"Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen"
Benjamin Disraeli, British politician and stateman

Many films are shot on locations that in themselves become powerful components of the film - think of the James Bond franchise that's spent the last 50 years globetrotting.

And some have such a strong connection to the place therey were shot, either literally or emotionally, that we're drawn to linger long enough at the end suss from the credits where it was filmed.

The Third Man and Vienna, Wadi Rum and Lawrence of Arabia, Ko Phi Phi Leh and The Beach, Petra in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and there are many many more. Or how about the Timberline Lodge in The Shining, the Tunisian Hotel Sidi Driss as the home of the young Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, or Griffith Observatory in Rebel Without a Cause.


Wadi Rum - star location in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia - is perhaps the most spectacular patch of desert in the world...
posted by Richard Green on 13/04/2017

Sunset at Wadi Rum - time to take stock of the day, cool off in the evening air and chat. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Wadi Rum is so beautiful and monumental that it would have become a significant destination for tourists even had it not featured in such a famous film. Yet David Lean's 1962 movie, 'Lawrence of Arabia', has been bedazzling cinema-going audiences with it's incredible scenery since its release. 

And marvellously - and unusually - using Wadi Rum as a location in the film was entirely true to the story. Larence passed through the area several times during the Arab Revolt of 1917-18, most famously when he led the Arab armies through the desert on his way to capture Jordan's most southerly city of Aqaba. He wrote about it in his Seven Pillars of Wisdom novel thus... 

"The crags were capped in nests of domes, less hotly red than the body of the hill; rather grey and shallow. They gave the finishing semblance of Byzantine architechure to this irresistible place: this processional way greater than imagination. The Arab armies would have been lost in the length and breadth of it, and within the walls a squadron of aeroplanes could have wheeled in formation. Our little caravan grew self-conscious, and fell dead quiet, afraid and ashamed to flaunt its smallness in the presence of such stupendous hills."

Mountains rise sheer almost 1,700 metres from the valley floor. Photo My Bathroom Wall

It's no surprise that it has become a must visit on any holiday to Jordan, as Wadi Rum is an astonishingly beautiful and thought provoking place. Once you are away from the little settlement where you'll meet your guide and camel, or your giude and 4x4, the grandeaur of the weathered rock and sand is somewhat overwhelming. And once the engine stops then the vast sheer walls of the canyon seems to lock in an ancient silence.  

Heating coffee and cooling the engine on a Beduoin adventure inside Wadi Rum. Photo My Bathroom Wall

In truth, though Wadi Rum did play itself in Lawrence of Arabia, much of the rest of the film was actually shot in Spain. The grand buildings in Cairo - like for example the officer's club where Lawrence’s Arab companion is refused a drink after the desert crossing - uses the frontage of the Palaçio Español in Seville's Plaza de Españain, and then for the scen in the courtyard moves into that of the Hotel Alfonso XIII

The film even used a purpose-built Aqaba instead of the real deal - and erected a fake townscape on Playa del Algarrobico, not far from Almeria in southern Spain. Even the attack on the train scenes weren't filmed in Jordan, but instead at Genovese Beach, San Jose on Cabo de Gata nearby. 

But it doesn't matter a jot, as Wadi Rum is such an extraordinary place that any visit is a revelation regardless of whether you've seen the film or not. Although because it is such a good film and puts the south of Jordan into some sort of context, I'd strongly suggest that you watch it before and take it with you too.

One more thing...

The main films to have been partly shot at Wadi Rum are Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Passion in the Desert (1998), Red Planet (2000), Transformers: Revenge has Fallen (2009), Prometheus (2012), Krrish 3 (2013), May in the Summer (2013), The Last Days on Mars (2013), Theeb (2014), Hyena Road (2015), The Martian (2015), and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016).


Reasons to be cheerful: unlike many of the world's most spectacular bits of desert, Wadi Rum is easilly accessible - just little over an hour from the Jordanian city of Aqaba, and on good roads. Like Jordan as a whole, locals are extremely gracious, and have been dealing with tourists for many decades, so there'sa warm welcome. Whether a quick camel ride, jeep tour of the valley, or overnighting in a camp, it's a cinch to organise. 


You can't always get what you want: the scruffy little settlement that surrounds the visitor's centre is disappointing and has no romance. But it's the place to book trips into the desert, and almost everyone arrives at Rum via it. The harsh and protected environment keep the tourist camps very low key -  often the accommodation is simply large bedouin style tents, and so don't expect any luxury. 


How to fit Wadi Rum into a trip: few people travel all the way to Jordan just to visit Wadi Rum, although it would certainly make an exotic long weekend break. The norm is to build Wadi Rum into a trip around Jordan; which has the stunning ruins at Petra, the Roman remains of Jerash, the small beaches of Aqaba and the resorts of the Dead Sea.


Getting there: Wadi Rum is 60 kilometres east of the Jordanian coastal city of Aqaba, where the country is pinched to a short coastline by Israel and Saudi Arabia. Aqaba is a small airport and its only year round flights at to Amman with Royal Jordanian. However, most people reach Rum by road from Amman - an interesting drive 300 kilometre drive along the historic Desert Highway. Amman's Queen Alia International Airport handled 7m passengers in 2015 and has flights across Europe and the Middle East. Royal Jordanian destinations from Amman include Amsterdam, Bangkok, Barcelona, Chicago, Dubai, Geneva, Hong Kong, London, Montreal, Moscow and Paris.   


