Published: February 7th 2009February 7th 2009
Arriving in Cambodia was a culture shock for us and definitely not in a bad way. Compared to India, it was cleaner, the streets were wider and not so overpopulated, sometimes there were footpaths and there was not a cow in sight (apart from on our dinner plates)! Unfortunately for us, Cambodia is also more expensive than India, mainly owing to the fact that the US dollar is the major currency in use. This would have been great 5 months ago... not so much now.
We spent 4 nights in Siem Reap - the gateway to the temples of Angkor, the first of which was spent primarily recovering from the flight and eating lots of beef (first time in 2 months there has been beef on the menu, oh yeah!!) and the latter 3 days exploring the magnificent temples of Angkor.
On the first day, feeling particularly energetic we decided to explore the temples by bike. So off we went on our rickety bikes to our first destination - Angkor Wat. What should have been a short 40 minute bike ride on tarmac turned into a bum-numbing (the bikes were really, really rickety) two hour slog on a dirt
and sand road, thanks to Merric’s poor map reading skills. However, as soon as we set our eyes on Angkor Wat all was forgotten as it really was nothing short of spectacular. We ended up spending the rest of the afternoon there because it was just so awesome that we needed several hours just to take it all in - it has 800 metres of bass reliefs surrounding the main part of the temple alone! We also found that early to mid afternoon was a great time to visit the temples because all the package tourists were off having lunch, allowing us to sit peacefully in the grounds reading the Angkor guide book which I had purchased earlier in the day.
After having a quick cycle around some of the surrounding lesser known temples, we headed back to Siem Reap for an early night before rising at 4am the next morning to hitch a tuk tuk to visit Angkor Wat at sunrise. It seems however that we were not the only ones with such an idea... it was a tourist circus to put it bluntly, with people piling off buses in loads. Since we were there early, we managed
to get a good spot to sit so we could enjoy the sunrise in relative peace.
Seeing as we already had a tuk tuk driver for the day we decided to fully utilise him and go and visit the Banteay Srei temple - 32km from Siem Reap. Banteay Srei is famous for its intricate, well preserved carvings and even though it was a small temple it was definitely impressive. On the way back we also visited some of the lesser known temples such as Ta Som and the lichen covered Preah Khan before the more well known Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm, of Tomb Raider fame, was one of the temples that when restoration work began, was not properly restored so as to show tourists what the temples were like when they were first discovered. The result is massive tree roots weaving their way in and out of the remains of the temple, almost as if strangling it. It was seriously cool.
Since we like to take our time exploring the temples and not wanting to get ‘templed out’ too soon we headed back to town mid afternoon for some relaxing and some shopping at the night markets, before
visiting our first real bar in 2 months. It was very, very exciting and we had a lot of fun with some English friends we made (who we will hopefully get a chance to catch up with in Australia). One great thing they have in Asia is the bucket phenomenon. This is basically a large bucket filled with some alcohol and a mixer with a bunch of straws. Good fun.
We had intended on spending the next day back on the bikes, exploring more of Angkor, however feeling a little worse for wear after the previous night we flagged down a tuk tuk instead. First stop was back to Ta Prohm. Unfortunately the day before my camera battery had run dead and I had forgotten to bring my spare. Being one of my favourite temples I really wanted to have some photographic memory of it. Thankfully we did go back because we somehow had managed to miss over half the temple the day before...oops, that would have been very embarrassing, especially since we had missed some of the most impressive parts.
After Ta Prohm, it was a quick visit to the Terrace of the Leper King for a
look at some more impressive bass reliefs followed by the Elephant Terrace - a 300 metre long terrace carved with... elephants! Finally we checked out another one of the ‘big ones’, Bayon. Bayon was also amazing, it has 216 giant faces carved into the stone structure. It was a little bit creepy to feel as if you were constantly being watched.
We rounded out a tiring 3 days with a massage, and not an ordinary kind. We essentially paid good money to sit in a pool and have hundreds of little fish eat the dead skin off our feet (something we really needed after India). It was the strangest feeling ever but it also worked!
I tried to pick a favourite temple but I really can’t. Each temple we saw had something that made it so special, whether it was the peacefulness that came with being a lesser known temple or the grandeur that made it more famous. Ultimately the temples of Angkor are beyond amazing, words don’t do them justice and neither do pictures - so I guess you will just have to see them for yourself!
There are more photos below