Angkor the face of the Khmer empire

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June 7th 2010
Published: June 7th 2010
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Bangkok - Siem Reap

The trip from Bangkok

We left bright and early at 8am for our trip into Cambodia. We traveled by bus for about 5 hours to the border town of Aranya Prathet (better known for the Cambodia side of Poi Pet) and were quickly hassled out of $35 US each for our 3 month visa’s (as opposed to the $20 US that the guidebook and most other people we had spoken with told us it would be). We went through Thai customs, walked for about 20 minutes in no man’s land past a massive casino, entered Cambodia and were transported to the local bus station where we waited for an hour before finally leaving for Siem Reap. The bus ride into town wasn’t as bad as I had remembered, they had improved the condition of the roads drastically, from pot-hole ridden dirt roads to flat pavement, the trip took about 3 hours and we were there before nightfall.

A quick note, I’m quoting the prices in $US because it is accepted just as much as the local currency (Cambodian Riel) and most places give you the dollar amount for something as opposed to the riel.

Entering Siem Reap

Pulling into what we were told was the bus station, and was very obviously not, we were shepherded onto Tuk Tuks and told that we would check out a guesthouse that the drivers worked for first and would be driven there for free, if we didn’t want to stay they would take us where we wanted to go, also for free. We were very apprehensive about the situation, waiting for the hidden costs of the ride to spring up. We arrived at their guesthouse and Scott and Bevan (a South African we met on the bus) checked out the rooms while I waited with the bags. They came back about 5 minutes later with stories of how pushy they were and no specific price (“Up to you” being the main quote). We thanked the drivers, hoisted the bags on and asked how much. They continued with their high pressure “sales” technique, and when realizing we weren’t going to go for it asked for $4 US each (for a very short ride). Scott was curious about this as we were told the ride would be free and asked the driver, with the response of “You decided”. So he gave our driver about $3 US for the two of us, which infuriated the guy, he ran away behind a cement wall and came back waving a rather large piece of wood, looking much like a baseball bat. He was screaming at Scott calling him an “f**king western” and other inappropriate names, saying we owed him 1000 riel (25 cents US) more and that he would find us and and and..... we realized he was shaking from fear and nervousness, paid up the 1000 reil and walked away from the hysterical Cambodian.

The three of us walked through town trying to ignore the many tuk tuk drivers coming up and telling us to come with them to their guesthouse and finally came upon ‘Popular Guesthouse”. Pleasant rooms, a nice cafe on the second floor, we were sold! We relaxed over a few beers and some dinner and met a (seemingly) nice tuk tuk driver and arranged to do a three day tour of the temples with him starting the next day.

Our three day tour around the temples

We managed to visit an amazing 16 temples over the course of 3 days, although the majority were made and decorated in the same way, they all held a uniqueness to them that made each one just as interesting as the last. Bevan had a fantastic book with him and we used this as our tour guide instead of hiring one for the 3 days, it had a suggested itinerary which we followed with some alterations.

The entrance fee to the park was $40 US per person for 3 days, there are other types of passes available as well (1 day was $20 US). The food around the park was a bit pricey; we spent, on average, $5 a meal and water was usually 2000 riel (50 cents US) and could be bought outside every temple. There was also a large number of children and some adults selling just about everything tourists would want, paintings, carvings, trinkets, books and some indispensible scarves that saved us from the dust and helped keep the sweat at bay in the hot hot weather. The unfortunate thing about buying from the people in the park is that about half of what they earn goes to the local police, a good thing to keep in mind when in the park and buying something from that cute little child is so tempting, they don’t get to keep that money you’re giving them. In general we kept our buying to a minimum, only spending a few extra dollars on souvenirs when we found someone who was clever and was able to have a conversation with us without trying to persuade us to buy a something in a sing-song whining voice. (“Sir one dolllllllarr, you buy!!) If you want to buy things from the temples, it’s better to wait until you get back into town and visit the day and night markets, where you can buy all of the same things as at the temples.

Seeing so many temples in such a short time really does give you the feeling of being ‘Templed out’, and I’m sure me going through each one in detail would get quite boring. I’ll leave the exploring bit to the pictures and your own imaginations, and will give you the itinerary that we wound up following in the end, and go through some of our personal favourites from each day.

