7 November 2011

Beyond Impressive [Siem Reap & Angkor, Cambodia]

The temples of Angkor are universally famous, and probably for good reason. These impressive, huge, amazingly detailed structures have been standing for thousands of years. They are beyond impressive; they are breath-taking. And my photos really do not do them justice.

The city of Siem Reap is about 7kms from Angkor, and the place where people go to sleep, eat, drink, party etc when visiting the ruins. But it is actually a really awesome city in itself. It is a bit of a tourist trap, and quite expensive, but it has a great atmosphere and is a friendly and inviting place. There are a lot of markets (tourist and local), a nice river running through the center, friendly people. And they have those crazy fish that eat the skin off your feet!

The initial plan was to hire a motorbike to visit the ruins, but it turns out that it is nearly impossible. The tourist police in Siem Reap and Angkor are crazy, and if you don't have an international licence, they will fine you. I couldn't even find a place hiring scooters! So we decided to just hire bicycles instead. Cheaper, better for us, and less chance of hurting ourselves.

I'm not quite sure what we were thinking, but we decided to get up for sunrise over Angkor. So we set off on our bikes before 5am, in the pitch black, with only one working bike light and a small torch between us. Needless to say it was totally inadequate and we are lucky to have made it alive. But we did make it, and I think it was worth the effort. Take a look at the photos and decide for yourself...

The first temple we visited was Angkor Wat. And while it was amazing and impressive, I wasn't wow'ed. There are huge towers, beautiful carvings, amazing design, all built thousands of years ago. Which I completely appreciated... I just didn't feel myself wanting to spend hours there to explore. I apologise to any Cambodians that take offence to my poor opinion of their most prized national icon; I'm uncultured.

The next temple (Ta Prohm) was by far my favourite. Imagine a huge stone complex where parts have slowly started to crumble and fall, surrounded by a thick forest. But nature has penetrated the walls and taken over, with trees growing up over the temples and rubble. Massive stone blocks lying in piles with the tangled roots of huge trees slowly extending their hold. Apparently this was the site for two Indiana Jones movies... that does not surprise me at all.


My second favourite temple was Ta Keo. Not considered a major temple, but I just thought it was cool. The towers look like a stack of randomly placed Lego pieces, so unstable that a gust of wind would blow them over. Besides that - it is BIG! And it is just cool, I can't really explain why, it just is.

Angkor Thom is like a city! A huge area full of ancient structures. I cannot remember the name of them all, so here is a random selection...

The most famous structure in Angkor Thom is the Bayon, a temple filled with stone carvings of Buddha's face. The structure itself is impressive, but the faces are beyond cool. They literally cover every surface, so everywhere you look there is a massive Buddha face staring back at you.

The final temple we visited was Phnom Bakheng - high on a hill overlooking Angkor. The ruins are a little unimpressive in comparison with others, but the view is quite nice. While we were up there about a hundred young monks came up, all in their bright orange robes.

On the way cycling back to Siem Reap we saw a couple of monkeys on the side of the road so decided to pull over. We fed them a couple of chips and they were happy enough with that... until one of them decided to go into the basket on my bike and steal the whole tube! We managed to save a few and put them back in the basket. So he decided to go back for seconds. He was in heaven sitting on the basket of my bike stuffing himself with chips. Which was fine until I wanted to leave and he didn't want to get off. He even grabbed my camera bag and bared his teeth. But I said 'I'm bigger than you, you'll be getting off now' and picked up the bike, which seemed to work.

A little advice for anyone planning on heading to Angkor; don't blindly believe the Lonely Planet, who say you need three days or more to explore. You can cover most of the main sights in one day. Unless you are very interested in the temples, one full day is probably enough. And visiting them by bicycle is an easy and cheap way to do it, you really don't need a motorbike or tuk-tuk. Well, that is unless you want to visit the temples further afield. There was one temple I would have liked to visit that was about 35kms out of Siem Reap, but the ticket for another day (US$20) plus a tuk-tuk to get out there (US$15+) was way too expensive just to see one or two temples.

From here we head to Thailand. First to the border town of Poipet, then we are going to attempt to get to Chiang Mai (in the north). Fingers crossed we can get there without going through the now underwater Bangkok.

A few videos for your viewing pleasure (click the images):

1 comment:

  1. Ok... so in the first video- did she fall on the stairs?? :) HAHA! Anyways- very cool temples! And I love that you're uh... making friends abroad.. even with monkeys.


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