Like most people who visit Cambodia, at the top of my list 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 really didn’t help either. I was given mixed reviews by people who went at sunrise, but I had already made my mind up. I wasn’t missing this opportunity to see the sun rise above this ancient beauty. I knew it would be worth it.
I did a 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 which is roughly the going rate. In order to dodge the colossal ticket queues that build up in minutes we were up, washed and in the tuk tuk by 4.30am.
At this hour in the morning the roads were deserted and we embraced the cold breeze that would soon be replaced by Cambodia’s clammy heat. A day pass cost $20 but we got a three day pass for $40 which can be used within one week. The prices are due to double in February though which is pretty rubbish.
It was so dark walking to Angkor Wat but luckily some well-prepared tourists (unlike myself) had torches. All we could see at the moment were these great silhouettes. The daylight slowly crept in and brushed the sky with delicate shades of orange and pink and the reflections on the lake created a perfect mirror image of the temple. Sharing the same awe as every other person watching, all I could hear was the click click click of everyone’s cameras trying to capture what we were seeing. It’s never the same in a photo though, ever!
So was getting out of bed at 4am worth it? 100%.
With the daylight now bearing all, we soon realised how lucky we’d been choosing our spot. As you walk in you can either sit on the left or right hand side. Looking at the photo below you can see that the left side was completely bombarded.
The interior of Angkor Wat is equally incredible. It feels like stepping into the ancient 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 been magic.
My favourite temple was Bayon. Giant, smiling faces are carved into stone towers which 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. Seriously though, the trunk segments intertwine in all possible and impossible directions and the roots have expanded so much that they have completely taken charge of 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, a very tranquil temple surrounded by water.
By the end of the day I was completely templed out. We managed to navigate ourselves in rush hour traffic back to Siem Reap despite having the numbest of numb bums. Exhausted and soo hungry, an Angkor beer and loads of carbs were ordered to finish up two days of exploring these ancient marvels.