We reached Siem Reap the day before Colin and V were due to fly in so that we could secure the digs and get a feel for the place. Following the recommendations of the Wandering Miltionian – RRRRobbie Kershaw we’d secured rooms at Angkor Wonder run by a chap known as Mr ‘Why Not?’ While the air-con room we’d booked for the first night wasn’t available for the first night we knew we’d have a pair of them for when Colin & V arrived so rolled with it.
After a brief wander we settled on that well-known Cambodian delicacy ‘Chicken Tikka Masala, Garlic Naan & 100KG of rice’ [ridiculous portion] – no chips unfortunately.
We arranged a tuk-tuk for the next morning to pick up Colin & V from the airport and hit the hay.
The next morning there was an awesome reunion at the odd Spanish-villa-style Siem Reap airport as after 113 days apart we were united with our fellow Miltonians Colin & V. We settled into Angkor Wonder and went for a winder around the local area for a shake and catch-up.
Later that afternoon we ventured out to get our temple-hopping passes. They open sales late in the afternoon for tickets you can use in the days that follow. As a bonus you can enter the area that evening for the sunset.
We’d already had advice that the place your tuk-tuk driver will always take you to is almost always a waste of time but we ventured on regardless.
It was a waste of time.
About 200 people can reach the summit of the sunset viewpoint before they operate a one-out one-in policy. By the time anyone arrives who’s just bought a ticket the queue is 300 strong anyway & anyone lucky enough to already be up there is waiting for sundown & going nowhere.
We worked this out quickly and just went for a little wander instead, flexing our [camera] trigger fingers for the days ahead. In the evening we dined out at the Khmer Kitchen [reasonable but nothing special] before having an early night in preparation for a 5am start for an Angkor Wat sunrise.
The next morning we hauled ourselves into a tuk-tuk with the magnificent Mr Sam, one of the on-payroll Angkor Wonder drivers, and made our way to what some consider the eighth wonder of the world. We stumbled through the darkness with the crowds, I faffed with my tripod to no doubt suitably annoy the other punters who insisted on coming to my Angkor Wat sunrise, and waited.
It was a bit crap really.
For a start I’m not convinced the spot everyone flocks to is a good choice – perhaps it’s better when the weather allows for an ideal sunrise but even then the lack of elevation and the distance from the temple proper really doesn’t do the place justice. Add the crowds and some timely restoration work involving blankets of green netting and steel scaffolding and there wasn’t really any point in taking any photos of it.
That changes when you get in and amongst it. The intricacies and detail of the temple is phenomenal, particularly given its age. Colin & I spent quite a lot of the time discussing restoration versus leaving things to decay naturally. While I think Col prefers the latter I’m torn.
We put a fair bit of legwork in wandering around Angkor Wat and took a ridiculous number of photos. The weather let us down a little – no blue sky – but the scale and grandeur of the place wasn’t lost on us.
We eventually left Angkor Wat & Mr Sam took us through the south gate of the temple city of Angkor Thom and through to the magnificent Bayon.
The distinguishing characteristic of this particular temple was the many faces, all equal size and shape, staring out from the walls of the place. They tended to sit on four opposite sides of columns looking out in all directions. While smaller and arguably less intricate than Angkor Wat the layout and imagery of the Bayon interested me more.
Onward we pressed – Angkor Thom has a myriad of temples, walkways, reliefs and statues throughout the complex and as the sun beat down I thought I’d finally caught the stomach bug that had afflicted Gilly, Fi & Rob back in Sihanoukville. Colin kindly shouldered my ridiculous camera bag as I shuffled around sweating and occasionally bending double. Thankfully in a couple of hours [and oddly after a couple of sugary sodas] I’d recovered – probably a bout of rough indigestion mixed with sunstroke!
Toward the end of the day we squeezed in a temple many of us were looking forward to – Ta Prohm, the temple that the jungle is taking back. It’s covered in crawling trees whose roots surround and split through the walls and roof of the ancient monument. Such is the uniqueness and coolness of the place that it was chosen as a location for the Tomb Raider movie that starred Angelina Jolie.
While there, who should I spot but Jas & Ang whom we’d lost back in ‘Nam! After a brief reunion we agreed to meet later for some traditional Cambodian…Mexican food.
We returned to the gaff, cleaned up and trotted on out to meet them. Great food, great drink, great conversation and a smidge of pool for good measure. A very late and great night for all concerned.
A welcome rest day followed before a tour further afield the next day. In the morning we ventured out to Kbal Spean, a carved riverbed with religious imagery located on the surrounding rocks and under the water. Mr Sam and I chatted about his future plans and about the place itself as we meandered around the deep forest setting.
The weather was perfect – deep blue sky, sun blazing and as we arrived at a waterfall the butterflies and dragonflies were out in force.
Next up was Banteay Srei. Rob had recommended we see this after Angkor Wat & Thom so that we could appreciate the level of intricacy and I’m glad we took his advice. It did leave Colin and I scratching our heads again as to the level of restoration that had been undertaken – particularly when we found photos in a nearby exhibit from when it had been rediscovered, completely in ruins and barely more than a pile of rocks. There wasn’t enough information for us to determine whether they painstakingly exhumed, cleaned and re-seated each rock and fascia [good, wow] or used the dreaded ‘artistic licence’ and reimagined / recreated the temple in the spirit of its original design [oh dear]. Let’s hope it’s the former.
More temples followed before we elected to return to the Bayon for a sunset. Unfortunately the weather had got worse so it proved a little disappointing though we still finished our temple tour at the right spot.
In the evening we enjoyed a meal out and took to our usual activity of playing card games that I frequently lose – all good fun though. Aware of our early start for a border crossing to Thailand and a stint in Bangkok we crashed. What wonders await..?