It was time to leave the tranquility of Otres Beach, move back north to go and visit the breathtaking Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. I departed on the 7:30 bus from Sihanoukville, changing buses in Phnom Penh and then finally arriving in Siem Reap. Apart from the first bus being later than expected and the driver having to contact the office in Phnom Penh to make sure the second bus waited for me, it was a pretty smooth 14 hour journey 2 bus journey.
My arrival into Siem Reap was late in the evening and after the bus having to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting the back end of a car I was on the back to a motorbike taxi. My stay for the next 3 nights was Luxury Concept Hostel. I had read good things about this place having wider bunk beds than normal and all round being one of the best in Siem Reap. It certainly ticked all of the boxes. After checking in I immediately booked onto a full day Angkor Wat tour for the following morning before heading out to small restaurant called Little India. A spicy chicken vindaloo and rice later I was back at the hostel in bed for the early start the next morning.
I woke the next morning, picked up my rucksack and waited in the lobby of my hostel for the mini bus to collect me. There were 10 of us altogether as well as our own private guide for the day to show us around what is the largest religious monument in the world. This was one of the main reasons for my visit to Cambodia having watched a number of programs about it. Over the course of the day we would be visiting Angkor Wat Temple, Bayon Temple, Ta Prohm Temple and finishing at Bakheng Hill for sunset.
On the way to Angkor Wat Archaeological Site our first stop was at the ticket office to purchase our passes. I opted for the 1 day pass, which costs $20 but a 3 and 7 day pass are also available costing $40 and $60 respectively. Annoyingly the group kept wandering off while we waited for others to buy their tickets so we left a little later than anticipated. No more than 15 minutes later though we arrived at the east entrance of Angkor Wat.
Firstly, for a little background Angkor Wat Archaeological Site stretches over 400 square kilometers and contains the remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire. The most famous are Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple and Angkor Thom. I was very luckily going to be seeing all of these on my trip. The temples of Angkor are highly symbolic structures. The Hindu concept is the temple-mountain, where the temple is built as a representation of the mythical Mount Meru (A sacred mountain with 5 peaks in India). This is why a lot of temples, including Angkor Wat, are surrounded by moats, built in a mountain-like pyramidal shape and have precisely five towers, representing those of Mount Meru. Angkor Wat is one of the largest of Khmer monuments. Built around the first half of 12th century by King Suryavarman II, the temple’s balance, composition and beauty make it one of the finest monuments in the world.
Now that you know a little more about Angkor Wat lets proceed. We entered from the east and once through to the other side we would be greeted with the very well known shot of Angkor Wat reflecting in the pools. Once we had crossed over the moat the greeting of Angkor Wat is absolutely breathtaking, clear blue sky in the background and one of the most incredible sights I had ever seen. Even though I had researched and watched programs about it, nothing prepared me for the sheer size of it. Our guide gave us an introduction and then allowed us time to take photos and walk around the grounds. It was only the entrance and I had already taken far to many photos!
We continued through a dark corridor into a vast enclosure 800 by 1000 meters in area and rising 210 feet above the ground. It was in fact the iconic central temple of Angkor Wat. I could see that throughout this whole day I would continue to blown away as I saw each part of this magnificent site. There were corridors that surrounded this entire area to walk through as well as walking outside in the grounds itself. I opted for neither of those options and chose to climb the very steep wooden steps to reach the central temple itself. Firstly, I would need to queue for 45 minutes to get such a privilege. I queued with 3 others from the tour so we could all take it in turns to take a walk around the complex as well.
After taking advantage of some of the shaded areas as I made my way around the structure I was given my tag and started the slow and steep climb to the top. I wouldn’t say I am scared of heights I would say it’s more of a fear of falling to my death. I did take a little peak behind from time to time and managed to snap a picture of the stairs. Not for the faint hearted. Once at the top each person was given 15 minutes to walk around the square complex before taking an even slower walk down to the bottom of the stairs.
Once the group had got back together we carried on walking through the other side of the central temple passing through more incredible buildings and structures. We stopped at a tile in what seemed like the middle and our guide informed us that this is the exact centre of the Angkor Wat Site (Around 1.9km from either direction) and was also considered to be the centre of the earth. The whole tour grouped around the tile and took a timed photo on of us all standing in the centre of the earth.
