Exploring Angkor…. What?… I said Exploring Angkor!

By the time we leave, we will have spent a fantastic 5 days in Siem Reap, the city that basically exists to feed the awesome Angkor Temples. We arrived here full of expectations and ready for some serious cycling.

There are a few main ways to get around the temples of Angkor…
1. By Tour Bus with about 60 other people, and about 60 other tour buses… herded on and off like cattle
2. By motorbike… not the cheapest option for 2 people
3. By remork or tuktuk… costing about Us$10
4. By bicycle… US$1 per day!

So for budgetary and health reasons we went with the bikes. Now $1 will get you something with wheels, but not necessarily any brakes or gears… so we upped our budget to $2 and got a couple of decent bikes for our stay.

Biking it up

We decided to do the temples in 3 days, which costs $40 per person… not cheap, but I guess it is the 8th wonder of the world! We had a tip that if you purchased your tickets after 5pm – you would get free access for that night plus the 3 days… so we headed off towards the sunset… along with hundreds of other tourists. It was a real circus with huge buses kicking up dust and touts everywhere and people running up a hill to get the best spot. To be honest it was so un-magical and an odd introduction to Angkor. Much better to do the sunset once you know where your favourite spot is and you can head back there.

PFB enjoying the sunset

Unpeturbed however, we got up at 5am the next day to head to a sunrise spot… this time avoiding the typical place which was Angkor Wat’s west gate – we headed to the lesser used east gate. The view of the sun doesn’t rise between the famous towers of Angkor Wat from this point but we seriously had the whole temple to ourselves for 15 minutes… which was totally magical.

Angkor Wat is the largest religious building in the world and it is truly astounding up close. The carvings are so intricate and well preserved and the stories they tell are fascinating. We had breakfast in the shadow of the temple watching the sun climbs higher and the tourists filter in and it felt very peaceful. So at about 7.30am it was starting to get hot so we hit the road. All the roads are really flat and well maintained so it is really easy to get around the temple complex… with guidebook in hand you can work out which ones you want to see… you would need alot long that 3 days to see them all!

Angkor Wat

Our favourite apart from the Wat, was Ta Promh where the trees have totally taken over the temple… very jungley and interesting but full of tour groups. We found some peace and quiet in some of the further out temples and before we knew it, we had been out on the bikes for over 9 hours and we very saddle sore and covered in red dust. We covered about 30km on the first day so slept like babies and decided to bypass the sunrise on day 2 in favour of beauty sleep.

Day two and our muscles seemed to be mostly intact! So a later start saw us off to the ancient fortified city of Angkor Thom… again by the less touristy route through the VIctory Gate in the east… which added about 5km onto the trip! The city really needs a good 4-5 hours to explore and we managed to find some quieter spots to relax and soak up the atmosphere of the ruins. We lunched by a royal bathing pool; now used by local kids for cleaning up, then climbed the terrace of the elephants before heading to the awesome Bayon… famous for its 216 stone faces. It is really unsettling looking around all the giant faces but they are quite peaceful looking if not slightly intimidating. As we had covered most of Angkor Thom by foot, the bums were a bit rested so we power-pedalled back for another look at Angkor Wat… this time from the touristy west gate. Hundred and hundreds of people and a lovely view of scaffolding made this a little less magical than day one…  Finished off the day with a Seeing Hands massage by the blind (see Andy’s Blog on Massages).

Tandem Time

So day three hit and we decided to swap the bikes for something with a bit more combined power……. a tandem! Not so common in Siem Reap, it drew alot of interests from the locals and tourists and as we powered down Highway 6 towards the oldest temples in the area at Roulous… lots of beeping and shouting ensued! By this time we were a little templed out but we wanted to see the Roulous temples famed for their surviving plasterwork and it was worth the 13km slog out there in the heat. By the end of the day though we were exhausted…. but had enough energy for a night on the lash!

We decided to stay one more day to relax, eat the good food (I am addicted to Fish Amok… delicious Cambodian Dish) and have one more massage by the blind before moving onto Kratie at 5.30am…. why are all these transportation methods so early???

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