Siem Reap: Amongst the ruin

Astounding.Sprawling.Mesmerising 

Siem Reap, home of the famous Angkor temples. World Heritage Site, “eighth wonder of the world” and probably the main reason tourists visit Cambodia. Our journey here began on the 6am bus from Bangkok to the Thai border town of Aranyaprathet. En route we met two lone travelers, Anna from America and Dirk from Germany who would travel with us all the way to Siem Reap. The bus journey went smoothly and the four of us crossed the gigantic market that sits on the Thai side of the border to make it to immigration where we got our visa no problems (minus a half hour queue here and there and Anna getting sent back to Thailand because they forgot to stamp her out of the country.) From here we shared a taxi to Siem Reap where we swiftly found a bar that served 50cent beers and western food! Just what was needed after a full day of travelling. We parted ways with our two new friends as we all had separate places to stay booked and after we dropped our bags at our distinctly average Angkor Advisor Villa guesthouse we set out to explore the near by appropriately named Pub Street and Angkor Night Market. Unfortunately the character lacking in Pub Street made it feel as though it could have been positioned anywhere in the world, with its neon signs, staff calling you in off the street and the wide range of food that was being served. However it was a good place to get a tasty meal and a cheap drink whilst enjoying a bustling atmosphere. Plus as we walked round soaking up the sights we bumped into Dirk who we joined for a drink!

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The next day we set off in the direction of the Angkor Temples, both extremely excited and eager to explore! Our mode of transport for the day was bicycle and after about an hour of cycling I was reminded that I don’t enjoy cycling and Chris was reminded that if I have to cycle it will be done at my own slow pace. After two temples i’d had enough of the bike so we retreated to some nearby hammocks situated amongst the trees. The beautiful thing about Angkor is that even if all of the temples were taken away the huge park in which they sit would still be an amazing place. Its filled with lakes, forests of towering trees, huge grass areas and we even saw some wild boar, wild monkeys and the parks elephants. First on the agenda, was the big dog, Angkor Wat. The largest religious building in the world. At first we were both a bit perplexed as it didn’t appear as obviously large as you would think but on exploring it became clear that because the building is constructed of tiers from the front it appears hardly as tall as it actually is. We wandered around for ages soaking up every detail that we could. Its a fascinating place.

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Next we cycled to the Bayon temple, which turned out to be our favourite one. Carved out of stone and assembled like jigsaws are huge faces set amongst the ruin. The closer you get the more impressive they appear as the size and the skill that was needed to make the temple becomes apparent. This was such a cool place to walk around, bumping into the giant stone faces at every turn.

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We  purchased a three day pass into Angkor (which rocketed our average daily spending) so that is where we based ourselves for the time we spent in Siem Reap. As I refused to get a bike again we decided to get a ‘tuktuk tour’ round Angkor, it is firstly worth noting that this was a wise decision as the park is huge and the space between temples can be kilometers and kilometers apart and as we only made it to the first two the previous day the cycling from here on in would have got a lot tougher. Also worth noting is that we stressed to our tuktuk driver that we did not want a “tour” and that we would pick which temples we saw and when. India taught us well! However, he took us to a temple which we hadn’t asked him to first of all but this worked out fine as it was an impressive one filled with lots of narrow walkways, like a hall of mirrors. Next we were driven to Pre Rup temple which we climbed up to admire the view of the surrounding trees for as far as you could see. It’s surprising how we were so high up but couldn’t see any other temples as they are all hidden by the forest. It felt like we were in the complete middle of nowhere! Lastly on the agenda for the day was Ta Phrom, which is well known for being surrounded by trees that grow around, on top of and inbetween the temples. Its incredible how the trees have grown so huge and are so intertwined with the buildings. It feels magical. The silver trees were a favourite of mine!

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For our last day in Angkor we managed to find the same tuktuk driver from the previous day, which was handy as he knew all the temples we had already seen. Our day started with Prah Khan, then Angkor Thom and then finishing at Angkor Wat again. Angkor Thom used to be a city which had lots of temples within it, Baphoun being the largest of them. We climbed the sickeningly steep steps to the top of the temple and enjoyed the view (and the breeze) from up there.

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Although we’d already been to Angkor Wat, we hadn’t climbed up inside it (as my knees weren’t covered that day, oops) so we returned to explore inside. You appreciate the size of the place once you’re inside it. The view over the courtyard seems like so far away and the people walking round look like ants on the ground. We sat down inside by one of the large towers and soaked up our surroundings. As we left Angkor that day we both felt sad that we wouldn’t be going back. Its hard to put into words how amazing Angkor is and how being in its presence makes you feel. Its a very cool place. Definitely up there with the likes of the Taj Mahal and Annapurna base camp which we have also been lucky enough to experience.

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Next up we travel the 3 hour journey south to Battambang!

Photos here: https://flickr.com/photos/127744759@N08/sets/72157650189888721

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