We arrived in Siem Reap bright and early at 7am and were greeted surprisingly by an organised tuk-tuk desk rather than a rabble of shouting men tapping us to go with them. It costs one dollar each for the drive from the bus station into town which we thought was reasonable. We couldn't find our first choice guest house, mainly because we had the wrong address so ended up at a dirty hole called Red Lodge. It was our own fault, we hadn't done the research where to stay so we picked one out of lonely planet..... Always a mistake. We checked in but the upon closer inspection to the bed covered in ants and the sheets were dusty and the whole place was discusting, even the uncleaned toilet so we decided to leave and find somewhere else. We wandered towards town and found the original place we were looking for, Boomerang guest house but by this point it was full. We carried on a few doors and checked into Popular guesthouse for $10 a night.
Next thing was to shower as we were not exactly fresh after the night bus and tackle our bags. Half our clothes were damp and dirty from our five days on Koh Rong and we had a massive bag full that needed laundering. Our first day we spend getting our bearings and having a look around the town. Siem Reap has shocked us. We expected a general town, popular because it is so close to the temples of Angkor but it is a lovely town in its own right. There are lots of beautifully restored colonial buildings and small alleys filled with bars and shops. In the centre in the old market. It is a working market, not filled with all the usual tourist tat but filled with local produce, meat, fruit sausages, veg and everything else.
We found an Internet cafe and did some errands. We have bought a kindle guide for Sri Lanka and India so we decided to print off the maps we might need so we don't have to carry the iPad around. We found a cafe after walking around in the blazing sun for a while and printed off what we needed, our flight e-tickets, maps and visas. We spent the rest of the afternoon in a cafe, drinking and people watching.
On our second day we decided to start sightseeing the temples of Angkor. We went for a slow breakfast in one of the lovely back alleys of the town and were ready to set off obviously at peak time..... in the midday sun. We rented a bicycle for $1 each and were on our way. It is 6km to the temples and about half way there is the ticket booth on the main road where you buy your entrance pass. We bought a three day pass costing $40 each but you can get a one day pass or a week long pass also for $20 and $60. They take your photo to put on the ticket and print it out there and then. There was no queue so it only took us around five minutes. By the time we got there we were unbelievably hot and bought some cold water, parking at the vendors shop for free. Around Angkor Wat is a moat and as it was Sunday all along the water were locals relaxing in the shade and children playing in the water.
As we approached Angkor Wat we were excited. We decided to set off traveling maybe two years ago and have wanted to see the temple for this entire time. It doesn't disappoint. There is a long walkway over the water to the huge stone gate. As you walk through you can see Angkor Wat. Another long stone walkway leads you closer to the iconic image.
We stood infront of the lake and admired the view for a while. We then retreated to a small ruined building that was void of any tourists and sat in the shade with a view of the temple through the doorway. It was just lovely and it was a bright and sunny day so the reflection in the lake was beautiful.
After we had cooled off and admired the view we walked towards the huge temple and spent a long time exploring the inside.
Inside shocked us. You are permitted to explore almost all of the interior, the small rooms, corridors and courtyards as well as climb inside one of the towers. This almost never happens and we saw quite a few people clambering on the ancient ruins with no regard. When visiting the temple you have to cover shoulders and knees, but almost no one showed respect in this way. No hats are allowed on inside and there is no smoking, spitting, pets or touching the carvings allowed. A lot of the inside is still very intact and a lot of the wall carvings and beautifully carved pillars and ceilings are still in very good condition. It is low season at the minute so although there was still quite a lot of visitors it was not packed and no touts bothered us.
We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the temple and loved the fact that is it sat in huge green gardens. Along the side of the complex there are a row of shacks set up as shops and cafes. We dodged the people trying to sell us loudly patterned trousers and postcards and went to one of the cafes for some lunch and a cold drink. The temperature must have been close to 40 degrees and we were making sure we had regular breaks and cold drinks as we knew we would have three more days to see the archeological site and against our own nature was trying not to cram as much as possible on the first day.
