16th January 2012 – The Journey to Cambodia
It was hard to wake up this morning at 4am after only a few hours’ sleep. No-one to blame but ourselves! Heaving ourselves out of bed and getting the last of our stuff packed, we gently woke the boys up and prised them out from under their duvets. Zombie-like we descended the wooden stairs for the last time and after a coffee we headed out to the street where we flagged down a taxi to take us to the station.
Bangkok to Aranyaprathet was the first leg of our passage to Cambodia. Like the train to Ayutthaya, the journey passed slowly. Colourful vendors plying their wares up and down the carriage, nice people communicating through sign language and smiles, flat countryside peppered with rice fields and small towns, games and Uno and sleep when we could. Arriving at the end of the line we disembarked and were immediately surrounded by tuk-tuk drivers competing for our fare to the frontier and the crossing to Poipet.
Jumping onboard, we were taken to the border. From the car park we had a 100m walk to the Thai immigration centre which was fairly painless and quick. Then a long walk between there and the border controls on the Cambodian side passing casinos there for the Thai folk not allowed to gamble in their own country. Queueing up with the other foreigners we were set for a long wait in the blazing heat.
Eventually we were allowed through the gate and into the Cambodian checkpoint, where we had to queue again to be processed. Finally we were stamped through and were able to cross into Cambodia and the lovely town of Poipet. We had read a lot about the scams operating around this border town, and were sceptical of all approaches by the “kind” people and free tourist buses. We acceded to the tourist bus touts and were whisked away to a transit point, or official bus station. Here we had the choice of bus or taxi to get to Siem Reap our ultimate destination, there was $3 difference and so we opted for the taxi – the ever present Toyota Camrey.
And so we rode in comfort for a few more hours until we got to Siem Reap. We could have gone like this I suppose….
The taxi driver would not take us to our hotel, but instead pulled up to their office where we were transferred to a couple of tuk-tuks to get to our pre-booked hotel – much to their disappointment. The tuk-tuk transfer was free, surprisingly. We checked into Home Sweet Home on the other side of the river, unpacked and freshened up. Ate in the hotel and had an early night,
17th January 2012
Not a chance of waking early today after the voyage from Bangkok, and so after a lie-in we breakfasted in the hotel and then set out on foot to acquaint ourselves with this tourist town. Siem Reap is a fairly compact town with the main markets, shopping malls, upmarket hotels and restaurants on one side of the river and on the other side the cheaper hostels and hotels. We walked across the river in the search for a Mac store (it was refusing to connect to one of the hotel WiFi networks and the other one was so slow) for some diagnostics to check that the wireless was working properly. The man said it was fine and that the Chinese kit was most likely to blame – this was to be a situation that repeated everywhere in Cambodia.
Heading down into the town we found the market area, and pub street. Little alleys ran between the main roads, lined with restaurants and little boutique shops. We found a nice place and settled down for a late lunch and some brilliant food.
We spent the rest of the afternoon searching for bicycles to rent, and finally found some at the top end of town on the airport road. One for each of us, and so we mounted our metal steeds and cycled through the chaotic traffic – one must be brave and somewhat reckless – back to the hotel. A light dinner and bed.
18th January 2012 – Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm
Great excitement this morning, we were off to see the Temples of Angkor. We set off on the bikes and rode the 6km north from Siem Reap and arrived at our first stop, the ticket office – anyone looking vaguely foreign is encouraged to divert off the main road to the ticket booths – even when you actually have the tickets, you still have to go via this area to show your pass! Fortunately we arrived just before a coach load of tourists and we were quickly processed, photos taken and passes received. We were then on our way.
Carrying on up the road we came to a t-junction which gave us our first glimpse of Angkor Wat, the South wall of the temple. We could go right to the temples to the East, or left to get to Angkor Wat and the temples to the North. We had chosen not to go to Angkor Wat today, but head up past Bayon to Angkor Thom and then take the looping road through Victory Gate and along to Ta Prohm.
You cannot help but be astounded by Angkor Wat, and as we cycled around the south and west walls of this magnificent temple we followed the road to the north and soon arrived at the South Gate of Angkor Thom. Lined with statues on each side, and a large face carved into the gate, we stopped to snap a few pictures and to rest a little from the ride and the heat.
Jumping on the bikes once more we dodged the traffic through this marvellous portal and carried on own the road towards Bayon, another magnificent temple we would save for later. Cycling around Bayon we headed up to Angkor Thom and parked the bikes under a tree across from the Elephant Terrace. We were besieged instantly by hawkers trying to sell us guide books and pineapple, mango and water. Locking the bikes we crossed the road to begin our exploration of this ancient ruin.
We entered through the gate (in the last picture) and arrived at Phimeanakas, a monument at the head of the former Royal Palace. A mountain of stone with steep stairs on each side, only one of which was scalable, bedecked with statues and carvings some of which were still in relatively good shape.
Following a sandy path we arrived at yet another gate, ruined and supported by props, and heading through we were presented with a magnificent tree on our way to Baphuon, the temple of the reclining Buddha.
If you look at the last photo closely you may be able to see the reclining Buddha in the stones… if not, here’s another couple.
Since this is a very special place the children were not allowed to go up and so Tania went up to look and marvel, whilst I and the boys walked around the base and then they set about whittling sticks with bits of stone they found. Hiding from the heat we waited for Tania to return, and then we walked along the causeway back to the Elephant Terrace through a gaggle of Japanese tourists, and back to the bikes via the terrace of the Leper King.
