Angkor Wat - City of the Gods

Trip Start Jun 04, 2009
Trip End Sep 06, 2010

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Welcome to Cambodia,

And what a welcome we had, from the airport our hostel sent a tuk-tuk to pick us up and we rode in style through the streets of Siem Reap. We spent most of the journey trying to figure out what side of the road Cambodians drove on before concluding it was nothing short of a free-for-all with traffic heading up and down both sides of the road.  It seemed that the painted line in the middle was considered art work rather than signage.  Our driver safely negotiated the oncoming motorbikes and overtaking lorries to deliver us at The Golden Mango, recently voted the best hostel in Cambodia – and with good reason.  For just 6 per night we were living like kings in a beautiful room with all the facilities you would expect from a smart hotel.  The staff were excruciatingly willing to please and I think they would have done a backflip if we requested one.  As it was we just asked them for a tuk-tuk driver to take us around Angkor Wat over the next couple of days and were rewarded with the fabulous Bin to escort us.

As we were awake until 4am watching the dismal England vs Algeria match we couldn't face a very early morning so settled for a 'lazy’ 9am departure and were soon winging our way to the land of the ancients with the wind in our hair.  Both of us knew Angkor Wat was on our to-do list but neither of us really had much idea of what to expect which just added to the thrill of arriving at this enormous Temple, the largest religious building in the world and clearly visible from space.  To avoid confusion I should explain that Angkor Wat is a temple in itself but is also the term used to describe the surrounding jungle area filled with hundreds of temples at various stages of dilapidation.  You could spend a week discovering the whole of Angkor but we decided to tackle it in two action packed days squeezing as much in as we could.  Our first stop was at Angkor Wat itself to marvel at the sheer size and man power that would have been involved in making it.  Like the Inca’s the Khmers used stone from 50km’s away to build with and, whilst the Inca’s did make their temples in stunning places, they cannot compete with the Khmers for the magnitude and detail poured into Angkor Wat.  If the size alone wasn’t enough to impress anyone every inch of the temple was covered in stunning carvings and detail which we had to give up on eventually to be able to make some time for the rest of our day trip.

Next stop was the Temple of Bayon, if Angkor Wat is the largest then Bayon has to be the wackiest, which in turn made it our favorite.  What initially looks like a pile of stones at first glance then seems to take shape as a temple and once that comes into view the huge carved stone faces become visible and are staring down from every angle.  Walking around this temple was both eerie and exhilarating coming face to face with…well…faces, around every bend.  By the time we were done with Bayon village the temperature was soaring over 40 degrees and discovering temples is no easy feat, we were scaling steep staircases, scrambling over rock piles and inhaling dust for the most part of the morning which should demonstrate how much fun we were having that we had the will to plough on through during the peak of the day when most tourists went back to their hotels for a siesta.  We did have a stop for lunch though and both had wonderful Khmer and Amok curries which were our best food discovery so far with lots of vegetables cooked up in mysterious spices and coconut milk, all served up traditionally in a coconut for good measure.  Back in the Tuk-Tuk diligent Bin took us to more jaw dropping sites of which I won’t narrate in full for you, I think there are better documents of Angkor Wat than I can produce, but I must tell you about Ta Phrom.  This temple was left in the condition it was found in, whereas many of the others have now been reclaimed from the jungle.  The temple building is another amazing example of what mankind can achieve but with the added bonus of nature having said ‘you think that’s impressive, well look what I can do’ and sprouted trees to take over the temples.  This is the stuff adventures are made of, wandering around forgotten temples and seeing how the tree roots have anchored on to the buildings supporting the huge trees above

We had so much fun exploring and now caked in sweat and dust we dragged ourselves up the side of a mountain to watch the sunset over Angkor from a hilltop temple.  It was the strangest sunset I’ve seen thanks to the hoards of tourists from all over the world who also made the pilgrimage and stood together to watch the sun going down.  I found myself taking more photographs of the gathered crowd than the sun itself, particularly the attempts of the thousand strong crowds all throwing limbs at each other to scurry down the tiny temple staircase before it got too dark to see.

Needless to say we crashed out in our luxury room for the whole night resting our legs for another pounding tomorrow.  The next morning we got up at 4am to get to Angkor Wat for the sunrise which was worth every moment of lost sleep.  Again we were joined by a healthy crowd of sleepy eyed tourists all watching in awe with us.  Once the sun was up at 5am it was a great time to start exploring before the heat and crowds really settled in.  We had the first few temples entirely to ourselves and Bin then drove us right out to Bantrey Seri on the edges of the area for more temples but from a different era – same same, but different (to coin the popular Asian phrase).  Back in Angkor again for more touring around some fantastic temples that made us feel more like explorers as they were in disrepair with huge boulders scattered in the grounds and corridors to scramble over.  Eventually it was 2pm and we were shot down by the heat of the sun.  Getting up so early was a great way to see the temples as we had covered all the hot spots we wanted to see in the ‘cooler’ part of the day so Bin took us into Siem Reap to explore the town and have lunch.

We found a fantastic restaurant to gobble up more Cambodian Curries and then set ourselves on the market to haggles some bargain souvenirs.  Later on I went to a shop that teaches blind people how to massage and got my back and shoulders seen to – the things I have to endure for charity!  Then, unbelievably, Steve got roped into a spa treatment but not your everyday version.  This was a ‘fish massage’ the idea being you sit on the side of a paddling pool and lower your feet into the water which is filled with little fish that nibble the dead skin off.  There was great fear that Steve’s foot odor would kill all the fish on entry to the water but they proved to be a hardy bunch and nibbled away at our feet until they were silky smooth again.  It was a totally bizarre experience and felt really strange, as you can imagine being eaten alive feels!

We sadly departed Siem Reap for the capital Phnom Pehn on a very luxurious coach with a very safe driver and even a plasma TV on board showing movies (if only they weren’t dubbed in Khmer!).  I really like Cambodia J

Lots of Love,

Amy and Siem Steve

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