporadic the longer a traveler waits. In my opinion, avoiding the crushing crowds is worth risking a rain shower (or two). Plus, the surrounding fields turn green and rice paddies flood with the rains, although some of the more remote sites can be washed out due to poor roads and limited access.

Cambodia 2015,  Angkor Wat, Kevin and Jody enjoying the wat 2 WM

For More Information, See:

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/668/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angkor_Wat

http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/world-heritage/angkor/

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah: Onna’s Forest Adventure Zip Line Park


Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-A, My oh my, what a wonderful day! Plenty of sunshine heading my way, Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-A!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, entering the Forest Adventure Park in Onna Okinawa

Not just for thrill seekers, Forest Adventure (“Mori No Bouken”) Park in Onna, Okinawa, promises wholesome fun and a bit of exercise too, all among the scenic hillsides near Cape Maeda. Billed as an adventure sports park coexisting with Okinawan nature, the park involves ten substantial zip lines over and through a sample of Okinawa’s lush greenery, but also includes many “adventure” obstacles, such as cargo net climbs, narrow vertical “apple-picker” ladders, and hard to navigate swing rope and wooden bridges!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Jody ready to tumble

Print ads don't mention the snakes!

Print ads don’t mention the snakes!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Kevin on a shaky wooden bridge in the jungleIn a classic “lost in translation” from native Japanese, a description online loosely reads, “The nature coexisting adventure sports & park of Okinawa nature Japanese version “Mori No Bouken” (Forest Adventure). This is the same famous forest adventure in Europe which lets you swing from tree to tree using their exclusive harness (life rope). Take a skywalk looking down the East Asia Sea from 30m high sky. There are 33 activities which challenges (sic) your courage and let you have a thrilling time. The nervousness you feel as a action hero does will change to a feeling of accomplishment after you get across from one tree to another. It is the 4th oldest and located on the southernmost in Japan. Forest Adventure in Onna is the largest adventure sports & park of natural symbiosis style in Japan in terms of width, length and height of facilities….”

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, managing the early beginner obstacles

While one literally doesn’t swing from tree to tree – the obstacle and zip line platforms are all mounted on steel trunks artificially placed in jungle-cleared ground, and the “life rope” are all actually all steel cable and carabiners, one can take in amazing views of the East China Sea while flying through the air as a de facto action hero!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, zipline backwards landing in the wood chips

The park’s main office is located just off Route 6, well past the Renaissance Hotel (~3km), and a few hundred meters past the turnoff for Maeda Point. Stop here first for paperwork and payment, then continue on to the business’ parking lot, where a bus will pick you up for further transport up to the actual Forest Adventure site.

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Jody coming in for a zipline landing!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Adventure Course net bridgeOkinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Jody survives the Tarzan Swing but now has to do the Scramble NetReservations are required to confirm a time and your slot, as are closed-toe athletic shoes. You’ll get dirty on this course, particularly during the zip line landings, so wear light athletic clothing and bring a change of clothes! Personally, I recommend long pants, although plenty of people there were successfully navigating the course in shorts. Oh, use the bathroom before you leave the office; the facilities at the park are, well in a word, rustic. Thankfully for us it was mostly cloudy during our adventure, which helped to moderate what could be a rather steamy time in the jungle.

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Kevin and Jody in the hills of Onna Village

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, harnesses (impact B&W)Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Jody's thread of life while on the courseAt the park itself you’ll have a chance to stow your personal belongings in lockers which cost ¥100. Cold drinks are also served for a small fee. The staff will fit you into a harness; don’t be shy about your junk at this point – the harnesses are no joke and will squeeze, squash and otherwise spill your business in maybe some rather awkward ways. Let’s just say there are no camel toes indigenous to Okinawa, and I prefer to reserve my personal circumcision status for a more intimate audience.

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Kevin away on a zipline!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, gettting schooled in Japanese!Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Jody tops out on a rope ladderOnce properly adjusted, the staff will show you basic hook and clip operation, then after a short walk to a proving course, will provide a short brief (most likely in very broken English), and then you’ll have a chance to demonstrate your prowess by completing a “test” climb and zip line before being turned loose on the course…ALONE. Yeah, that’s right – you move through the course on your own, at your own pace, which is one of the best things about this park. This type of freedom, and dare I say “trust” in others’ own personal responsibility is really a refreshing relief from the “it must be someone else’s fault” overly litigious society back home. While there is a staff member at one particular point on the course (for which you’ll just have to figure out why), we only saw one or two other staffers along the course, no doubt helping to ensure safety and rule following.

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Jody likes steep and narrow ladders

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, rules and rocksOkinawa Forest Adventure 2014, many dangersSpeaking of rules, some of the rather pathetic rules the park has – and I’m sure because they have to deal with ugly (drunk) Americans behaving in such ugly ways – if you appear intoxicated you will be subjected to being breathalyzed, and after a warning the first time you take your shirt off, you be expelled on the 2nd such offense…. Unfortunately, we happened to butt up against a Marine Unit outing, which I simply could not tolerate their brazenly bad language. Although I didn’t want to, I felt it necessary to confront these rather poor examples of American citizenry, out of respect for the elder (civilian) couple in our group, let along the Japanese National couple traveling through the course with us.

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, taking the Log Swing after enjoying the Trazan Swing

Midway through the course is a complimentary cold drink case, where we got to choose between orange or grape soda – 1 per customer, please! This was a nice touch, although we drank up quickly to keep ahead of our rather Neanderthal North American cousins who were hot on our heels.

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Tarzan Swing into a cargo (scramble) net

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, pussies need not attempt!Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, zipline landing for JodyThe last section of the park is a giant-sized multi-level jungle gym for adults, complete with swinging board bridges, swaying rings, and the final zip line of the day. There’s a special surprise here, one I’ll not spoil, but let’s just say that if you can’t jump within 3 minutes, GET THE HECK OUT OF THE WAY! This entire part of the park is a hoot!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Jody and Kevin GOAL!!

After reaching your “GOAL,” you’ll be offered an opportunity to travel back through the course. It seems if the park is not busy, this is a rather standard thing, which adds a tremendous amount of value to the $35/person (¥3500) entrance fee. We, however, elected to pass, partly due to the company we would choose NOT to keep, but more so because we had a lunch date at a terrific restaurant in Onna called Casa la Tida, worthy of its own blog in the near future!

Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-A, Wonderful feeling, Wonderful day!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Onna's forest adventure map

 

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, map to the parkReservations: 098-963-0088

Open: all year 9:00-18:00, summer season 8:30-Sunset; the park will close for bad weather!

Must be over 140cm/55inches tall, and under 130kg/286lbs weight

http://www.forest-adventure-onna.jp

Tuesdays and Thursdays are “Lady’s Days,” where women get a ¥500 discount; under 18 is ¥2,500, family of three is ¥8,000, family of four is ¥9,500, and family of 5 is ¥11,000. Yen Only!!