We recovered the bikes and then stopping at a little roadside cafe we had some food before heading out through Victory Gate to Ta Prohm. This temple is undergoing some renovation which may detract from it ultimately, but you cannot help but feel as though you’ve stumbled onto a Tomb Raider film set! The temple and trees live in a fragile harmony, and it is clear in some cases that if the trees were to be removed, then the temple would fall down. It is a photographer’s heaven, and so I’ll let them speak instead…
It’s impossible to post all of the photos we took! But we spent longer than we anticipated, and could have stayed even longer. It was such a wonderful, tranquil place. A sense of wildness, nature coming to reclaim its place and in doing so, combing with the man-made structures to produce something magical and organic/
Dusk was falling as we left and got back on our cycles. This was bad news as we still had 12km to cycle back to Siem Reap, and the majority of it was now going to be in the dark, without any lights and 3 boys all on their own bikes. Still, we managed it, with a little help from some friendly locals pointing us in the the right direction and got back to the hotel without a scratch, although Oskar was a little scared given all the traffic and the lack of lights. Safely back we had some dinner and flopped into bed.
19th January 2012 – Bayon and Angkor Wat
After the amazing temples yesterday we were more than ready to go back to see Bayon and Angkor Wat – perhaps the jewel in the Angkor crown. Breakfasted and ready to go we jumped on the bikes and set off for the 6km ride to the ruins.
Giant stone faces are the hallmark of classic Khmer art and architecture and Bayon has 37 towers most of which sport 4 faces pointing to the cardinal points. Whose faces they are is some matter of debate, Buddhist, Hindu, Kings… the site was constructed over the course of a century and the architecture is therefore a little muddled. But the bas-reliefs on the exterior walls are perhaps the best bit depicting scenes of battles and everyday life. Some reconstruction is being undertaken, but the temple itself is simply stunning.
Faces everywhere, and a grandeur that was amazing, it was a real pleasure walking around this ancient temple. But, we had the main event to attend, and regrouping around the bikes we headed to the jewel in the crown of Cambodia – the proud heritage that appears on the flag and just about every “national” emblem from beer bottles to sweeties.
A massive three-tiered pyramid crowned by five lotus-like towers rising 65m from ground level, Angkor Wat is one of the must see attractions in Cambodia. Built at the apex of Khmer domination of the area, Suryavarman II constructed Angkor Wat in the form of a temple mountain dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. It is surrounded by a massive moat and its outside walls measure 1300 x 1500m. The temple itself is 1km square and its walls are covered inside and out with bas-relief carvings. So says the guide.
As we arrived at the entrance, a long causeway across the moat the view of the temple is stunning. Superlatives are rendered useless as you stand before this monument, it is quite simply stunning. Entering the main gate, we were directed around the base of the temple and we walked all around the base level admiring the intricate and mostly preserved carvings. Here and there the stone had been rubbed shiny by passing visitors and in some places there was traces of the original colours used to decorate the carvings.
We walked all the way around and then ascended to the second and then the third level. Quite amazing, fantastic, awesome….
Apart from the disappointment of not getting to the top level (Oskar was not allowed up, and Tania was not dressed properly) this was brilliant. We could have spent many more hours here, but the day drew to a close, and the temple closed at 5pm and so we returned to our bikes and set off home once more. Cycling back in the semi-dark, and accompanied by some friendly young Cambodians who rode outside us, as if to protect us from the roaring traffic. All in all a wonderful day.
20th January 2012
A day of rest… all that cycling takes its toll. Just some exploration of the town of Siem Reap and a search for a hotel with a swimming pool. A nice surprise for Mr M’s birthday on 22nd.
21st January 2012 – Banteay Srey (Citadel of the Women)
Constructed in the late 10th Century this temple is densely covered with some of the finest examples of carvings of any of the Angkor temples. It is constructed from pink sandstone and was discovered by French archaeologists in 1914. It is 38km from Siem Reap and so somewhat out of scope for us to cycle too, and so we engaged the services of a tuk-tuk driver we found outside the hotel. After some negotiation, and a call to a friend, the friend arrived to take us to Banteay Srey – but first to our new hotel (with a pool)
The ride out was through villages and we had the chance to see more varied architecture, home life and people than in the town as we not so much sped as cruised through the country side, passing farms and children on bicycles heading to school. We eventually arrived at our destination, somewhat bum-sore and dismounted. Compared to Angkor Wat, the reception was reserved and small, and after paying our entrance fee we wandered the small path in the direction of the temple.
Banteay Srey is small, tiny by comparison, but nonetheless a real charmer, The carvings were still so detailed even after a thousand years. We wandered around, and then headed to the museum/exhibition which told the story of its discovery and subsequent rescue and reconstruction, and the story of a naughty Frenchman who tried to steal some of the stones to sell, but ended up in prison for his nefarious activities.
After a very interesting few hours marvelling we climbed aboard the tuk-tuk and headed back to Angkor Wat for lunch at the Blue Pumpkin, and another attempt to get to the top level of the temple. Foiled again as T wasn’t properly dressed – I guess some things are not to be!
We headed back to the new hotel and some frenzied splashing around in the foot-shaped pool, lovely!
22nd January 2012 – Happy 6th Birthday Mighty-Mat
Today was all about Mateo. Swimming, presents, and cake….
I think we all had a great day :o)
23rd January 2012 – Farewell to Siem Reap
Our last day in Siem Reap was spent planning the trip to Kampong Cham and Krachie, our next two destinations. Followed by packing (of course) and some great fun in the pool again.
Early to bed, as we had to leave early in the morning for the bus ride to KC – can’t they leave at a reasonable hour???
Tourists flock to this place to see the magnificent temples in various states of ruin, and rightly so. Cambodia has a great deal to be proud of in these archaeological gems which could well have been destroyed by the Khmer Rouge during their time – but fortunately for us and for future generations of travellers, they recognised the importance of the temples both historically and as a symbol to the nation. If you visit Cambodia, Angkor Wat is a must see, no question.