After cooling off (as much as possible in afternoon Cambodian heat) we set off on our next leg. We headed left towards Angkor Thom, an ancient city which houses many temples and palaces. It is around another 1.5 km to the gate of the city which is a huge stone archway with a face carved into it.
Along the bridge leading up to it the road is lined with sculptures that they are currently renovating so some sculptures have ancient looking bodies with brand new heads on them.
Once through the gate it is around another 1.5km to Bayon, another important temple in the centre of Angkor
Thom. On the way along side the road there were small troops of Longtail Macaque monkeys. They were all playing in the grass and their were little babies running around, along the road and up the trees. We stopped on our bikes to watch them for a bit as they were the same species as Gramps, Chelsea favourite monkey from the Safari Park we volunteered at in Thailand.
Bayon is at the end of the road in the dead centre of the city. We parked our bikes up at the side of the road in the shade next to two official employees who jumped at the chance to sell us tuk-tuks for the following day which we had to politely decline. Bayon is amazing and very different to Angkor Wat. All it's towers have huge faces carved into them so everywhere you look towering above you are huge heads looking in all directions.
It has amazing stone wall carvings inside and out and we are not sure our photos can really do the intricacy of the place justice.
We wandered around the outside admiring the architecture and then headed inside the cool stone rooms, getting lost in a maze of dark corridors for at least half and hour.
By this point it was late afternoon so we decided to do only a few more places before heading to a sunset spot for when the sun went down. We carried straight on to an open plane beyond Bayon that houses several different archeological sites. We bought some water and sat on the grass in the shade when we arrived to cool off again. There were thousands of dragonflies around this area and the locals and the local children were out catching them.
We first went to Phimeanakas. This has a long stone pavilion and then behind it is a shaded tree lined spot with a temple set back within the trees.it was a nice quiet spot and it felt like a forgotten place. When we got closer there was a group of Cambodian youths who were obviously unofficial guides and who wouldn't leave us alone so we didn't explore behind here for long.
Next a bit further back towards Bayon we visited Baphuon. It's again has a long pavilion at the front and set back it a tall levelled temple with steps up to the top. It has a long thin walkway leading up to it and stagnant water either side. It was pretty and is also set in a cluster of huge trees.
By this point we were tired and it was getting closer to sunset time. We have seen pictures of Ankor Wat at sunset so assumed the sun set behind it but looking at the position of the sun it was clear this was not going to happen. On the way back there was an area off the road that was extremely busy with tourists and vendors and on our map around this area was a sunset viewpoint. We had no idea what we would be viewing or what it was but we decided to check it out. We parked up our bikes and set off climbing a big hill, not knowing what was at the top. There seemed to be a lot of people so we weren't sure if we would like it. At the top was a temple, Phom Bakheng which is being used as a platform for people to watch the sun go down. There were literally hundreds of people sat on the ruins and we didn't like it. It is not a pleasant experience and we feel not a very apt use of a temple so old.
We're not even really sure what everyone was looking at. There are views accross the fields but most of it is obscured by trees and you can see Angkor but only as a spec in the distance. It is safe to say that we quickly left and clambered back down the hill. Another thing we didn't like are the elephant rides. You can pay for an elephant to take you up the hill using an elephant chair.
We need to look more into sunset to find a better option on one of out other sightseeing days as we really didn't like the circus at Phom Bakheng. After our climb down we set off on our journey back into town. It didn't take long to ride the 8km home and its not too hard as it is mostly flat.
We were totally done in when we got back and after showering and a clean change of clothes we went out to fill our hungry bellies. We found a place that had the Man United game on and Liam was happy drinking his 50 cent beers and watching the game, while Chelsea was happy eating cheese pasta. Finding cheese in Southeast Asia has been a subject we could write a full blog on..... We will save that one for another time.