The Real Temple Run

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What makes a 21k run around Cambodia’s Angkor Wat exhilarating

Back when Temple Run was a hit, I decided to someday go running around the jungle temples of Cambodia. Dodge some crazed gorillas maybe. Jump over ravines probably. Definitely with the dashing air of Indy Jones.

In July 2014, it came true.

The plan was to go around the Angkor Wat Archaeological Park, from my hotel in Siem Reap and back to it in maybe three or four hours. My first half-marathon.

It was grand.

The sweat and blisters and vehicle smoke notwithstanding, the run was exhilarating, for three key reasons:

The change of landscapes — from Siem Riep’s bustling streets to the asphalted road with impenetrable jungles on either side to the majestic moat surrounding Angkor Wat — made for a real beholding of raw and rugged beauty. Add to the experience the monsoon rain that goes berserk one moment and gives way to the sizzling sun in another.

With a bit of imagination, I “saw” how ancient Khmers transported the 10 million sandstone blocks from faraway mountains. It is said that King Suryavarman II had the Angkor Wat built in the early 1100s, dedicating it to the Hindu god Vishnu. His ambition for the project was such that the temple — currently the world’s largest religious monument at 1.6 million square meters — would be a gilt heaven on earth — Mount Meru, home of the gods. It boggles the mind how such a colossal complex would be located in the middle of nowhere: now the complex is practically in a the middle of a vast forest, but in its heyday it was a city larger and busier than London at the time.

The air was fresh, crisp, and moist — far from what I was used to in urban Manila. Drizzles punctuated the run, but that only made it more exciting, and refreshing when needed. It’s good to plan your route well, though. There were stretches in the route that were hardly inhabited (but the roads were well paved); I didn’t have a bottle of water with me, so I had to run a couple of miles before I reached the nearest store. Don’t be like me.

Angkor Wat from its east entrance, at the moat’s edge.

So if you happen to visit Siem Reap, why not go temple running? It’ll be a unique experience. But don’t commit the mortal sin of not taking a closer look at the temples a day or two before your run (there are more than a dozen in Angkor alone). They are ruins, yes. But what treasures they hold. On that trip to Angkor Wat, I realized the impermanence of earthly life and glory, and how nature and time can overcome man in the end. If you want adventure and some introspecting, go to Siem Reap.

And don’t just go: run.

More photos »

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