Found ourselves a friendly tuk-tuk driver on arrival into Siem Reap who dropped us off at a $1 a night guest house and gave us a good sales pitch on taking us around the temples for the next 3 days – after a good bit of bargaining we agreed and set out an itinerary. Guest house is nice but the $1 “room” is an outside dorm with a mosquito net and mattress and plenty of free mosquitos! Ours came with a bonus kitten who likes to try and break into our mosquito nets in the middle of the night!
Met up with a South African guy called KJ to do the temple sightseeing with which was cool, another new travelling buddy for us! After picking up our passes we headed out to the North of Siem Reap for some of the outlying temples, first up was Banteay Srei – a fairly small temple with some great carvings, a nice introduction to the temples of Angkor. I won’t go into too much detail on here about each temple or it will take hours, probably easier to check out the photos via my links on facebook and if you’re really interested i’m sure there are hundreds of websites with lots of historical info! Next stop was something a little different, Kbal Spean (the river of a thousand lingas), an amazing set of carvings along a riverbed and in waterfalls set in the jungle. Had a bit of an unfortunate incident with a mosquito whilst going to the loo in a bush – not very comfortable to say the least!! After a lunch break we headed off to the South to visit the Roluos group of temples – some of the earliest permanent Angkorian temples from the 9th Century. Some of these were pretty ruined, hardly surprising considering they’re over a thousand years old, which made the ones that were still in good shape even more impressive (even if they have had some conservation work done on them). That ended day one’s excitement, a nice easy introduction to the temples, building up towards the big ones!
On day two we decided to start a bit later to give ourselves a much needed lie-in (not really possible in an outside dorm, especially as Cambodians like to wake up around half 4 and make a lot of noise!). Luckily for us the sun was shining which provided much better light conditions than the first day which had been pretty gloomy. First stop was Banteay Kdei, a huge temple with a maze of tunnels running through the centre. Outside the main gate was Sra Srang (the Pool of Ablutions), the worlds biggest bathroom for the Kings of Angkor – a huge lake where they used to wash and do their business, very hygienic! We saw local people still using it to wash in (and no doubt do their business too) – at least it’s nice and scenic! The next stop of our busy day was Ta Prohm, aka the Tombraider temple, which was really impressive with loads of huge trees growing around and over the temple walls. I had great fun avoiding all the tourists and climbing over piles of ancient rubble to find the quieter parts of the temple – probably our favourite temple so far. Next stop was Ta Keo before some street food lunch – and lots of pestering from the kids that hang round outside all the temples trying to sell all sorts “for money to send them to school” which clearly goes straight into their parents pockets unfortunately! Some of the kids are too cute to resist however so we have picked up a few souvenirs! After lunch we set off to Preah Khan temple just north of Angkor Thom city, a huge temple complex with lots more maze like corridors and some more impressive carvings. For such ancient people the carvings really are quite spectacular, unfortunately however, many of them have been hacked off or damaged by idiots so lots of the carvings and statues are now headless. Having spent way too long exploring the previous temples and with some black clouds looming we hurried through the next couple of sights, Preah Neak Pean – a slightly underwhelming sets of ponds around a central temple, Ta Som – a nice small temple with some friendly kids outside who we taught the 2p game to (not sure where they had got a 2p coin from!) and East Mebon, a big temple with some cool elephant statues which was once in the middle of a huge reservoir that has now dried up and turned back into jungle. Last stop for the day was Pre Rup, a nice temple with a great view over the surrounding landscape for sunset – not the best sunset ever but pretty special to be sitting on top of an ancient temple watching the sun go down. Another early night after a long day of scrambling around ruins, especially as we had organised for Ni (our tuk-tuk driver) to pick us up at 4:45am in time for sunset at Angkor Wat!
