Angkor - the grand circuit and transport options

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January 5th 2019
Published: January 5th 2019
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Angkor was the capital of Khmer and a huge city which thrived from the 9th to 15th centuries. What remains are the religious buildings as other structures were made of wood. The earlier temples are Hindu and later ones Buddhist. The temples were designed to look like Mt Meru, the Hindu Mt Olympus, and successive kings used them to consolidate their power. Angkor Wat is the worlds largest religious building.
The city was thought to have been abandoned as the water supplies were silting up and due to successive wars.

Trying to escape the heat today we woke up early and headed out after a quick breakfast. Our hotel is supposed to provide free bikes, but apparently they’re taken today (our room is ‘deluxe with balcony & bicycles’ - only there’s no balcony or bikes). This led to a quick change of plan, rather than cycling to the nearby Angkor Thom city complex we decided to get an electric scooter and do the ‘grand circuit’ - around 26km in total.

There is so much conflicting information regarding how you are allowed to get around the temples in Angkor. To clarify in Cambodia you need a Cambodian driving license to
Prasat Leak NeangPrasat Leak NeangPrasat Leak Neang

3 elephant heads carving
drive a car so self hire isn’t an option.
You can usually drive a motorbike or scooter without a licence EXCEPT in Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat region. It is illegal to do so here without a Cambodian licence. The confusion comes as they recently changed this law, made it legal, and have now made it illegal again. Because of this there are loads of places that will hire you a bike (for around $6 a day). There are plenty of tourists who do this and the police seem to turn a blind eye. We, however, weren’t keen to do something we now knew to be illegal.
There is, as usual, a loophole.
Ebikes aren’t considered scooters and so don’t require a licence. The little ebikes have peddles, need charging during the day (there are loads of charging points around) and only take one person (so at $10 a day they’re not saving much money compared to a tuk tuk). The bigger ebikes (the blue ones) don’t have peddles, have plenty of charge for the whole day and take 2 passengers (max weight for both 120kg but they’re fortunately relaxed about this). They’re $10 a day or $12 if
East Mebon templeEast Mebon templeEast Mebon temple

One of the monolithic elephants. There were 8.
there’s 2 of you.
Bicycles are also allowed, but it’s really hot here so not appealing for the further away temples ($2-6 per day depending on quality)
Most people get a tuk tuk - these vary in price considerably and we hate haggling (not our forte). They prices seem to be around $20 at the moment but go up if you want to see sunrise/sunset or any temples that aren’t on the drivers usual route.

After all this research we decided to go for an ebike as a cheaper, legal option. We picked up the bike from near our hotel and headed over to the ticket office.
Most blogs talk about whether to get a 1 day ($37) or 3 day ($62) pass. We went crazy and got the 7 day pass ($72) so that we didn’t feel rushed when looking around. It can be used anytime over the course of a month.

From the ticket office we headed to the start of the grand tour, the Pre Rup temple. We used the 1944 ‘a guide to the Angkor monuments’ by Maurice Glaize. It’s very good and I would recommend downloading it onto your phone/tablet and taking it with you if you find the history interesting. It even took us to 5 temples where we were the only people there! Unfortunately the newer guides seem rather less detailed.

We did the ‘grand circuit’ backwards compared to most people (things have obviously changed since the 1940s...). This was great as it meant many temples were quieter than they would have otherwise been. It also means that we didn’t see the main temples (Angkor Wat, Angkor
Thom, etc)

The first temple was much bigger than most of the ones we’d seen at either Hampi or Bagan. As we’d found in Sambor Prei Kuk the engravings here were also in much better condition than in the other countries we’ve seen old Buddhist and Hindu temples.
Near the first temple is the small Prasat Leak Neang. We were the only people here. It may have been part of the Pre Rup complex. It’s similar to he temples seen at Sambor Prei Kuk and has a beautifully preserved carving of an elephant above the door.

Next was the East Mebon temple. Highlights here were stone lions either side of the staircases, monolithic elephants and more intricate carvings. This temple used to be in the centre of large lake - now dried up and used as rice fields.

From here we went to Ta Som. This temple was a little more how I imagined Angkor to be - piles of rubble and trees growing out of archways.

Krol Ko was another empty temple. This small structure is surrounded by the remains of a moat and its right next to a group of restaurants which makes the fact it was deserted even more weird. After eating lunch we crossed the road to the Neak Pean, a temple in the middle of a lake and surrounded by water and four ponds.

Prasat Prei and Banteay Prei were the next temples, again we were the only people here. The later was in a state of ruin, with rubble everywhere and trees growing up through the centre of the complex. It was very cool and definitely worth a look.

Our final stop for the day was Krol Romeas, again empty. This large oval area was thought to have been used to tame elephants.

There are other big temples usually seen on this tour but we decided to leave them for another day since we have time. Heading back to the hotel we enjoyed a cool down in the pool before changing and heading out for dinner.

Tomorrow we hope to cycle out to Angkor Thom for the day. This is a 12km cycle before we even start walking around it’s 13km round walls. This may be a bad idea...

Additional photos below
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6th January 2019

Cambodia can be such a wild wild East, with promises and rule changes on the daily. I’m glad you took it all in stride and enjoyed your travels through that amazing country!
6th January 2019

Hello! I’m enjoying your blogs. Interested in your ebikes. Could you post a picture maybe of the bikes for 2 people? I’ve never seen one and can’t imagine what they are like. One person in the basket on the front? The crossbar? Happy travels! Rachel

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