Today we hired a couple of bikes from our hotel in order to go for a bit of a cycle round the mega temple complex that is Angkor Wat. This was going to be a bit of a jaunt as even getting to the site from our hotel in Siem Reap was a journey of about 6km. The bikes we had were of the Dutch style so they have you cycling in the upright position which I always find quite funny to see and even funnier to ride but they do have nice comfy seats though which should at least ease the bum muscles on a long ride.
So the first part of the journey was getting to the complex entrance which was a wee bit hairy in itself as the traffic, as previously mentioned, was really busy as everyone seemed to be going to work. It was a nice enough ride though as we travelled alongside the river for a good while before going out into the countryside. Although the Sun was hot there was still enough cloud about to keep us at reasonable temperatures as we cycled along. We soon enough though arrived at the park’s ticket office which was quite packed with buses and minibuses, there we bought ourselves a 3-Day ticket, for which you have to have your photo taken which is always a good way to scare the locals!
We reached Angkor Wat which is hugely impressive, you actually come across the Wat’s moat first and the size of the place is beyond description, you actually need to see it to believe. The car park there is equally huge so we locked our bikes up and as we did so were just in time to see a hot air ballon rising into the sky, one of the far easier yet far more expensive ways to tour the complex!
Although there seems to be loads of cars parked up and a good few people at the admission gate to Angkor Wat the place is just so very vast that you never ever feel like there are too many people there. The scale of the place takes some beating in the breathtaking stakes but I do believe that some of the carvings and statuettes there almost pip the building itself. The level of intricacy has to be seen to be believed and when you think that the tools they used were all hand tools it simply takes the breath away, there is even some of the colours remaining on the murals, they must have really been a sight back in the day as even today they still look amazing. There was a bit of a fly in the ointment but we did not let it spoil our experience in that just before our exploration of the inner sanctum we joined the queue only to be told when we reached the front of it that Liz’s sarong – which until this moment had been perfectly okay to visit the site, were now leg-covering non grata – so we had to leave, buy her a pair of pantaloons and return to queue once more, bloody jobsworths! We had even asked earlier if Liz’s sarong would be okay! Oh well it is still a great place and hopefully reading this information may save someone the same problem, or so I hope. The view from the top more than made up for the problems with her showing her flesh and once more we had our happy faces on. The steps up (and down) are to be given some respect though as they are at a much steeper incline than our good old English stairs back home so please do not try running up or down them and unless you are a goat always keep a hold of the handrail, it really is necessary. However, if you are a goat – and by the same token, can read – then you are probably wondering what good a handrail would be to an animal with no hands! Doh!
We had spent quite a bit of time at Angkor Wat so decided we would grab a quick bite to eat before once more saddling up our trusty chargers. The site is huge but the bikes are a great way to see it as you are higher up and even if riding by are going at a pace where you can truly take in the scenery. In fact, at our pace, we even noticed the plants growing as we went by! During the scenery lulls, and these were few and far between, I did a spot of European-ish bike riding with big knees both facing outwards as I propelled the bike forwards – top cycling, or so I thought!
Next up though was Angkor Thom, another huge temple complex even bigger than Angkor Wat and parts of it are currently undergoing a lot of renovation. This one is a bit more Tomb Raider looking and its main temple is ‘The Bayon’. In parts it looks like a giant’s 3D jigsaw puzzle but if you go and explore there are a lot of beautiful things to see. Some of my favs are the huge heads made up of separate carved blocks and which look out in the four separate directions. This complex is made up of many parts including, the Palace, the Elephant Terrace, the Terrace of the Leper King, Baphoun temple – another huge piece of construction. At one point as we were walking along a moped rider somehow managed to hook my camera, I thought he had actually done it intentionally in order to steal the thing but after I had given chase for a few yards, the camera simply dropped from the bike’s handlebars and dropped to the roadside. After some inspection of the camera it seemed to be none the worse for the experience and happy to be back in my grubby little mitts once more.
Next we rode off to go and see a couple of the complex’s smaller temples – Spean Them and Ta Keo – which had been recommended to us by one of the guys at the hotel. These were both quite interesting in part because there were so few people at them real jungle residences. The last temple we visited – Ta Prohm – was, for me anyhow, probably the best of the day as I really enjoyed it firstly for the magnificent carvings but mainly for the fact that the trees had begun to take the temple grounds back. These massive trees, giants from the surrounding forest had come back into the temple grounds as emissaries and were now growing in amongst and throwing aside – the massive blocks of stone that the temple had been constructed of.
In some parts it looked almost as if the trees had been dripped onto these huge stone structures or that dinosaurs were walking through the temple grounds – it is that amazing to see. Out of a tangled mass of roots you would look closely and then see the face of a statue peering out. It was getting late so time to head back and although it was a long cycle ride home we had had such a thoroughly good day that we even enjoyed the ride back and the traffic as ever there always keeps you on your toes.
At night, although Siem Reap is quite a happening place for venturing out, if only to watch the crowds, unfortunately the day’s bike riding had finally taken its toll and after a bit of a short stroll round we stopped at a Chinese restaurant and although the place was quite full the food did not really impress so we went off back to the hotel where we both retired to bed much earlier than we originally intended.