When to go: Jordan is a year round destination, but the best time to visit the desrt is in the Spring, when its hot and dry, and the wildflowers are in bloom. Though the 'khaseem' wind that blows across the Middle East can darken skies with sand-laidened clouds for a few days at a time. The hot winds of summer can be uncomfortable, and temperatures in the south will reach 45°C and upwards. Autumn is short, and winter is chilly in Amman, but still warm enough for comfortable travelling in Rum.


More information: see Visit Jordan. Local desert camps include Wadi Rum Bedouin Camp, Bedouin Advisor Camp, Bedouin Experience Camp, Bedouin Lifestyle Camp, Rum Stars Camp, and Wadi Rum Travel Camp


Visa and safety: Always check your government's travel advice before booking, and check that your travel insurance is valid in this country. See here for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice


Eerilly overgrown Ta Prohm in Cambodia is now known as the Tomb Raider Temple. Angelina Jolie's sweaty black leotard has a lot to answer for...
posted by Richard Green on 24/03/2017

'Tomb Raider Tree' where Lara Croft picked a jasmine flower and fell through the earth back to Pinewood Studios. Photo My Bathroom Wall

The temple of Ta Prohm has that perfect 'lost' temple look. It's a surreal place, with trees and vegetation growing in and around its semi ruined stone corridors and courtyard. In places the tree roots seem to have the temple smothered in an octopus like grip.

A visit to semi ruined and overgrown Ta Prohm feels like an adventure. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Your guide or guidebook will tell you that the Ta Prohm temple was built in the late 12th century as a Buddhist monastery and university. He or she will say that Jayavarman VII modelled the temple's main image on his mother, and that the temple was home to about 12,500 people, and so on....But chances are the vast majority of the temple's visitors will already be looking over the guide's shoulders and beginning to tune out. Because Ta Prohm is known the world over as the 'Tomb Raider Temple', the place where Lara Croft plucked a jasmine flower and fell through the earth.

The power of film to associate a place with a purely fictitious person or scene is immense, and much like TV adverts are able to hijack classical and pop tunes for decades - think British Airways and the Flower Duet - the temple complex here will be associated with Lara Croft; Tomb Raider.

Unless you are extremely lucky, don't expect to find yourself alone at Ta Prohm, as its secret is definitely out. Photo My Bathroom Wall

The film was a massive hit back in 2001, despite the best efforts of the critics, and starred Angelina Jolie, Jon Voight, Daniel Craig and Leslie Phillips.

It's become accepted practise for hostels to show any famous film that was shot or is associated with their locale, and of course here is no exception. If you happen to be staying somewhere posh then you could watch it on your own download, or if not places like the The Siem Reap Hostel, which is a super hostel set away from the rather noisy main drag, has good room, a small pool, and a cinema that regularly shows Tomb Raider and The Killing Fields.


The giant aptly named Strangler Figs hold the temple stones in their grip. Photo My Bathroom Wall

The entrance to Wat Tom. Lara Croft drove through it in a Land Rover. Photo My Bathroom Wall

One more thing...

As well as Tomb Raider, the temples of Angkor Wat have also been used as a location for Living in the Age of Airplanes (2015), Two Brothers (2004), In the Mood for Love (2000), Baraka (1992), Carl Sagan's Cosmos (1980), Lord Jim (1965), Mistress of the World (1960), and Beyond Shanghai (1935).


Reasons to be cheerful: despite Ta Prohm's lost temple look, you won't need to hack through the jungle to find it. The temple is a 15-minute drive from the city of Siem Reap along smooth tarmacked roads - and all of the local guides know where to find it. 


You can't always get what you want: word is out about Ta Prohm and it gets busy. The best time to visit early morning, before the heat, the rain, and the first coach parties arrive. It's good for photography too; avoiding the strong contrasts of the overhead sun. For any hope of being alone, arrive before 7am-ish. As with Angkor as a whole, the best plan is morning sightseeing, lunch and a swim, then a siesta and lazy afternoon.


Fitting Angkor into a holiday: fabulous though the temples of Angkor are, touring them gets tiring, and even the most avid history/architecture buff will eventually get templed out. Best to balance a holiday here with a few days in Phnom Penh, or at the Cambodian beaches. And thanks to proximity and plenty of flight options, Siem Reap is easy to combine with Thailand, or with other countries in the region.


Getting there: Siem Reap International Airport is 10 kilometres northwest of the city. It handled 3.5 million passengers in 2016;  useful routes include Bangkok with Bangkok Airways, Cambodia Angkor Air, Air Asia and Thai Airways; Hong Kong with Cathay Dragon and HK Express; Singapore with Jetstar Asia Airways and Silk Air; and Kuala Lumpur with Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines.   


When to visit: Cambodia has a tropical climate and is warm year round, with average daily temperatures of 28°. However the best season is from November to April, which avoid the May-October rainy season. Almost 75% of rain falls July-September, when it can rain two out of three days - though in downpours rather than constant rain. 


More info: Ta Prohm Temple is in the 400 acre Angkor Wat temple complex, and about eight kilometres from the most famous site at Angkor, or 13 kilometres from the city of Siem Reap. UK-bases tour operators include Bamboo Travel, Abercrombie & Kent, and Wild Frontiers. Or About Asia Travel is based in Siem Reap. See Tourism Cambodia


Visa and safety: always check your government's travel advice before booking, and ensure that your travel insurance is valid in this part of the country. See the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice.

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