The bus to Siem Reap was rather uneventful and fast, thank god! We arrived at the bus station in Siem Reap and waited with anticipation as we were told to expect mafia like tuktuk drivers. We were grateful that our guesthouse provided a free pickup as the barbed wire gates to the bus station were locked behind us as we left, preventing the other passengers leaving until they had a ride.
Haks guesthouse was not really what we had expected, but in a good way. Guesthouses are usually small and intimate. The guesthouse was setup more like a hotel with four floors of well appointed rooms. Hak, the owner was a really nice guy who had a genuine interest in helping his guests. They also had a restaurant with nice dinners and free breakfast.
Our first evening we wandered into town and had a look around. Sam was in need of some light pants that covered her knees as required to enter some of the temples so went out searching, returning with some baggy, hippy turquoise pants for the pricey sum of $6.50.
We were in Siem Reap for one reason: the Angkor temples. We had heard so much about them and were raring to go. The next morning we had planned to get a tuktuk to drop us at the first temple and just walk, getting our own way back later. Hak suggested that we were better to hire a driver for a day as it was both cheaper and easier. For $12 we got 27 year old Tea to drive us for the day.
Step one: purchase passes to the sites. For $40 each we got a ticket to all the Angkor sites to be visited any three days within a week. This took less than two minutes. Easy!
Step two: visit the sites.
The sites are based 8km out of town and the tuktuk ride out was amazing in itself. There was a never-ending procession of tuktuks leading us down the tree lined road.
We entered the park through the south gate a bridge guarded by dozens of stone warriors wrestling a serpent. There were elephants carting tourists up hills and people, busses and tuktuks everywhere. We eventually arrived at our first port of call: Angkor Thom complex. The first temple, Bayon, was reported as a must see and it was obvious that everyone got that memo as Bayon was packed with thousands of tourists. It was truly impressive with large stone faces carved into the huge towers, but we were a bit overwhelmed by the shear number of people. As we climbed one of the steep towers Sam overextended the stitching on her hippy pants and rippppp! There goes the crutch. Bugger!
A short walk from Bayon was Baphuon. It was built in the 11th century and has been recently reopened with the restoration looking more like a giant jigsaw puzzle with no cheat sheet. After climbing up and down hundreds of steps Sam’s pants had a giant hole, so with some discrete wiggling she managed to change into Will’s lovely (hot) track pants.
After a rest we spent the rest of the morning exploring the rest of the temples in Angkor Thom. Incredibly, as soon as we had left Bayon, the crowds essentially disappeared and we had several temples in the middle of the jungle to ourselves.
After Angkor Thom we had some lunch and then went to Ta Prohm, the temple in the jungle reclaimed by trees that was made famous by the Tomb Raider movies. The complex was stunning with crumbling facades and walls having been totally enveloped by trees. Part of the complex was being restored, and fortunately the areas that had already been done were done fantastically well in that you could not tell that they had been touched.
The only downside to the day was seeing some idiotic tourists wearing tiny shorts, singlet tops or in one case no top at all. Idiotic as it is a religious complex which asks you to cover up out of respect. God there are some fucktards in the world!!
The second day we went to 5 temples. The 2 most impressive were Preah Khan and Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is simply huge, and even though there were lots of people there it seemed nearly empty. The carvings throughout and the detail of the building was stunning. After climbing all the way to the top and spending an hour exploring inside, we walked around the back which was completely empty, and just sat staring for 5 minutes without seeing a single person. We walked back to the tuktuk past several families of monkeys and went to Preah Khan.
If there is one temple everyone should see, it’s Preah Khan. By far our favourite, it is a huge highly explorable monastic complex which was originally a monastery and school as well as serving as King Jayavarman VII’s residence. The endless passageways lead to countless hallways, outbuildings, shrines, courtyards and statues. Near the end of the complex is a large courtyard featuring a tree which has fused with the wall over the centuries. . While the first day at the temples had been good, if somewhat underwhelming after all of the hype, the second day was over and above the hype. Best day of the trip so far.
The next day we took a break from the temples and explored the town of Siem Reap before heading to some far away temples on our last day. 4 hours return on a tuktuk certainly led to a unique view of the countryside and was a relief to be cool in the wind after the sweltering days thus far. The first temple we saw, Banteay Srey, was teeming with tourists and rather underwhelming. The second site, Kbal Spean, contained multiple carvings along a 500 metre stretch in and around a mountain stream. The jagged (and welcome after 2 hours of mainly sitting) 30 minute hike up the mountain led us to the stream, and the walk through the jungle was just as rewarding as seeing the carvings themselves. The final temple that we saw, Banteay Samre, was very quite and a great way to end the trip. The large walls and interior courtyard and shrine bore a striking resemblance to Wat Phou in Laos. A perfect way to end, and just at the right time as we were shattered.
We had planned on spending the next day in Siem Reap recuperating from the temples and seeing the last of the town. However on returning to the guesthouse we found out that the Vietnam visa we had applied for had come back and for some reason started the next day. This meant that we couldn’t use it as it would expire 5 days before we had planned on leaving the country. Frustrated and annoyed (at the travel agent who forgot to inform us or the guesthouse of the policy changes) we hastily made plans to head to Phnom Penh to sort out the Vietnam visa, and also get the Russian and Chinese visas.
To sum up: Angkor is worthy of the hype. Spend at least 3 days there, and leave the big hitters for day 2 or 3. We are already making plans for a trip back to see them again, this time in the wet season.
NB…we will post photos when we find a computer that is able to do so!