Our final portion of the Angkor Wat Temple was to continue back outside for the most well known photo of Angkor Wat you would have seen in guidebooks and on television. Before we got that opportunity our guide led us to a small group of market stalls where we were all bombarded with offerings to buy clothes, drinks and many other souvenirs. Being very hot and thirsty from the 30 + degree heat everyone opted for a quick drink stop and then walked the last few yards to get ‘that view’. With the site of Angkor Wat in the background, the clear blue sky and the reflection of it in the water was simply staggering. The guide very kindly took a few photos of me also so I can remember this bucket list moment.
Ta Prohm was going to be the second stop of the day and this temple was made famous by Angelina Jolie as it was used for one of the scenes in the movie Tomb Raider. Of course it was famous long before Hollywood decided to film there. It was founded by the Khmer King and used as a Buddhist Monastery and University but unlike most Angkorian temples it is in much the same condition it was found with the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins.
These trees are said to be what is holding the main structure of the temple up and with the jungle surroundings have made it one of the most popular temples in the site. As I took a walk through the ruins the trees growing in and around the ruins gave it a very eerie feel but at the same time it was equally stunning. This for me with my camera was heaven because as I turned each corner and walked out of every corridor there was another huge tree growing within the ruins.
As we had reached the middle part of the day it was time for lunch so we all jumped back in the bus and took the short drive to the restaurant. I ordered my usual for this SE Asian trip and that was beef noodle soup. We were all seated together sharing travel stories and our journey so far.
Our final temple stop for the day was going to be at the Bayon Temple, which is commonly known as the temple of the faces. It is in the old capital of Angkor Thom. As we stepped off the bus before we entered the temple there were half dozen monkeys or so messing around by a motorbike. A tourist was foolishly feeding the monkeys with complete disregard for the sign but it still made for light entertainment before we went inside. I did manage to get a few shots of the monkeys along with a mother and a baby that were relaxing on the leaves whilst the smaller ones were messing around.
I made my way into the temple and was greeted by yet another steep flight of stairs and after clambering my way to the top I began my walk around yet another amazing place. The Bayon was built nearly 100 years after Angkor Wat. The basic structure and earliest part of the temple ate not known. Over 2000 large faces carved on the 54 tower give this temple its majestic character.
It was the end of the trip as far as temples were concerned and thus we would be making our final stop at Bakheng Hill. On the way to the hill we did stop at one of the Angkor Thom city gates where it was lined with Buddha’s some with heads and some without. Our kind informed us that people used to come and cut the head off as the whole thing was to heavy to move. They would then try and sell it for money as at the time the items were very valuable. We parked up next to a couple of elephants unfortunately being used for rides and all had until after sunset to return.
From what the weather was looking like I did not believe a sunset would be happening but as a couple of others walked up the hill and also did just incase a miracle happened and the clouds cleared. It took no more than 20 minutes to reach the top and as I queued to go right to the top temple for sunset a Spanish couple told me that there wasn’t any point as it was to overcast. Instead I took a few pictures at the viewing deck on the way down and we all jumped back in the bus for the short journey back to Siem Reap.
It certainly had been one of my most favourite day trips I had done so far. I had spent so much time learning and researching about Angkor Wat probably building up in my head very high expectations but those had been exceeded. I returned to my hotel and feeling tired from a long day in the sun I headed to a popular pizza restaurant on Pub Street that was around the corner from my hostel and called it a night. There was certainly going to be aching legs in the morning.
For my last day in Siem Reap I hadn’t planned anything as I mainly came to see Angkor Wat so after enjoying a well deserved lay in I headed back to Pub Street with my laptop for a spot of lunch. Accompanied by a beer I used the time to catch up on emails and research for the next part of my trip. Later that evening I received a message from Ramtin who I had met in Phnom Penh who was also in Siem Reap. We decided to meet up for a beer and a bite to eat but it would not be a late night as we both had early starts the next morning.
After having a lovely curry with rice and spring rolls we both called it a night and I got to bed ready for my 8am departure for Laos. My first stop in Laos was to be the 4000 Islands and the island I would be staying on is Don Det. This was my first visit to Cambodia and it had been everything I had wanted it to be. Yes, the country has a dark past but the people have moved on from that rebuilt the country and made it into one of the friendliest places I have been. From the tragic tales of the killing fields to the breathtaking Angkor Wat, with some beach time in between it had certainly offered something different in each place I visited.