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Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor

all seasons in one day 30 °C

Siem Reap itself has a nice small town feel to it. However since going to Battambang (which we'll blog about later) it does feel slightly excessively, but unsurprisingly, touristy. The town itself and surrounding temples area has had a hell of alot of, mostly Korean, money pumped into it. This is no bad thing because it obviously needed it but very little has found its way to the villages outside. That said everything here is orientated around tourists and its clearly providing alot of much needed work for the local people.

As a result life in Siem Reap is a little more sheltered than it would be in "real" cambodia. Most people speak a bit of English and there's always a TukTuk to hand to take you home in the rain. Also the variety of restaurants is impressive with mostly any cuisine you could want lacing the streets (no bbq snake and cockroach in Siem reap!).

Our evenings here mostly consist of a walk to town, a nice meal for $3 each or so in a restaurant and a Tuktuk home for $2. There are also loads of stalls where you can get dinner for a dollar, which we keep telling ourselves we need to visit more but the restaurants are just too tasty! We're yet to manage a big night out but hopefully we'll manage one this weekend, especially since beers are 50c for 3/4 pint! We're also hoping to finally find the swimming pool at some point and might try some Yoga (if John's decrepid limbs can cope). Apparently the Yoga at the Peace Cafe (near-by vege hippie cafe, scrambled tofu ftw!) is pretty relaxing so that might be a good starting point!

Outside town the obvious main event, and real reason people come to Siem Reap are the Angkor temples. Angkor Wat is the one you'll probably all of heard of, but there's lots and lots of others too. We didn't get to them all by any means but over 2 days cycling (a 26km round trip each day) and a third on a Tuktuk, we managed to the main groups. All of the temples are exceptionally impressive, even the ones slightly off the beaten track. The pure scale of the area is staggering. I don't know how many there are altogether - they're spread out all over Cambodia - but most, especially the biggest, are at Angkor. Angkor literally translates as Capital City, and it's where the Capital of Cambodia was between the 9th and the 12th Centuries. In an area of maybe 5 miles square, where this capital city was, there are loads of massive temples and other stone structures that they built, all within this 350 year period. There are about 10 temples that you was describe as ridiculously huge - I'm talking York Minster size or bigger (although not as high of course) - and probably about 15-20 that are bigger than a normal church. And that's not including all the magnificent walls, gates, etc that are around as well, and all the smaller temples. It really is amazing.

We slightly regretted our decision to do all the temples by bike at times, but in a lot of ways it was lovely, as it's quieter, you don't have to make any decisions ahead of time about where to go or anything and its much more satisfying, but it was very hard work!! The 45km we cycled over two days was far enough in any circumstances, but when its 30 degrees, very sunny, the roads are bumpy and you have no suspension or gears on your bike, it's a VERY long way!!

We took about 600 photos over the 3 days, which seems excessive, but the wow factor you get as you walk round just makes it irresistible. We've included a small selection here but there really is no way to get across just how amazing they all are.

On the first day, we went to all the most touristy temples. We had a more relaxed start, and set off at about 10am for the 6km bike ride to the temple area. We managed to pick a stupidly hot day for it, after we'd had 3 or 4 cooler, cloudy days (OK, so cooler only means 30 degrees, but thats a hell of a lot better than 35 and beating sunshine!). Once we got there, we started off at Angkor Thom. This is the largest religious complex in the world, and emcompasses several large temples lots of smaller temples/shrines, all surrounded by a wall and moat. It's 3km square. The main attraction inside Angkor Thom is Bayon, a large temple with 37 towers, most of which have 4 carved stone faces on them. There's also a lot of beautiful intricate carving, which nearly all the temples have. It's ridiculous how much effort was put into every little bit of all of these massive temples.
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Bayon

After that we wandered/biked around various other places in the Angkor Thom complex, including the Terrace of the Leper King, Terrace of the Elephants, Bauphon (which had a ridiculous huge carved stone Buddha on it) and Phimeanakas. Susie hadn't drunk enough water and felt a bit ill but after we'd sat in the coolest spot we could find for a while and she felt better, we biked out towards some of the other temples.

We next went to Ta Keo, where we climbed a LOT of very dodgy steps! A lot of the temples are what they call 'temple mountains', which basically means that it's just a massive square pyramid, often with various size towers on the top, and steps up each side. The steps are pretty lethal. Whoever built them must have had very small feet and very long legs, because they're only about 2-3 inches wide most of the time, and more than a foot high per step. Slightly hair-raising, especially now that 1000 years have gone by and they're rather weather beaten, and when you've got 200 of them to fall down if you slip at the top! Ta Keo is one of these temple mountains, built of sandstone, and we did get some nice views, and, more importantly, a lovely cool breeze at the top!

We then went to Ta Prohm, which is a lot of people's favourite temple, as it has a real 'jungley' feel, both in the compound around the area, and in the temple itself, which has trees growing up through it at various points (see photo below!). Lots of people complain that it feels to restricted, because they have put in a few walkways, but we didn't really find this at all. However, this may partly be because we accidentally found ourselves on the wrong side of a no entry sign, after a lovely quiet wander through some dilapidated bits of the temple!
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Tree at Ta Prohm

We then went and had an explore around Bantaey Kdei, a large monastic complex (so the guide book tells me - two weeks later, which it is as I'm writing now, I'm afraid I already can't remember all the temples individually, although plenty do stand out!). After that we went to Sras Srang, a reservoir opposite it, which was very beautiful and peaceful (despite the many people asking us to buy drinks/food/etc).

