Angkor What?

Exiting the airport we stood still shocked…. no one was shouting “tuk tuk” at us. There were a few people milling about waiting to take people to hotels but that was it. After getting over the initial shock we walked to a desk to enquire about the cheapest way into town. Turned out that a moto was only $1. Now a moto is a guy on a motorcycle who likes to deliver you to your destination as quickly as possible. Assuring us that it was ok i climbed on to the back of a scooter with my backpack on and off we went heading into town.

Once safely at our guesthouse we chilled out, had a sleep and then sampled the countries beer, Angkor. Pretty good but it was no Beerlao.

The next day we woke up early hired bicycles and headed off to Angkor Wat. Quickly i discovered that there is no highway code of any kind, its just a free for all. The first km or so was pretty hair raising. I was happily cruising down the road with coaches passing me with less than a foot between me and them, motorcyclists were driving straight towards me on my side of the road, cars were pulling out of junctions and cutting me up. I kind of got used to it though and had learnt to just battle on and to ring my bell as often as possible to alert people of my presence, and i thought driving in LA was bad! It was pretty mental but soon we were out of town and heading down the main tourist route to Angkor and the traffic had eased. There were lots of moto’s and lots of coaches containing hoards of Japanese tourists but we were used to it now… the cycling that is, not the Japanese… they still piss me off! Getting to the ticket office we pulled up, got off our bikes and purchased our tickets… $20, the most expenisve day out of the journey so far i think! Tickets bought we headed back to the road and as i slowed at a junction i felt a nudge, had a wobble and then fell off my bike. I thought Al had rode into me at first, I turned round and it wasn’t Al it was… take a guess… yeah, a car full of F**king Japanese tourists!!!! Uninjured but a little shook up i with the help of a few others, got my bike up and fixed the mud gard that was all broken and then we were off again. It had been an eventful ride to Angkor, but it was all worth it.

Pulling up at Angkor Wat was simply breathtaking, i’ve never seen anything quite like it. I’ve seen tonnes of temples and things like them that have been built centuries ago, but nothing quite so immense as Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat is a temple at Angkor, built for King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city…. yeah, this temple was actually a city! The temple is an example of Khmer architecture at its best and it is the best preserved temple in Angkor. Angkor Wat is so famous that it is even on the countries flag! We both expected Angkor Wat to be the most impressive and in a way it was… but the vast amounts of tourists at that time of the day kind of ruined the experience, we were just another tourist within a larger sea of tourists, most of which were…. yeah, you guessed it Japanese. Getting a decent photo without some clown in a stupid cowboy hat, sun visor or umbrella was virtually impossible and so after a short while we left and headed back to the bikes.

Back at the bikes, begining to unlock them suddenly we had kids swarming around us trying to sell us postcards and bracelets. These kids really are poor, they look dirty and their clothes are pretty knackered and you are aware that they sell these post cards to earn money for their families, but you just have to say no thank you or else they all want you to buy something. It really is hard though when they look at you with ‘those eyes’ and say “please sir, only one dollar”. Saying no we got back on the bikes feeling a little bit guilty. We cycled a few Km and then arrived at another smaller temple, Banteay Kdei. This temple interested us as it was basically a ruin and not so big as Angkor Wat, it was also much quieter, i mean we could actually take photo’s without people in! Spending a bit of time there and fighting off another group of kids screaming “only $1” we headed back out onto the road.

The next temple on our hit list was Ta Prohm, this is the temple where they filmed the first Tomb Raider film. This temple is really great to explore as the jungle takes a destructive path throught the buildings. There were trees growing on top of walls, roots that looked like they had been poured over buildings, long thick roots clinging to anything they could. It was pretty spectacular. Unfortunately though it was quite touristy but because there were no set paths you could always escape the masses and get the feeling that you were in some kind of Indiana Jones film. I ofcourse, headed off into the Danger Area, you seemed to be allowed in there, but either way i wanted to go in anyway. Was really cool, lots of trees and rubble… i know it doesn’t sound that good, but it was, it just felt nice to be away from everyone else.

Eventually finding a way out, we got back to the bikes, bought an ice cream, said “no thank you” a couple of times and then set off again. Now we seemed to be away from everyone else, exploring at our leisure. This is what i had hoped for all along. The next few hours, we were on our own and it was really peacefull cruising along looking at temples. Although my arse was absolutely killing and we were both pouring with sweat in the midday heat, i felt really relaxed and was riding along smiling and singing to myself. I probably looked like a right idiot but i didnt care.

Entering through the main gate of Angkor Thom we were amazed at the size of it… it made Angkor look like a dot on the map easily 4 times the size. Angkor Thom was King Jayavarman’s city and he was obviously American… the bigger the better! However having said that, its not just one temple like Angkor Wat, its more of a walled city with lots of smaller temples within. We visited the terrace of the elephants and also the terrace of the lepper king before heading down to Bayon.

Bayon was once the capital of Angkor Thom and it looks pretty different to any of the other temples we visited. It has these towers with smiling faces on all sides, some kind of god i would imagine. Much to my amusement there were also quite a few ‘lingers’ here… fallic symbols! I really liked Bayon and the smiley faces. Whilst we were there we sat down at a stall and had a cold drink and a whole pineapple each, we realised it had been the first time we had sat down all day and it was now 4:30pm.

The sun was starting to set though and so we got back on the bikes and headed for Phnom Bakheng (i think this means temple hill). We had heard that it was probably the best place to watch the sunset from and so parked the bikes, decided against an elephant ride to the top and started to walk up. At the top there was a sea of people…. yeah Japanese people, all with their massive cameras, tripods, silly hats and umbrellas. Agreeing that we’d both rather be anywhere other than here we walked back down to the bikes. Back on the bikes it was like something out of from dusk till dawn, we were racing the sunset. Arriving back at Angkor Wat in record time we parked the bikes, had the usual chat with the kids and headed to the temple.

It was much quieter than earlier in the day and so we sat by the lake and watched the sun go down. It wasn’t really an impressive sunset and so as soon as it went down we left. Creeping up to the bikes was like some kind of mission impossible style thing. We were trying to avoid the kids that had said they would wait for us and watch the bikes. They obviously weren’t doing a very good job as we got to them, unlocked them and sped away.

Flicking down the dynamo’s we had our lights on, not that they were much use and we had to try to get around all these coaches, tuk tuks and motos. It was chaotic. Soon my dynamo packed in and i was driving down the roads with no lights and Al somewhere behind me but not close enough for his light to be any use. Getting to the outskirts of town was pretty easy.. well as easy as Cambodian cycling gets. Once on the outskirts of town though, it all got crazy. I think we must have hit it at rush hour or something. Cars, buses, tuk tuks, motos weaving in and out of everyone hooting their horns, completely oblivious to the cyclists. I nearly died a couple of times and at one point had to skid accross a lane of traffic to avoid being hit by some idiot in a car who didnt even look. Al also had a couple of near death experiences but we made it back to the guest house in one piece thankfully!

It had been a long, sweaty, tiring and sometimes fightening day, but really really enjoyable, the temples really are amazing and are a must for anyone visiting Cambodia. Having a nice cold shower we headed out for something to eat and then for a few beers… which then turned into a couple of Mekong Whisky Buckets (no scorpions this time though) and then bed..

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