Cambodia – Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
After a bumpy seven hour bus journey (along a road that hadn’t yet finished being built) we arrived in Siem Reap to neon signs, brightly lit markets and a whole street full of bars (each filled with British tourists in novelty vests). I enjoy a bar (and a novelty vest) as much as the next person but after Phnom Penh we were a bit surprised at just how tourist-centric this city seems. On the upside, Tuk Tuks are cheaper here, and you can buy a pint for 50 cents (about 30p) so it’s possible to have a lot of fun in Siem Reap (as long as you’re up to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat!)
Because a three day pass to Angkor Wat will allow you to enter the previous evening and watch the sunset for free, we chose to spend a day wandering around the city, going to the bank and the post office and booking bus tickets and all that fun stuff before heading to Angkor in the evening. This meant that we had time on our hands (which we were judiciously using to eat ice cream) when a tuk tuk driver called to us ‘tuk tuk? Floating market?’ We get offered tuk tuks near constantly (sometimes while we’re already in the back of another tuk tuk) so we politely declined, then, intrigued by the sound of the floating market, shuffled back and negotiated a price.
The floating market, being on Tonle Sap lake, was quite a way out of the city and it was immediately clear that we were headed away from the neon tourist trap of Central Siem Reap and towards the more rural areas surrounding the lake. Due to a road closure, we were diverted along dusty roads of bright orange mud, and got the most incredible ‘tour’ of the farmland, complete with palm trees, water buffalo and vivid green grass. The small houses, many built on stilts and made from wood or corrugated metal, were surrounded by children, half clothed, fussing around their parents while they worked, playing on bikes or with their siblings. The kids would often wave at us as we passed (and we would wave back enthusiastically!) It was truly gorgeous, simple and peaceful.
When we arrived it turned out you had to buy a $20 boat ticket that our tuk tuk driver had cheekily not told us about, but we weren’t that fussed and happily hung around the jetty for a while before jumping back in the tuk tuk for the journey home (our driver was a little startled by how keen we were- it looked like he had just been settling in for a nap). We were passed as we went by herds of cows, kids on motorbikes (terrified that a six year old is in charge of a motorbike, embarassed that he drives it better than I ever could) and families stacked on mopeds whose toddlers would wave and smile at us.
We asked the same tuk tuk driver to take us to Angkor Wat that evening and the first glimpse of the temple was incredible. It’s crazy seeing something in real life that you’ve read and seen so much of beforehand, so we were pretty excited – and Angkor Wat is as magical and beautiful as I had hoped. It turns out the sun doesn’t actually set behind Angkor Wat (because it rises behind it and that’s not how physics works #touristfail) but we had a great time marvelling at the crazy beauty of the temple and waiting for it to get dark.
The next day, we got up early in the morning, dressed in the dark in our silent dorm room and took the tuk tuk ride to Angkor to watch the sun rise. Trying to avoid the crowds, we took a seat on the wall of one of the minor temples and watched as the sky slowly filled with light. It was too cloudy for anything really dramatic, but it was beautiful none the less, especially because once we got up close we realised that basically every surface was covered in intricate carvings and images of the Buddha. We walked all over the huge temple and up and down the steep stone steps, blown away by the beauty and craftsmanship, and the sheer scale of the whole place.
We had initially planned to rent bikes to explore all of the other temples (Angkor temple complex is comprised of at least eight major temples and spread across a huge area) but eventually decided to take our Tuk Tuk between temples until we were more familiar with everything. This worked our really well and we got to see so many temples. My favourite was Bayon, which is covered in carvings and huge stone statues of faces. Inside, the temples are all long corridors with archways that make them look like endless halls of mirrors. I liked the big ones where you could climb up inside and then sit on the roofs beneath the statues.
It was a total dream- impossibly beautiful and intricate and incredible. It was also 40 degrees in the shade and the sun was beating down on us, and by the time our driver pulled up outside the sixth temple, Kati and I were exhausted and sweaty and how is it still only 10am? At the last temple, I’m not ashamed to tell you, we dragged our exhausted little bodies from the Tuk Tuk and walked around the back to sit in the shade until enough time had passed for our driver to think that we had climbed to the top.
We went back to the hostel and slept for four hours.
Thankfully we have a three day pass so we’re ready to go exploring again tomorrow- I’m really excited to revisit Ta Prohm, ‘the lost temple’ which has tress and vines growing all over and through it. We went today and got a glimpse of the beautiful ruins but we arrived at the same time as a bus load of tourists so we’re going back to see it properly!
More Angkor soon!