We watched as an elderly Chinese tourist unfolded his stool and made himself comfortable on the causeway leading to one of the most famous and celebrated structures in the world: Angkor Wat. He then produced his own personal ‘boom box’, in a subtle shade of lime green, and cranked up the volume to 11. The old gentleman smiled serenely, tapping his foot in time to the music. Now I have nothing against ‘Gangnam Style’ being played at high volumes at sacred religious sites, it’s just perhaps not the soundtrack I was expecting…
Yes we did it. Like every good tourist to Cambodia our very first stop was to Siem Reap, a town that seems purely to exist for tourists on route to the temples of Angkor. Elephant patterned trousers? Check, All day happy hours? Check, 20 Tuk-Tuk’s to one person? Check. Yep this is defiantly a tourist town. We checked into a nice guesthouse a little out of the centre called Happy Guesthouse and set about organising out trip around the temples. When thinking of a trip around Angkor it can all seem a little daunting. With so many temples to see, different tickets to buy, variations in transport and working out how best to avoid the crowds, the whole thing can be a little overwhelming. So we have decided to do a separate post on our tips to survive Angkor Wat, watch this space.
Our first day in Siem Reap was spent planning and preparing for Angkor Wat, and also indulging in some westernised treats, a real novelty after a few weeks in the more rural parts of SE-Asia. First we organised ourselves… We arranged for a tuk-tuk to take us around the temples the following day and made a trip to the museum to swat up on some history so we could understand what exactly we were looking at in all those temples. After all that Ella decided to do a pottery making course (and actually made a nice pot), before we indulged in some Mexican food and cold beers… Mexican food in Cambodia you say? Quietly judging us for not having local food?… after 8 months… we don’t even care.
We were surprisingly chipper and awake the next morning when our tuk-tuk picked us up at 4:30am to take us to see the sunrise at the temples. In the darkness we drove on past all the tour groups and hoards of people, in search of a quiet spot to watch the sunrise, and boy did we succeed. Heading to the point in the complex that is usually reserved for sunset viewing, we found ourselves in a deserted temple on top of a hill, watching the sunrise over the trees and the distant spires…This was our first introduction to the Angkor complex, and it certainly was special. We continued our crowd avoidance scheme by completing the rest of the “Grand Circuit” in reverse order, staring on in wonder as we entered each new temple, filled with intricate carvings and steeped in history.
We used the second day of or Angkor temple pass to go see the “big hitters”. The small circuit, as it is affectionately known includes all the temples that you find on the postcards, and the ones that attract the most tourists. We set of again early (however we were not willing to get up for sunrise this time) and headed on the route in the reverse order to avoid the crowds. This proved to work well when we reached what we consider our favourite temple. Ta Prohm is a temple that has intertwined with the surrounding jungle over years of neglect. The walls are held up by the tree roots that grow around them, and some of the trees seem to impossibly grow out of the walls themselves. As we wandered around the (almost) empty temple it felt as though we could have been the first people there, rediscovering the ruins for the first time and clambering over the collapsed walls like Lara Croft did when they filmed tomb raider in the same temple… that was until we bumped into a group of loud Aussies and the illusion was shattered.
We continued on the circuit and finally bumped into the masses of tourists at the temple of Bayon. The 100’s of people clambering through the temple still wasn’t enough to deter from the beauty of the multitude of perfectly carved faces staring at you from every direction, however after being asked to get out of people’s pictures hundreds of times a sit down and a few deep breaths were in order before we carried on.
Doing the circuits in reverse order meant that we had saved the best to last… the temple of Angkor Wat. As we approached across the causeway the first sights of the 5 famous prongs took our breath away. We were actually looking at Angkor Wat! We spent a few hours walking around the temple, and surprisingly found that we had the hallways full of immaculate carvings all to ourselves. We walked around, laughing at all the gruesome scenes, pointing out all the Hindu Deities we had learnt about in the museum, and marvelling at the carving.
It’s a cliché I know, but the Angkor Wat is truly an ancient wonder. Climbing through ruins, exploring unusual structures and spotting beautiful carvings was amazing. We could not mention them all now and you’d be way to bored to read about them anyways, but we will upload more pictures to enjoy soon….
We had done it. We had explored the temples of Angkor Wat. Our few days in Siem Reap had been tiring and awe-inspiring, but with a $2 foot massage and glass of red wine we were ready for the next step of the journey, setting of to look for a slightly more authentic corner of Cambodia…