Cambodia - Day 5, Angkor Wat and other temples!


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March 3rd 2022
Published: April 20th 2022
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Our last cycling day was to be a bit easier. We were to spend the day riding through the extensive ruins of Angkor, the former capital of the Khmer Empire, visiting three main temple complexes. However, the day did not start off great when half of us were ill. Everyone says food poisoning, but I don't think so. I think we were all different. For me, I am pretty sure it was the dinner I ate the night before - a sauce just did not agree with me. I was not in ideal condition, but I was mainly ok. However, the one guy of our group was very sick; we knew this because he was unusually quiet, resting more than site-seeing, and not taking any photos of this remarkable area! He must have been ill!

First things first, we were to ride in a balloon to see sunrise at Angkor Wat. So, both groups were driven to the balloon site and I was among the first group to get on. It was a very windy day and as we slowly raised up you could feel the balloon tugging against its tethers. I was fine with the ride, but I guess a few others felt the effects of the wind. So, the workers said they could not do the second ride for the remaining group members due to the wind and maybe they could later. It was pretty cool, but they weren't missing much; it was not very expensive though.

Angkor Wat

So, we went back to the hotel and changed for the ride. My roommate, S, was not feeling it and opted to ride in the support van as we were going to be together most of the day anyway. First we got our entrance tickets to the complex then went out to our bikes waiting in the parking lot. It was a fairly short ride to our first stop: Angkor Wat. We entered the park and there were a couple of checkpoints to see our tickets, then we rode along the well maintained road until we came to a parking area. Here we left our bikes and got out to look at the monkeys and nearby lakes. It was a short walk through other ruins and tree lined lanes until we saw our first glimpse of this iconic temple.

Angkor Wat is the largest religious complex in the world and houses the largest Buddhist temples in the world. It was built in the early 12th century at the behest of Suryavarman II as a Hindu temple, dedicated to the god Vishnu. At the end of the 12th century, Jayavarman VII was the new king after a period of war and felt the Hindu gods had abandoned them. He established the capital in Angkor and converted Angkor Wat to a Buddhist temple as with the rest of the capital. Even though it had fallen into a state of neglect and disrepair starting around the 16th century, it was never completely abandoned, unlike the surrounding temple complexes.

Inside the grounds of the temple, once you pass over the moat, there is an outer wall surrounding a courtyard and then the temple itself. The temple was built to emulate Mount Meru, the home of the Hindu gods, with the five towers representing the five peaks. It has a slightly different alignment to the other temples in the area, with an east-west orientation, and with some possible celestial significance. There are steep steps climbing up to the temple itself (you need to be modestly dressed to access). Our guide explained to us the feet are considered dirty and so when they approach the temple above, they are essentially forced to climb sideways. So, that was interesting. There are several motifs scattered around the complex as well. When we left on the other side, with a great view over the west side of the complex, which was pretty amazing. We visited the little area north where there were small shops where they kept trying to sell us trinkets, but I was happy with a very cold coconut juice in the coconut - so refreshing. It was so hot!

Ta Prohm Temple

Our next stop was the "Jungle Temple", Ta Prohm. At this point, most of the group was done with the cycling, but I still wanted to do it. There was talk of everyone taking the van to the sites (not me), and then even talk of just going back to the hotel and coming back later. I put my foot down on that one; I came to ride my bike in Angkor and that's what I was going to do, even if it was just me and Kea. One other woman, "I", joined me and Kea as we wound our way on a gorgeous path through the jungle to the next stopping point while the rest rode in the support van. This was the nicest bike route of the day as it was on a dedicated bike trail, shaded from the sun, and passing these incredible walls and ruins - very peaceful and spiritual, what I expected from this adventure.

We met up with the rest of the group and support crew at a parking area which was flocking with aggressive vendors. This is my worst nightmare, and we were all a bit grouchy at this point, so we made our way to the entrance, where we also were reminded to wear our face masks. It was a bit of a walk, but man was it awesome. There were some local musicians who had apparently lost limbs to mines playing for tips. There were incredible ruins to either side to set you up to what to see. And then there was this amazing temple with giant trees growing out of it, untouched for centuries. Ta Prohm was constructed in the 12th century by Jayavarman VII and was abandoned after the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 15th century. This is one of the few temples where they are not planning restoration and instead want you to experience the jungle overgrowth over these vast ruins. Truly epic. This is also where they filmed scenes from the first Lara Croft movie too (I never saw it).