For once we were very grateful to the 4:30 wake up call by the Cambodians as we had managed to sleep through our alarm and just about managed to make it to Angkor Wat in time to see the sky start to lighten. Joined the crowds around the pond in front of the temple and watched the huge towers slowly come out of the darkness – a really amazing sight despite the lack of decent sunrise, it really is huge! Feeling pretty sleepy we headed straight to Angkor Thom after sunset to save Angkor Wat for last and to make the most of the nice sunlight on the east facing temples in the ancient walled city. First stop was the Bayon, definitely my favourite temple of all, with its 216 huge faces of Avalokiteshvara smiling down from the towers all around. The carvings and bas-reliefs here are pretty impressive too, depicting all sorts of stories from the Angkorian time – mainly battles! Next stop was the Baphuon temple with an impressive raised causeway but unfortunately the temple is entirely under reconstruction so you can’t go in! Not sure if I agree with entirely rebuilding a temple as it had pretty much all collapsed over the years and the new concrete blocks look a bit out of place against the original ancient weather beaten blocks. The rest of the temples around the Angkor Thom city are much smaller and the Royal Palace has entirely disappeared but most of the rest of them are in a more ruined state which I think makes them more atmospheric (and more fun to climb around the piles of old stones!). Most impressive are the terraces outside what used to be the Royal Palace – the Terrace of the Elephants – a huge long platform with amazing carvings of hundreds of elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King – a much taller but smaller platform with carvings of nymphs, warriors, princesses and other figures from Angkor civilisation. Inside the terrace is a hidden terrace which was covered by an outer wall and the carvings on this wall are really well preserved and look absolutely amazing! Opposite the Royal Palace area are a load of very old looking towers which apparently entertainers used to walk between on tightropes to entertain the King!
After a long lunch and a little nap on the restaurant table to recharge we set off for Angkor Wat – the climax of our temple experience so only right to keep the best/biggest til last. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas and we had to shelter inside the tuk-tuk whilst a big rainstorm passed over (the joys of travelling through Cambodia in the wet season!!!). Luckily it didn’t last too long and so we headed off along the long causeway (along with all the Japanese tour groups), past the moat, through the entrance pavillion and into Angkor Wat itself. We started off around the outside of the temple, each outer wall has two bas-reliefs, one either side of each gate, detailing Hindu folklore tales from ancient battles or worship – absolutely incredible carvings, for me probably more impressive than the temple itself. The inside of the temple is impressive for its size and the fact it is on three levels, but as a temple the structure isn’t quite as amazing as some of the others as it doesn’t have any really interesting features (and we weren’t allowed to go up to the top floor which was very annoying!). Spent a good couple of hours exploring all the corridors and courtyards before heading around the outside of the temple to see it as a whole from all different angles. Also found lots of wild monkeys scavenging around the outside, they had stolen some coconuts from some locals and were busy fighting over those! Stuck around until sunset to watch the last of the light go down over the temple, again not the most impressive sunset but the peace and quiet of the little temple in the grounds and the fact that we were sat outside Angkor Wat watching the sunset made it really amazing. Headed back along the long main causeway where we got stopped by a local family for a photo, turned out they wanted a photo of us holding their baby – the baby was not keen on being held by Ellie so the poor couple now have a random photo of some white people holding their screaming child – very strange!! Got one last glimpse of Angkor Wat as we headed out through the main gate as the sun disappeared over the horizon, an amazing end to a very long tiring day and back to the guesthouse for a well deserved beer!
After three days of hardcore temple sightseeing and lots of scrambling up and down rocks and steep staircases (the Angkor people must have had tiny feet and long legs to get up and down!) we took a well earned day off to sleep and eat and upload the hundreds of photos – if you think there are lots on Snapfish now you should have seen how many I started with!!! Luckily there’s not a great deal to see around Siem Reap itself so we’re not missing out on much there, I think the town has grown from the tourist boom and is pretty much just full of hotels, restaurants and bars! Looking forward to a nice early night tonight before another early start tomorrow for the boat trip to Battambang across the Tonle Sap – fingers crossed the weather is ok and it doesn’t turn into the boat trip from hell like last time…