Angkor Day 3; a race for sunrise and the wild east

Trip Start Mar 18, 2009
Trip End Jan 12, 2010

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Our third day in Angkor would bring us our first sunrise at Angkor Wat and a long day of cycling around the wild east, known as the East Baray. All we had to do was set the alarm and make sure we were both up and ready around 4:30am and then cycle the 8km in the dark and witness something truly spectacular. Well that's the plan anyway!

If felt as if we both hadn't slept much when the alarm went off. We were ready at 5am and headed downstairs to get our bikes. Stars were twinkling in the night sky and the horizon was already starting to change colour. As we approached the ticket booth at Angkor a streak of deep orange split the horizon in two, the sun was fast approaching and we still had a matter of 2-3km left to cycle. We made it to the moat surrounding Angkor Wat, and a purple haze filled the sky. Had we missed it?

We stepped up a gear and made it to the entrance, dumping our bikes on the road side and rushing to the causeway. A large crowd was already gathered inside and it seems we had arrived half way through the spectacle. It was a truly magnificent sight. I had never seen so many people standing and staring for such a long period, the silence was deafening. We took photos for a good 30 minutes and then decided it was time to move on, Angkor Wat will be saved for another day.

It was time to head to a large flood plain known as the Eastern Baray which used to provide the necessary water supply to all of the eastern temples. Only the Western Baray is now flooded. Our plan was to visit Banteay Kdei, Ta Prohm, East Mebon and Pre Rup for sunset. A busy day, but no doubt a worthwhile one.

Banteay Kdei (12th - 13th Century) was built by Jayavarman VII (21st king of Angkor) and was our first example of a temple hidden by the forest. The only clues of its existence were a crumbled wall weaving through the trees and a large 4-faced head perched on top of a gate. The early morning sunlight was starting to pierce the foliage of the trees. Dappled rays of light and the mist from the wet dew as it evaporated was surreal. Almost eerie! The central open-roofed building was the highlight. Pillars were decorated with dancing apsaras, the detail was impressive. Navigating around the complex was great fun, but you definitely need to watch your step as narrow doorways and large spider webs almost give it that maze feeling.

We hopped back on our bicycles and cycled a few more kilometres to Ta Prohm (12th - 13th Century, built by the same king), possibly one of the most famous temples in Angkor. It even made a starring appearance in the hit movie “Tomb Raider: the cradle of life”, albeit for a mere 2 seconds. Overrun with silk-cotton and strangler fig trees, nature has definitely reclaimed this temple! Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Orient decided to leave the temple in this natural state as an example of how most of Angkor looked when originally discovered. Definitely a decision to be applauded, as we have both seen nothing like it before.

Seeds from the trees had been deposited onto the temple by bird droppings and then taken root in the sandstone in some truly bizarre places. Centuries of growth has resulted in some spectacular sights, I'll let the photos do the talking. The remainder of the temple is in quite a ruinous state and due to its sheer size you can walk around discovering bas reliefs and lintels around every turn. Highly recommended.

It felt like we had been exploring for hours, so we decided to cycle back to the Angkor Wat as the Lonely Planet mentioned that a Blue Pumpkin restaurant could be found there. It is definitely becoming one of our favorite establishments in Siem Reap. We ordered a Mango and Banana milkshake and followed that with a Vanilla/Mango and Mango/Coconut ice cream. Yum! Asking one of the waiters for the time we soon realised that it was only 10:30am, a little too early to have lunch. We also needed to kill the time before seeing our last two temples, so we cycled back to the hotel and relaxed for a few hours. Nibbling on some pot noodles for lunch around 12 o'clock. A well deserved rest!

Around 4pm we set back out. Next up was East Mebon, all we had to do was cycled the 12+ km to get there. Ouch, our bums were definitely going to start hurting soon, after all this cycling. East Mebon can be found in the middle of the Eastern Baray and used to be an island temple, surrounded by water. In fact the Eastern Baray used to be able to hold 55 million cubic metres of water!

East Mebon (953 AD) was built by Rejendravarman (9th king of Angkor) and looks like a mountain temple. Made from a golden tinged sandstone, its 3 tiers were ad-horned by some of the best elephant sculptures we have seen so far. Its location is one of its plus points, the cycle through the rice paddy countryside was definitely worthwhile.

For the final excursion we backtracked along the same route to get to Pre Rup to hopefully witness our first successful sunset. Pre Rup (961 AD) was also built by Rejendravarman and is a prime example of a temple mountain, and much larger than Bakong. The central platform was 12 metres above ground level and its steps were very steep, making Phnom Bakeng a breeze. You will definitely need your walking boots on this occasion. Perched on the top tier we both starred into the horizon hoping to witness a sunset. Unfortunately the sky had clouded over and all hopes dwindled. After 30 minutes or so, we thought best to cycle back to the hotel. Partly due to our disappointment and hunger and the fact we were starting to get tired.

As a treat for our hard work we decided to order some takeaway pizza, drink some beer and watch some much needed television.
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rfbevis on

I've seen some pictures of the old temples with trees growing through must be amazing to see.

Glad you are continuing with the beer!!

Love Ma

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