Temples of Angkor

We arrived in Siem Reap at around 1pm, having spent the bus journey eating bitter mango with salt and chilli, and enjoying the benefits of a front row seat and a large front window. A window into the lives of the rural Cambodian people, and Kotoe and I as voyuers, appreciating the differences between our lives and theirs.

Once again, by following the advice of our tuk tuk driver we have landed a fantastic guesthouse. Garden Village is more of an apartment complex than a guesthouse : little bamboo huts nestled around a picturesque lotus pond, and the remainder of the accommodation within a three-story house, the dorm beds situated in the attic with views across the city. It’s also got a restaurant and chill out area on the roof terrace.

We ate lunch here (Fish Amok, which is quickly becoming my favourite Khmer dish) before heading out for a wander around Siem Reap’s streets. Like Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng in Laos, Siem Reap’s streets resemble a small construction site, which makes the air incredibly dusty. However, unlike Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng, work is most definitely progressing here.

Angkor Wat

The hundreds of temples at Angkor still surviving today exist as the framework of a vast political, social, and religious centre of an empire that stretched from Burma (now Myanmar) to Vietnam. Cambodian’s ancient Khmer empire of Angkor was a city that – in its zenith – boasted a population of one million, at a time when London housed 50,000.
Angkor Wat itself is the world’s largest religious building.

We’d decided to spend the first day (and only day for Kotoe, as she decided only to buy the 1 day pass) renting a tuk tuk and driver, to take us round all the major temples at Angkor. The price was $12 for the day (so $6 each), and the driver would be available from sun rise until sunset, with a break for lunch in the middle. I thought this would be a good way to familiarize myself with the site and allow me to decide which of the temples to re-visit. Our driver was called Batman, but unfortunately he was not a very enthusiastic or knowledgeable superhero.

We left the guesthouse at the unheard of (unless you’re still awake from the party the night before) hour of 4:30am. When we arranged our transportation yesterday, we were unaware that a tropical storm was about to descend upon us that evening, so when we arrived at Angkor there were still several of these rain clouds lurking rudely in the sky, and the possibility of seeing any sign of the sun was looking very slim. However, the weather conditions didn’t prevent hundreds of tourists from making exactly the same journey as us, their cameras poised on tripods standing in front of the lake.

At dawn Angkor is a very grey and eerie place to walk around. It’s beauty isn’t really appreciated in quite the same way without the presence of the sun to illuminate the sky behind this spectacular and imposing building.

Our itinery for the day included the following :

  1. Angkor Wat (for sunrise)
  2. South gate of Angkor Thom (where we watched the sun breaking throuh the clouds)
  3. Bayon
  4. Baphuon
  5. Terrace of the elephants
  6. Terrace of the leper king
  7. Ta Prohm (jungle temple & our personal favourite)
  8. Angkor Wat
  9. Phnom Bakheng (for sunset)

After our viewing of Ta Prohm, we spent the remainder of the morning drinking iced coffee and resisting the incessant pleas of a little girl begging, wanting us to buy her postcards, wooden flute, or set of 10 bamboo bangles for $1. I made the mistake of asking to look at the postcards, and was promptly surrounded by 3 of the little girl’s friends, all attempting to sell me exactly the same. It’s quite amusing : the first question they’ll ask is, “where are you from?”and when I reply, “England”, they will recite to me, as if reading from a blackboard : “Capital is London. Luvely Jubbly. Top Banana”, but with a cheeky, lovable glint in their eye.

We had lunch back in Siem Reap town (Angkor prices are far too inflated) at Easy Speaking Restaurant, where we have already become known as the mango and papaya shake girls.

At 3pm our driver collected us and delivered us back to the entrance of Angkor Wat. The sun was so hot it felt like someone had an open flame inches away from my back. Angkor Wat is so much more attractive at this time of day, with the sun shining in between the balusters on the large windows and creating interesting shadows on the walls and floors. It’s very easy to get lost wandering through Angkor’s numerous corridors and rooms, but it’s a mesmorising and captivating kind of lost, where your thoughts wander as much as you do.

We both climbed up to the top of one of Angkor’s 5 chedis, which is a relatively simple task unless you decide to look down part the way through your climb, as I did! Climbing down is rather unnerving too, as the steps are so steep and so shallow that you cannot actually see them until you are standing right on the edge of the prang.

After spending about an hour and a half exploring Angkor Wat, we were driven to Phnom Bakheng. On route we spotted a gathering of mischievous macaque monkeys chasing each other around amongst the trees. Acting like a pair of children we pleaded the tuk tuk driver to stop for half an hour so that we could watch their antics, feed them soursop and chase them around with a camera in hand!

At Phnom Bakheng we scrambled up the rocky incline to the main temple, where we were hoping for a good view of Angkor Wat at sunset. However, there were a few problems :

  1. Due to the level of altitude at which we were standing, our view of Angkor was obstructed by the trees which grow beside it.
  2. Without using a zoom lens on your camera, the temple appears very far away and barely deciferable as Angkor Wat
  3. The clouds hadn’t politely floated away, so were still blocking our view of the sun – hence no sunset

I enjoyed Angkor immensely; the true scale and detailed design of the temples is awe-inspiring. However, after seeing the old Siam empires at Ayuthaya and Sukhothai in Thailand, I do think the awe factor becomes a little diluted.

This eveing Kotoe and I lost track of time and the number of draught Angkor beers we’d both consumed in the guesthouse bar (at $0.50 each, this is very easy to do!). One of the local tuk tuk drivers, Som (who hangs out at the guesthouse so frequently you’d think he works there!) was impressing us both by speaking and reading Japanese, and then proceeded to have a conversation in Japanese with Kotoe. I appreciate that to be a tuk tuk driver you need a good grasp of the English language but to be able to speak, read and understand Japanese (which isn’t a very commonly spoken language outside of Japan) was truly admirable.

Photo is of the famous Ta Phrom (jungle temple), Angkor Wat.

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