Like most people who visit Cambodia, the number one thing I was excited for was of course the UNESCO World Heritage Angkor Wat. I was prepared for it to be extremely busy, but it was absolutely mobbed! The fact that it was Chinese New Year obviously didn’t help. I was given mixed reviews by others who went for sunrise, but I wasn’t missing this opportunity to see the sun rise above this ancient beauty. I knew it would be worth it.
I did the tour with Kardie who I met in Koh Chang and Mexican Joel who I met at Downtown hostel in Siem Reap. We shared a tuk tuk and paid $5 each for the short tour. In order to dodge the colossal ticket queues that build up within minutes, we were up, ready and in the tuk tuk by 4.30am!
The roads were deserted and we embraced the cold breeze that would soon be replaced by Cambodia’s clammy heat. A day pass costs $20 but we got a three day pass for $40 and this can be used within one week. The prices are due to double in February though which is pretty poo.
It was so dark walking to the temple but luckily some well-prepared tourists (unlike myself) had torches. All we could see were these great silhouettes. The sky slowly became brushed with orange and pink and the reflections on the lake created a perfect mirror image of the temple. All I could hear was the click click clicks of everyone’s cameras, trying to capture what we were seeing. It’s never the same in a photo though! So Was getting out of bed at 4am worth it? 100%.
We realised afterwards how lucky we’d been choosing our spot. As you walk in you can choose to sit either on the left or right. The left side was completely packed with people! The right side was so quiet in comparison.
Inside Angkor Wat is incredible. It’s like stepping into the past. Walking alongside the huge stone walls and statues built by archaeological geniuses in the 12th century made me marvel at the strength and craftsmanship of humans all those years ago. How on Earth did they manage to do it? Researchers believe the sandstone blocks were brought to the site via networks of hundreds of canals. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that they must’ve had superhuman powers.
Angkor Wat was originally built to worship Lord Vishnu and looking at the some of the intricate carvings on the walls it’s easy to recognise the Hindu influence. I noticed this quite a lot throughout several temples.
My favourite temple was Bayon. Giant, smiling faces are carved into stone towers that occupy all corners of the temple. It’s said that the faces represent the four smiles – the charming smile, the glad smile, the sad smile and the beautiful smile. I love how the faces are put together like a jigsaw.
While the temples are the main attraction, I was amazed by the trees throughout the whole site ( bloody tree hugger I know). Seriously though, the trunk segments intertwine in all directions creating some crazy shapes and the roots have expanded so much that they’ve completely occupied the grounds which support them.
In Ta Prohm Temple (where Tomb Raider was filmed) the structures are decayed and piles of rubble are scattered all around. Although the building is derelict the place feels very alive. The roots of the decayed trees smother and clasp onto every stone in its path, making it look and feel like they’re holding the ruins together.
The second day we got bicycles and cycled a whopping thirty kilometres. My legs felt like jelly by the end of it, my poor body hasn’t done exercise like that in months! It was actually an accident that we cycled that far, we didn’t realise we’d taken the long route!
Getting bikes was a really nice way to see the beauty of the temple grounds. We rode across rivers, saw baby monkeys and met some very friendly locals along the way. We did our best seeing as many temples as possible but there are just too many! My favourite today was Neak Pean. The temple is completely surrounded by water making it very tranquil. The walk there across a long pontoon was also nice.
By the end of the day I was completely templed out. We managed to navigate ourselves in rush hour traffic back to Siem Reap amongst hundreds of motorbikes with our numb bums. Exhausted and soo hungry, an Angkor beer and loads of carbs were ordered asap to finish up two days of exploring these ancient marvels.