The main reason tourists go to Cambodia is of course to see the temples of Angkor and there are three main temples which are considered a must on any travellers itinerary. They are Angkor Wat itself, Bayon and Ta Prohm a.k.a. the ‘Tomb Raider’ temple which we did on our first day in Siem Reap along with one other place.
Having been to many of the places I want to visit in Asia, I am now starting to repeat a few countries (which I never used to do) in order to show my wife around some of these great places and Angkor was one area I wanted to show her. On the back of a seven hour bus journey the day before and a long cycle ride from our hotel in Siem Reap she may not have been too keen at first though!
We didn’t get on the road till 10:45 am and, having got our passes ($40 for a three day pass not that we would be using it beyond two days!), we arrived at Angkor Wat about an hour later. This is the world’s largest religious building and the first stop for many visitors not only due to it’s fame but also because of it’s location.
There were a few spots of rain as we entered and walked along the causeway ready to explore the architectural masterpiece. The attention to detail in the sandstone bricks is so impressive and it really is hard to believe how such a place was ever built.
Back in 2006 we were quite surprisingly allowed to climb all over the structures and the steps were frankly asking for trouble as they were so steep and dangerous. However, nearly a decade later, and with even more people travelling to these wonders of the world, things have changed a bit. Boardwalks and wooden steps have been implemented for safety and preservation reasons.
On a boiling hot day I was in need of a couple of refreshing drinks after wandering around the place. Locals selling drinks and so on are never too far away in Cambodia and to the side of the northern lake (pool of water?) in front of the esplanade I could quench my thirst. My animal-loving wife though was more interested in playing with a cat!
Our bicycles were boiling hot when we returned to them and cycled on down the road to Phnom Bakheng (below) which was a new sight for me. This is an incredibly popular place for tourists to photograph Angkor Wat at sunrise and sunset and despite us being there early afternoon there were already a couple of people hanging around for sunset!
Angkor Thom was next and during the ride from it’s south gate entrance I realised that the temples weren’t quite as close in reality as they were in my mind. It’s a spectacular entrance (below) with giant statues of gods on the left and demons on the right with the moat running beneath.
The many enigmatic faces of Bayon (below) provides the centrepiece of Angkor Thom where a lot of climbing was done around it’s three levels as we sweated it out in the early afternoon heat.
In my mind I knew that we could easily return to Angkor Thom (and indeed Bayon) the following day and as time was ticking I didn’t want to devote loads of time (as we easily could have) to this splendid fortified city as we needed to cycle to Ta Prohm and I wanted us to be back in Siem Reap before sunset too. As it was, we still spent a sufficient amount of time looking round Bayon’s most distinctive features which are the many large, serene stone faces gracing it’s towers which cluster around its central peak.
The eerie Ta Prohm seemed to take forever to get to and, like Angkor Wat, this place was more restricted than last time I was there and a lot of restoration work had been done.
This place was like a maze to me and without a map to hand we found it quite hard to locate some of the more famous spots within the complex which has been swallowed by the jungle. Eventually we managed to find the iconic tree root areas where trees are growing out of the ruins.
As I was taking a photo of my wife beneath one of the giant tree roots a local kid hijacked our picture and climbed all over her which in hindsight was a clever way of getting a dollar off us as we took further photos with her and she then proceeded to monopolise my selfie stick remote control and snapped away constantly.
When I wrote about these temples in January 2007, I did worry about tourism taking its toll on such places and I guess there has been no choice but to rope off certain areas and lay down boardwalks to cater for the crowds. I visited Ta Prohm twice last time as the first time I went it was overly crowded and so I knew from my second visit back then that this place was much quieter in the late afternoon as many tourists seek a sunset shot in other parts of Angkor.
My bicycle (borrowed from our hotel) had been creaking noisily all day and as the rain began to fall and it started to get darker on the way home I did wonder if I was going to encounter similar problems to what happened on less successful cycling journeys on my travels in Laos and Nicaragua in recent years. Thankfully both bicycle and I made it back to our hotel in one piece though and it felt so nice to have a much needed lie-down and relax on our balcony with a beer.
You can read ‘Cambodia 2015 Pt III: Lesser Temples Of Angkor‘ here