First day exploring Angkor, I'm going from temple to temple since the sun has risen. After a short visit to the always-busy Angkor Wat, I need some serenity. When I ask my tuk-tuk driver to bring me to Ta Nei, he tells me it's far away, deep in the jungle and very, very small -I guess he was expecting me to be repelled by his arguments. Not at all...
Some will say Angkor Wat is the most beautiful temple in Angkor. I agree on one thing: it's the biggest, probably the most impressive in terms of architecture. But for my part, things got really interesting when I found myself lost in a temple, with no noise but singing birds and the wind blowing the trees leaves. It was sensational yet a little bit scary -what if a tiger appears and try to eat me? I know, I've watched The Jungle Book too much..
Ta Nei. A tiny little temple hidden in a picturesque forest setting, where you can really feel like an explorer, having an Angkor temple for yourself.
Exploring Ta Nei temple in Angkor
Ta Nei is a late 12th century stone temple constructed by Jayarvarman VII, and one of the smallest temples in Angkor. He dedicated the stone monument to the principles of Buddism.
In much rougher shape than most of the temples on the classic tourist circuit, this temple makes you feel like it hasn't been discovered yet. Actually, archeologists have left Ta Nei as it originally was, for the most part. Tree roots split open the temple stone and jungle flora sprawls out across the temple grounds. There is no path, no sign, absolutely nothing built for the tourist. The temple is just standing here in the forest, natural, in a state of ruin with collapsed rooves, dilapidated walls and the surrounding forest slowly engulfing it. As a result, Ta Nei is a truly 'ruined' ruin.
After a long day in Angkor temples, I finally head to mysterious Ta Nei. Deep in the forest indeed! The track to get there is long and bumpy -I'm exhausted, and I start to wonder if it was a good idea -after all, I've already seen a lot of temples today... The tuk-tuk slows down. Here we are, facing an old ruin covered with trees growing everywhere around and over it, half burying it. Most of the fallen blocks and walls are being reclaimed by the jungle. It is spectacular.
TAI NEI REWARDS THE ADVENTUROUS TRAVELER WITH THE SAME CHARM THAT AFFECTED THE EARLY ANGKOR EXPLORERS.
I look around me -no one. I've had the chance to explore some very quiet temples already, but it's the first time I have an Angkor temple for myself. It makes it all even more impressive. The only noise I can hear comes from the wild jungle. The scenery is untroubled, with rays of sunlight streaming down through the trees, creating a beautiful light on the stones. The atmosphere is astonishing. The luxuriant jungle features 20m lianas going from one tree to another. It's all so peaceful and magical It's hard to believe it's real.
What was supposed to be a quick visit became a long and slow exploration of the most incredible temple. I wonder around in the jungle for a while, then I climb between roots and stones to finally enter into the temple. As ramshackle as it is, I am speechless. The beautifully inscribed stones, the crumbling walls and the thick layer of green moss covering it makes it all so unique. And this silence...
How to get to Ta Nei?
Ta Nei is still in the central Angkor area, north of Ta Phrom and east of Angkor Thom. It's not a popular tourist destination, but the tuk-tuk drivers always carry a map of the surroundings, so you should be able to show them where Ta Nei is located. Getting to Ta Nei can be quite confusing, but if you see the sign for the zipline Flight of the Gibbon, you're on the good track!
If the road to the temple is rough, the tuk-tuk ride is part of the experience. You will go deep in a lush jungle, feeling like a real explorer. Be aware that it might be very complicated / impossible to get there if it's too rainy -you don't want your tuk-tuk to get stuck in the mud. So pick your day... and don't miss the chance to explore this Cambodian jewel!