We then set off back, but as we got to the Angkor Wat moat, which you have to pass on the way back to town, the evening was so beautiful that we decided we just had to go and get our first look at it, which it's suggested you do in the late afternoon, so we biked round and joined the hoards going in. It's kinda sad that when there's so many beautiful temples so close, that a huge percentage of people who visit here, obviously just go into Angkor Wat and then leave again. It was so, SO much busier here than anywhere else we went. But anyway, we went in regardless and just looked at the temple from the front walkway - we were too exhausted by this time to explore properly. It was impressive and beautiful, especially with the sun just starting to set, but we were both a little disappointed with it - it gets built up so much but it's not that much better than any of the other temples around. However, the evening was beautiful and the bike ride round it was lovely. We then biked home, completely shattered, collapsed upstairs, only to come down later to find that everyone else had already ordered pizza. We were too exhausted to go into town, so it was boring rice and egg for us, before falling into bed to rest before our second day of temples.

Our second day started with a rather long 9km bike ride to our first temple of the day. However, it was worth it as this was Susie's favourite temple! It's called Pre Rup, and is one of the oldest ones in the Angkor area. It's another temple mountain built out of bricks rather than sandstone blocks, which was really interesting and the temple was beautiful, but it was the views that were the best bit about it. There were lovely views across the local countryside, which is just beautiful green paddy fields as far as you can see.

After another couple of kms through this lovely countryside, we arrived at East Mebon. This is really similar to Pre Rup but not quite as big. It used to be on an island in the middle of East Baray, which was a reservoir, but it's dried up now and is all paddy fields.

After that we biked on further and went to Ta Som, a fairly indescript temple in the Angkor scheme of things, and then to Neak Pean. This is one central tower in the middle of four large and four small pools, the waters of which were thought to have healing properties! However, the only property the water seems to have now is to breed mosquitos by the million, so after some quick photo taking we moved on!

Next we headed to a small temple called Bantaey Prei, which is about 100m off the tourist track, so naturally there was nobody there. Oh no, I lie, there were 2 small boys herding cattle, who had great fun calling at us and then hiding behind bits of temple! We played around a bit and took some photos of the "curiously small doors and windows", which was why we went, and then left, but not before being scared by a huge hornet!

We then went to Preah Khan, which is a stupidly massive, sprawling temple/monastery, with beautiful carvings all over the place and some ridiculous trees growing up through the temple. We then biked back through Angkor Thom, where we'd been the day before, to Angkor Wat.

Although we'd both been slightly disappointed by Angkor Wat the day before, we felt it redeemed itself somewhat when we explored it properly! The carvings all around the outside are just exquisite, and go on forever, and the towers are very impressive. Unfortunately the top section is having some work done on it at the moment, so we couldn't go right up but walking around under the towers is lovely.
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We then went out to bike home, only to find that Susie's bike had a completely flat tyre. Boo! A friendly policeman directed us down a little dirt track to a guy who charged us 300riel (7p) to put some air into it. Unfortunately, less than a km later it was totally flat again, and we had to walk the rest of the way home. Susie sent John off to bike into town to find a pizza company that would deliver us our tea - after the boring rice the night before and all the biking, we felt we deserved a treat! - while she walked home. We got back, collapsed for a while, got our lovely security guard to order us pizza, and then pigged out and ate a whole large pizza, a serving of chips and a garlic baguette between us. Yum!!

On our third and final day of temples, we treated ourselves and got a tuk-tuk. First we went into town and had a tasty omelet for breakfast, and then we headed 13km east out of town (this is why we got a tuk-tuk!) to the Roluous group of temples. These are the older temples that are where the capital was before it moved to Angkor. The tuk-tuk journey out there was lovely, through a section of Siem Reap that isn't nearly as touristy as the central section, and then further out through some beautiful countryside. As we went along, we saw lots of trucks that had the tailgates down so as to fit as many people on as possible - there must have been 50+ people on some of these little trucks!!!

When we got to the temples, we first went to Bakong, the largest of the group, which was another massive temple, with a moat around it. It was another brick built temple mountain with lots of steps to the top, but again with some lovely views. We then went to ____ and Lolei (John liked the name!), which were two smaller temples in the same area. They were all interesting, but I think by this third day we were both a bit temple-d out! We enjoyed looking at an active pagoda that was next to Lolei, and we did like looking around the temples, but after an hour or so, we headed back.
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We absolutely loved our three days of temples, and they are completely incredible, but I think we still both think it's sad that so many people come to Siem Reap and spend 3 days at the temples and then leave again. There's so much other stuff here, and the people are just so lovely, and you don't get any of that if you only come here for the temples. But I guess we're going to travelling like that everywhere else we go, and you can't spend a long time everywhere you go, but I'm just really glad that we're having the chance to really get to know somewhere we're travelling.

Anyway, this is a stupidly long post, so we'll write more about Siem Reap another time!

Posted by John_713 01:18 Archived in Cambodia Tagged siem_reap angkor_wat angkor_thom angkor bayon ta_prohm ta_keo pre_rup Comments (1)

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