Date Traveled, August 2012
Cambodia is beautiful in the rainy season. I would like to go back to Cambodia in a dry season some day, to experience a difference in the interplay between the sky, the land and of course, the magnificent temples. But whatever apprehensions I had about visiting Cambodia in the middle of the rainy months quickly went away with my first visit to a temple in Angkor, right out of the airport and even before I reached my hotel, the beautiful temple of Pre Rup.
A cloudy sunset at Pre Rup
You don't always get a chance to pick the time you can take a Vacation and I was in the region (in Singapore) in September and I was determined to use that time to go some place exciting nearby and Angkor was on the top of my list. It was the tail end of the rainy season in Cambodia but whatever I was going to make the most of it and hope for the best. I booked my trip and was hoping I would get lucky with the weather. Well it turned out to be very lucky for me, just not in the way I was expecting it to be given that it rained everyday I was there. I enjoyed it very much, the vegetation, trees, forests and grass are so lush and green in the rains and watching the temples in the rain has a mystical magical feel to it which I hope some of my photos captured for you if you are considering going during the rains. You also have the added advantage of the fact that there are less people visiting and it is possible to have places and moments where you are entirely alone even in the main Angkor Wat. And the rains, at least in September, aren't always constant and there were periods of bright hot sunshine. The only minor inconvenience for me was keeping my camera dry in the rain while taking pictures. I have since invested in a water proof camera, nothing fancy and a reasonably performing point and shoot.
Pre Rup Temple
The outer wall
After a surprisingly efficient arrival and immigration process at Siem Reap airport, I was met by both our guide and driver for the next few days. I usually prefer not to take guides and like to explore on my own, but I was traveling with my Dad and knew he would appreciate the convenience of a comfortable ride. I certainly liked the flexibility that came with it through the whole trip, our guide was chill too and visiting the many temples of Angkor is one place I would actually definitely recommend having a guide and driver at least to get you to where you need to go and show you the way. As for historical explanations, well that depends on you. I had read two books on the Angkor civilization and temples before my trip and the guides seemed to give more of the standard spiel which I didn't really need. But I am sure there are some very knowledgeable guides for the Angkor complexes but they are going to be hard to find. But the next time I go I will definitely consider having a private car and driver as really great and convenient way to get around if you know which sites you want to see.
The lawns were lush and green
The beautiful interplay of the sky and the lush greenery with the temple
We left the airport and headed directly to the main tourism center where every visitor is expected to get ID'd. Do not loose the pass they give you as you will be checked for that at almost every temple site you visit. It had started to rain when we got our passes and it was coming down heavily by the time we were on the road to Pre Rup. This was my first experience driving through rural Cambodia and the most striking thing are the lush flooded rice fields, I can't help but repeat saying how they were so beautiful. The fact that the roads are poorly constructed and easily flooded and run down gave the atmosphere a far more off the beaten path feel. While Pre Rup is a bit off the main Angkor complexes of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom with much better quality roads, it is only maybe a 40 minute ride away but the roads even that far are not great. In the rains the roads get flooded and muddy and bogs down traffic and if it rains too heavily they could even get closed off due to flooding. The mud didn't slow us down much but there was a bit of road works on going which did. Here our guide and driver bemoaned the inanity of the Cambodian government roads agency for not fixing the roads in the long hot dry season and making life difficult for everyone by attempting to build a road in floods :-).
We soon arrived at Pre Rup and I immediately knew I was going to enjoy my visit to Angkor immensely.
The stairs to ascend to the top terrace and a lion guardian at the top
The view from the top
The gopuras and the carvings on them
For a bit of history, Pre Rup was build approximately 200 years before the construction of the famous Angkor Wat. It was built by King Rajendravarman who reunited the empire following a few years of chaos prior to his reign and whose successors would see the Angkor Civilization through it's peak. A tradition of the Angkor kings was to dedicate a state temple as a legacy for their people and themselves. Pre Rup was Rajendravarman's state temple and incorporated bricks in it's construction giving it a pleasant reddish hue. There is a noticeable difference in the style and materials in some of the older temples like Pre Rup when compared to the later ones like the Angkor Wat and Bayon.
You do not need to be a history buff to enjoy the temples of Angkor, I would hazard a guess and say that most people who visit the Angkor temples and enjoy their breathtaking beauty and magnificence do so without ever having heard of Suryavarman II (built the Angkor Wat) or Jayavarman VII (built the Angkor Thom and Bayon complexes among others). But I believe that visiting a place after reading its history and the people involved allows you to gain a deeper connection to the place. I read two great books on the Angkor and was particularly thrilled to finally see all these places in person. Note I do not believe everyone needs to read two whole books but strongly encourage learning something about the history of the place, especially when visiting one with so much historical significance.
After my initial few moments taking in the sights of my first Angkor temple, I immediately decided to go all the way to the top where the terrace is next to the five main towers or gopuras as these are called. It was damp so had to be a little careful but the broad steps certainly make it feasible to climb up even in the rain. Watching the profile of Pre Rup with it's five towers from the base is spectacular, but so is watching the ruins from the terrace at the top. There are so many carvings on the walls and on the gopuras and many lion sculptors facing outwards from the temple on the edges in all directions. These lions and serpents found in other temples were considered guardians of Angkor and most were sadly defaced by invaders over time. And looking outwards across the ruins at the base, you see the lush green forests adding to a truly memorable vista with the evening sky.
Waiting for a sunset through the clouds
The main inner courtyard at the base
I could see why this was a popular spot for viewing the sunset and I would imagine, the sunrise as well if you get there early enough. It was the only time in my trip where I saw the sun set (or rise), if only briefly...that was one drawback to the rainy season, the cloud cover is pretty thick most of the time and you will not be able to experience the famed sunsets and sunrises in the Angkor temples. But you experience other great things that come with the rainy atmosphere which more than make up for it in my opinion. Have I mentioned the lush greenery yet?
After Pre Rup we checked into our hotel in Siem Reap and relaxed for the evening, ready for a highlight, ready for our trip highlight, a visit to the Angkor Wat.