Trip Start May 01, 2010
90Trip End Apr 30, 2011
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The hotel had assigned us a tuk-tuk driver, the friendly Mr Tou, who would be our means of transport for the next few days. The first evening we went and bought our tickets for the Angkor Wat archaeological area and then went to watch the sunset from a hilltop viewpoint. Angkor Wat is set amidst Cambodia’s oldest national park and the first thing that struck us as we entered the area was the gorgeous forest setting as we drove down long straight avenues bordered by massive trees. On the way to the hilltop we got our first glimpse of Angkor Wat itself, soaring out from the middle of the vast moat that encircles it
The next morning we rose early and set off in the tuk-tuk at 5am. It gets searing hot by about 10am so we wanted to make the most of the early morning cool. Our first stop was Angkor Wat itself. When we arrived it was still dark and we walked across the causeway that crosses the moat and sat down to wait for the sunrise. Gradually the imposing form of Angkor came into view against a pink sky. The biggest of all the temples at Angkor, it is apparently the largest religious building in the world. It consists of three stories enclosing a central square linked by long galleries. There are towers on each corner and a large central tower in the middle. Around the outside of the temple are a series of intricate bas-reliefs or carvings of battles and various mythical creatures.
After Angkor Wat we moved onto Angkor Thom, a city in itself, more than 10 sq km in size, consisting of several temples set amidst the shade of towering trees. The combination of ancient temple, crumbling rock and leafy trees gives the whole place a real sense of mystery. Our last temple of the day was Ta Prohm, which is the most overgrown temple with several large trees sat atop the building walls, their roots slowly devouring the rock and returning it to the jungle. Given that the oldest temples at Angkor date back to AD 800 it is incredible that they are so well preserved
We followed a similar pattern for the two following days, starting early and visiting the temples and then coming back to Siem Reap by lunchtime and spending the hottest part of the day in the pool. The Angkor Wat area is huge (at its height, Angkor was a city with a population of one million) and on one occasion we travelled for an hour in the tuk-tuk to reach one of the outermost temples.
Siem Reap, the city that has grown up near to Angkor Wat is a great place with attractive parks, a river running through it and hundreds of classy hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and bars. For our Christmas day evening meal we found a restaurant that came number one on the Tripadvisor website but was not mentioned in the Lonely Planet or the local info guide presumably because it has only been open for one year. It was fantastic! The owner came and picked us up in his 1960’s jeep and drove us away from the centre of town to his small but sleek restaurant next to his house. On the way we chatted and he told us how both his parents were killed by the Khmer Rouge when he was only five years old. The restaurant is run by him and his family and serves Khmer food. We dined on delicious fish, squid and a selection of strange but yummy Khmer sweets and sampled a number of his wonderful cocktails. The service was superb with the owner and his wife chatting to all the guests and making them feel at home. We have never before been to a restaurant where the owner tells you that if you don’t like anything that has been served then they will cook you something else! A wonderful experience for a very special Christmas.
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