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???

Battambang goes Bamboo Bonkers

After leaving Phnom Penn we headed up to Battambang north-west  of  Tonal Sap Lake. We only planned to stay a couple of days but our top priority was to ride on the legendary Bamboo train……

Once we’d arrived we checked into a cheap hotel and looked to hire a scooter for the following days adventure. The locals insisted on a guide at a small extra cost but we both decided that we had enough experience of finding places with crap maps and a compass that there was no need…..or maybe they just was trying to make some more money out of us???

We hired a scooter (125cc) for $7 (approximately 4 pound) and took our bums out into the wild in search of the Bamboo train.

After only a few wrong turns and a mouthful of dust from the dust tracks we finally found where the train runs from…..it runs along just a single track  in a straight line for approximately 6km to the tiniest station where you are accustomed to purchase water and food from the drivers mother. A return trip costs $5 each and takes around 1 hour….

Love at first sight…..

The bamboo train

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we got off the bike and parked up we were pleasantly and disturbingly surprised. The train? consists of a wooden frame that has slithers of bamboo nailed across to make a sitting surface. This area can fit about 5 people on it at a squeeze as we found out. This sits on 2 axles, one has a drive pulley and belt attached. The train is powered by what looks to be a lawn mower engine. The engine fits to the frame on slots and the belt is pulled over the pulley on the engine. To make the train move the driver at the back uses a stick to tension the belt by sliding the engine outwards, this then grips the belt and the train starts moving. No brakes just a stick. It is very primitive but amazing to see this working and loads of fun. Once we got going this thing got up to some serious speeds…..around 30 mph. It might not seem much but when that’s combined with being 6 inch from the ground and the track as wonky and out of line as a donkey’s appendage then it felt pretty scary at times.

The really funny thing is that there are quite a few of these moving up and down the track so when two meet, the lesser loaded one has to disassemble and let the other pass. I even got to assist in the process.

It turns out that the track is owned by a private company who take almost all of the cash from the rides so the drivers are in short supply. The next big future plan is to replace the track and the Bamboo trains and use a luxury train to ferry tourists and goods to and from the surrounding areas. This will be disastrous to the operators of the Bamboo trains as they wont exist anymore….we feel lucky to have experienced it.

The rest of the day resulted in us driving the scooter to a few temples situated around the area. By this time in the trip I was a little bit templed out so I probably wasn’t the most excited person there. To make this worst I stubbed my big toe on the crap concrete steps but managed to tear open the end like a tin of sardines. Ouch! Luckily there was no blood and a nice guy gave me a plaster to stick it back together.

On the way back after many hours of riding along the dusty roads we stopped off at the only Cambodian Winery to sample the local brew. It wasn’t worth buying a case…..we did however meet some funny Korean school kids who were out on a field trip who seemed to like it….some of them needed help getting back on-board the bus.

A well earned massage…….

As we’ve been traveling through the many different countries we’ve taken on-board lots of different cultures, cuisines, languages and weather systems. But in each country we’ve also sampled the native massage. Apart from it obviously being cheaper than in England (approx 3-5 pounds) it also has its own characteristics. These can vary from a table lying down to sitting in a chair to fully clothed to fully naked to relaxing music or to the massure chatting on their mobile….

All of the masssages we’ve had have been well-earned, usually from the days heavy activities such as canyoning, trekking, cycling, climbing, walking or simply lazing on a beautiful sandy beach.

The best massage by far that we’ve had is from a blind Cambodian. It’s a full body Shiatzu and you get to change into some nice pajamas (no oil and no nakedness this time). The feeling is amazing. Due to their disability they can instantly feel where the problems are. The massage centre’s are usually called ‘Seeing Hands’ and it only cost around (3.5 pounds)…..bargain

In total we’ve had about eight massages and they all differ in comfort and satisfaction but I would strongly suggest the ‘Seeing Hands’….

Later today after our laborious bike ride we’re heading back again to see the ‘Seeing Hands’….before the massage starts you usually get asked how strong you would like it, soft medium or hard. This time i’ll try not to wince when I get the back of my calves squeezed HARD…..