So after a nightbus that felt like a prisioner transfer (it had no windows!) I arrived bright and early into Siem Reap. Now one of the most popular places on the planet (over 2 million visitors a year!) Siem Reap attracts us there by the presence of Angkor Wat and the neighbouring temples. The town itself gets somewhat over shadowed by the temples but in itself has much to offer from the tree lined streets, slow flowing rivier and old French shops/houses.
Angkor Wat is the largest religious structure in the world and is the Khmers national symbol. Like the other temple mountains of Angkor, Angkor Wat replicates the spiritual universe in minature. The central tower is Mt Meru with its surrounding smaller peaks bounded in turn by continents and the ocean (the moat). The Cambodian god kings each strove to better their ancestors in size and scale when building a temple, culmintaing in the biggest, Angkor Wat. Their are hundreds of temples still surviving but these are only a small reflection of what was a vast political, religious and social centre which boasted a population of 1 million when London just had 50,000 inhabitants!
For me though, the
temples came first so off I went on a bicycle bright and early and bought my 3 day pass! The temples are set in a beautiful area of woodland and water which made cycling around a pleasure regardless of the temples and strangely I hardly felt the heat as there was so much shade around. It was definately the right option for me to as you could do what you wanted and go anywhere. Alternatively you could book onto a bus tour or hire a tuktuk, but for $2 a day, the bike won for me! So after leaving at 7am I had a very busy first day. Instead of heading straight to Angkor Wat I left that for another day, I headed out to Banteay Kdei and Ta Prohm the latter being famous for being in the Tomb Raider film and also known as the tree temple. I then headed over to Ankor Thom where lie many different temples to explore and to name them all would just bore you! But all the temples were amazing, so incredible to think about the history that lies with them and how each of them are so unqiue! I have to say
I did enjoy visiting the smaller temples though as the tour buses do not stop at those ones so I didnt have to fight for space in them like you do in the tree temple!!
Anway day 2 I had planned to get up at 5am to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, this plan failed miserably when I woke up and then fell straight back to sleep! So at a more reasonable hour I got up and on a bike again to explore further out to Banteay Samre and Banteay Srei some 30km ride in one direction! All was going well, I had explored Banteay Samre, a very peaceful and intact temple and had been back on my bike for 30minutes when my bike decided to stop working! I was in the most remote area possible just my luck! I found a local family (more like a bunch of giggiling girls!) who soon found a screwdriver to see if we could discover the fault only to reveal that the chain had snapped so there was no hope for me!! All that was left for me was to start the looooong walk back and hope for some tuktuk to
drive past! Luckily after 10mins I caught one who was heading back to Banteay Srie so I hitched a ride to there, where I then hitched another TukTuk to the tree temple and then finally found one heading back to Siem Reap to get me back to town! I met some lovely people on the way and am VERY thankful to them for letting me hop on with my bike or be towed along! However it then meant I only had 1 day left on my ticket and I was still yet to get to Angkor Wat, so once again I set my alarm for 5am!!
5am is never a pleasant time to wake up, especially when your on holiday, but I did it! Back on a working bike and a flash tourch in hand (no lights on the bike!) I cycled back up to the temples on a mission. I had been warned about the crowds of tourists but a fellow room mate who had joined me took us to a very pretty window seat where we sat and waited for the sunrise. Its not til you are their that we then realised, yes sunrise is at 6.25
Waiting for sunrise
but by the time its actually risen above the temple its much later than that, so inbetween sunrise and it appearing I left all the thousands of tourists and wandered the temple then and it was heaven, I hardly saw another tourist! The top section was however closed off.... but a chinese tour group jumped the fences so I followed suit, only to be yelled at, but if they were going, so was I! so up I continued. I knew a guy in my hostel who had bribed the security to let him up, so I knew you could go there! Anyway I didnt get escorted of the premesies so all was good! By this time the sun was turning the temple orange and it was stunning. I definately think saving Angkor Wat to the last temple you visit is the best plan! Before I knew it though, I was heading back and that was the end of my 3 day pass. Definately worth investing in one if your in town long enough, although I think the week long pass would be way too much....temple over kill!
My plan had now been to leave Siem Reap by boat and
head down to Battambang. The boat trip there is suppose to be stunning and for me was the only reason I would be heading that way but I then discovered that because its the dry season the boat journey no longer takes 6hrs, but 11hrs!!! And also more expensive. There was no way i was prepared to sit on a tiny boat for that long especially as it was taking me someplace that didnt interest me too much. So instead I opted to hang around Siem Reap abit longer, take in more of the town before heading to Bangkok!
Whilst hanging around around a few more days in Siem Reap I managed to do a few more things. Every Thursday and Saturday there is a free cello concert ran by the director of the childrens hospital Dr Beat Richner. Dr Richner is a Swiss Dr who origionanly worked in Phnom Penh at the pediatric hospital in 1974-1975 until the Khmer Rouge took over. In 1991 the King and government asked Dr Richner to restore the pediatric hospital named Kantha Bopha in Phnom Penh. Since then Dr Richner has continued to open more pediatric hospitals across Cambodia
allowing free treatment to all children. Unfortunately there is little government money to support these hopsitals and 90% of the costs to run them come from private donations. So Dr Richner continues to hold these cello concerts twice a week in order to raise awareness of the hospitals and help try and raise money for them. His favourite moto is 'If your old, give me money, if your young, give me blood, if your inbetween give me both!' The work that goes on in these hospitals is amazing and without this free access over 3000 children would die a month! A few other facts.... 65% of all Cambodians have TB. 90% of medical drugs you buy in Cambodia are fake, 20% of these are toxic! So the hospitals have to buy in the drugs from Europe and the States. Therefore if you travel to Cambodia.....bring your own medicines!!! So along with all this information, his cello playing was really nice. Id never listened to a solo cello player before and actually found myself enjoying it. Its a free evening with donations welcome, so if your ever in Siem Reap I would definately recommended going as its a fun and informative
On my final night in town I was then lucky enough to be able to see the Giant Street Puppet show of which 450 local children froms schools, orphanages and street kid organisations created Giant puppets to parade along town. The puppets were INCREDIBLE! Hopefully some of the pictures highlight the scale of what they created. The atmosphere was electric, all the kids singing, danicng and laughing. Great fun was had by everyone, I was so pleased I got to experience it! But unfortunately it came to an end and it was time for me to pack up in Siem Reap and head to Bangkok to following morning!
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