1. Prasat Kravan
2. Pre Rup
3. East Mebon
4. Ta Som
5. Preah Khan
6. Ta Keo
7. Chau Say Tevoda & Thommanon
8. Terrace of the Leper King & Terrace of the Elephants
9. South Gate (just south of Bayon)

1. Watched the sunrise over Angkor Wat
2. Banteay Srei
3. Banteay Samré
4. Ta Prohm
5. Banteay Kdei

1. Angkor Wat
2. Bayon

Day One Favourites

Scott’s favourite was Ta Keo, because of the massiveness of it, with very little detailed carvings. (I think he liked it because it reminded him of Lego stacking blocks) He was impressed with the overall height, and the ridiculously steep steps only added to that image.
My favourite from would have been the smaller last minute decision of the two Terraces, that of the Leper King and the Elephants. We saw them earlier on in the day just driving by and made the decision to go back and visit, and I’m glad we did. There were hundreds of carvings of Buddha on one extreme side, with massive very detailed elephant’s carvings throughout. At one point I lost both Scott and Bevan, when a little boy appeared out of nowhere and told me that my friend with the camera (I was assuming Scott) was further ahead and to follow him. He managed to round up Bevan and we worked our way through this amazing little roofless tunnel with some very well detailed and less weather worn carvings (with the helpfulness of our tour-guide to be) before popping back out the other side of the terrace right into Scott.

Day Two Favourites

Our second day had a very early start, up at 4:30am and gone by 5 to catch the sunrise over Angkor Wat; this was Scott’s favourite part of day two, and I think it needs no explanation as to why. The sunrise was amazing, we managed to find a not so crowded area off to the side in the outer courtyard just behind one of the empty man-made pools and were able to sit and relax as the great ball of fire rose up gently behind the magnificent temple of Angkor.
My favourite of the day was Bantaey Srei, it was one of the smaller temples that we visited, with much of the inner courtyard closed off to the public. The carvings at this temple were so intricate; with some of the finest detail we had seen or saw at any other temples. It was also one of the farthest away temples (not really one of my favourite parts about it), but felt like it had a different style then the others we visited that were closer together.

Day Three Favourites

Our last day was split up into two, the morning being spent at Angkor Wat, the afternoon at Bayon. We spent about 3 hours at Angkor Wat, and I am sure we could have spent a few more if we wanted to get further into the detail of it. The outer wall of the main temple is covered in carvings showing scenes of battle, mythology, and love as well as showing signs of much hard work and amazing detail given to every aspect of the carving as a whole. The size of the temple grounds is also something to marvel at, everything lying symmetrically is a marvel in itself.
Our favourite temple of the day, as well as being an overall favourite was Bayon. We were a bit disappointed upon arriving to the site as it started to grey over and we could tell a rainstorm was coming, but it only added to the feel we were getting from the area. It felt a sort of dark place itself, with the long maze like corridors having little light. Sure enough, once we reached the top where the astonishing faces where it started to quite literally rain buckets. Instead of taking cover I decided it was the perfect time to experience a rain storm first hand, and spent 15 minutes dancing around amongst the massive smiling faces enjoying the downpour. After taking refugee for awhile with a Buddha statue we found Bevan and headed back ‘home’ for a relaxing beer and to let the awesomeness of the experience soak in.

Our last day in Siem Reap was spent sleeping in (oh what a luxury), and exploring the local market before getting caught in a rainstorm and heading back to our guesthouse. We spent the evening hanging out with some friends we had made from the guesthouse and making plans for the next leg of our trip, Phnom Penh, the modern day capital of Cambodia.

Additional photos below
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8th June 2010

great times!
Loving your blog and it brings back some good (but very hot!) memories of the wonderful time we had there. You photos are beautiful with the blue sky behind.. really brings out the colours. Keep enjoying it!
9th June 2010

The detailed blog and photos makes me want to have this country as part of my travel plan.
14th June 2010

Hey guys, the blogs and the pics are great ! Great detailed writing spiced with great pics ! Take care guys.
15th June 2010

Great Polly pic! I love reading about your adventure! Stay well, Candee
11th August 2010

great article and amazing pics

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