So, we go inside, losing one of our group along the way. We got some amazing photos even though a couple were yelled at a few times for various things - removing modest clothes, posing sexily, and sitting on a tree. Honestly, all valid points. There was so much to see, I probably could have stayed at this complex all day.

Afterwards, we walked through the pushy vendors again, seeing a few members of the other group who were coming in as we were leaving. I and I rode our bikes to our lunch stop. The food was once again delicious and plentiful, but we were all a little sick so we did not eat very much. At this point, M and I took a tuk tuk back to the hotel as he was still very ill - he wound up actually going to the hospital and getting an IV drip. S stayed in the van, but the other two women, J and G, joined me for our final ride.

Bayon Temple

We had a pleasant ride to our next stop, though still not as nice as the second ride I had. However, we spent most of the time riding on back paths rather than streets and it was so lovely and peaceful. We crossed a bridge where statues lined either side, though their heads were cut off, and they had previously held a large serpent which was mainly missing. Then we passed through a really awesome gate and we saw our photographer from the first day! He was there to document our last ride! So, the three of us were happy we had decided to finish strong. We continued on, passing so many other ruins I would have loved to see (you really need to spend at least two days here I think), including another jungle temple, the terrace of the elephants, and active Buddhist temples. Man, I really should have just stayed another day on my own.

So, we finally made it to Bayon Temple itself, which was the end of the journey. Here we took some final professional photos, including one with me and Kea and Tia to celebrate me being the only one to do all rides. I was pretty proud of myself.

Bayon Temple was the center of the old capital, built in the late 12th century. It is up for debate as to whether it was initially Hindu or Buddhist, as it is quite unlike many of the other temples. The temple itself is in the dead center of the whole capital complex, Angkor Thom, which is surrounded by 8m high walls that are each 3km long. There are gates at each of the cardinal directions. We entered through the Victory Gate to the east and left through the south gate.

We did not go into the temple to explore in depth, but walked around the outside. Again, we were all pretty wiped at this point. But we enjoyed the overall atmosphere, seeing lots of families enjoying the day. There are many faces easily observed on the temple, in all different manner and state of preservation. The Japanese government is currently restoring the site and we were able to rest on the stones which were clearly identified by number for where they were initially placed. Just across the street there was an active Buddhist temple, not too big, but intricately decorated. It was a very interesting site and the most activity we saw all day. Again, I could have spent a whole day here exploring.

Tonle Om (South gate)

The gate to the south of Bayon temple was busy. We cross over the Siem Reap river, which is a tributary of Tonle Sap, and the bridge is quite long. Here is where we got to see the full statues lining either side of the bridge, in some places still holding the serpent. Despite this being a public bridge, we were still admonished by the local police to coverup before we could take photos of the sunset on the bridge. I loved that each statue was unique - all of their faces, bodies and expressions were different. It was so interesting and memorable.

Saying goodbye

That evening, we spent the night as one big group (M was still at the hospital) and visited some ruins at night which was super peaceful and spiritual. Then we were on free time. After all the food we had had, as well as being ill, the cycling group skipped dinner and drinks. I and I instead saw a massage parlor as soon as we stepped off the bus and went in for a full body massage. This was the Khmer massage I was curious about at the first place and it was awesome - not quite as stretchy as a Thai massage, but it felt amazing after this busy week. And I think it was a total of $15 for a full hour. We then found a tuk tuk driver who tried to find us something to eat; we wound up sharing a small pizza and riding back to the hotel where I promptly passed out.

The Siem Reap airport was amazing. Still few tourists, so it was virtually empty except for our one direct flight to Singapore (great airline, btw). It was lovely architecture, tasteful decor, organized and generally friendly. Not too much to do inside, but at this point, I just wanted to sit and chill for a few minutes. So, goodbye Cambodia! It was a dream of mine to visit Angkor Wat and it was greatly enhanced by the cycling adventure in Siem Reap. I do wish I had spent at least one more day here. Maybe next time....


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