Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor

Angkor Wat has in some ways become synonymous with Cambodia. When one speaks of Cambodia, the first thing that comes to mind is the temples. Even though I love ruins I wasn’t particularly keen on doing a 2day temple tour. I knew it was a must-do in Cambodia. I generally avoid doing things just because I am in the area or because everybody else is doing it but this time I had to make an exception.

So we set off from Kratie on an 8hr mini-bus ride to Siem Reap. This was on of the most uncomfortable journeys in my 2 months of backpacking! The van was old and rickety, the roads horribly bumpy and the driver absolutely rash. To add to this, my backside was still very sore from kayaking (I know my arms should have been sore and not my butt but the seats were so uncomfortable in the kayak!) and bouncing around in my seat for 8hrs was a nightmare. Once I reached Siem Reap I decided I wasn’t in the mood to do anything for at least a couple of days. So Joel and I spent that time ambling around the town, going for walks along the (really dirty) river, shopping in the one of the many markets that dot the city and treating ourselves to some expensive-ish food in gorgeous cafes (which totally made me nostalgic for Europe).

The first day of the tour we did the big loop of the temples which basically has the smaller temples. We decided to do this first so as to leave the bigger and more well known temples for the next day.
We started our day at 8am in a tuk-tuk that we hired for the day. For some reason I was very tired and I began to wonder if we should have just skipped the smaller temples altogether. But it was too late to back out so I just went along with our plan. We visited around 5 temples and after the first hr or so I was more awake and was beginning to appreciate the beauty of my surroundings. By the end of the day I was definitely glad that I hadn’t backed out!

The beautiful Banteay Srei temple
The beautiful Banteay Srei temple
Crazy tree growing on the temple of Preah Khan
Crazy tree growing on the temple of Preah Khan

Next day was the big one. We were doing the smaller loop with the bigger temples on a bicycle starting with the sunrise at Angkor Wat. So we woke up at 03:45 and started our cycle trip to the majestic Angkor Wat. The sun rise was good but nothing spectacular but I had got some good pictures so it was worth the early start. We then visited Ta Phrom, which is also known as the Tomb Raider temple, and then Angkor Thom temple complex to see the beautiful Bayon temple. After taking a break for a couple of hours we were back at Angkor Wat to watch the sunset which I actually enjoyed more than the sunrise!

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From the top most tier of one of the temples at Angkor Thom
From the top most tier of one of the temples at Angkor Thom

It had been a looooong day. We’d been up since before 4am, we’d bicycled 50kms in the heat (it was in the mid 40s) and we finally made it back to our hostel 15hrs later, at 7pm! Was it worth it? You bet it was! The temples, the complex they were set in, the ruins were all spectacular! The big temples are the biggest draw in Siem Reap but the tour would not have been complete without the smaller temples. In some ways, seeing the big temples on second day made me feel glad that I had seen the small temples as well.

The last day in Siem Reap we treated ourselves to a full body Khmer massage which was fabulous! There was a lot of stretching and pulling and kneading with a final twist&pull from the waist up that resulted in the most creaks I’ve ever heard coming from anybody’s body! We also rented a private cinema room and treated ourselves to some Robert Downey Jnr action (The Judge) and some popcorn before heading to the night market for dinner. It was the perfect end to my stay in Siem Reap, most expensive city so far but it was all worth it!

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