31 December 2009 to 03 January 2010
Having settled in to Siem Reap life, it was time to get out and explore the main reason that most people come here – the huge and amazing temple complex of Angkor and those that surround it. It’s not the first time for either of us – we have both been twice before: my first time was around 9 ago and most recently 2 years back and Mark was most recently in Cambodia 11 years ago and the first time in 1991. Or “during the war….” as his stories of those adventures usually begin! If I re-count them on his behalf he will only say that I am taking the mick so I will ask him to put a little footnote of his own**
I could write pages of facts and history on the temples but it will probably put you to sleep and you can look it up on the web if don’t already know and are interested! Briefly and leaving out a lot of details…. the most common misconception is that the collective name for the temple/temple at Siem Reap is Angkor Wat but Angkor Wat is just one temple which is part of the Angkor complex or ancient city which also includes other famous temples like Angkor Thom and the Bayon. There are also many other temple complexes or cities. They were all built over a period of 400 years by a number of rulers and cover an area of more than 400 sq km. It was a “lost kingdom” for centuries and was only rediscovered 150 years ago. The site is one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia and currently around 2 million people a year visit. This is around the same number that visits the Tower of London but not as many that visit the Eiffel Tower (7 million!). (At this point I should add a disclaimer regarding any possible inaccuracies in my stats).
We decided to dedicate three days to fitting in as much as we could. On the first day we hired bicycles and visited some of the outer-lying temples on what is called the “big circuit”. This covered 40 kilometers including the 7 km each way from Siem Reap to the temple grounds entrance. On top of that there was all the walking around, through and up and down the temples. I thought people of centuries ago were supposedly a lot slighter in their build but if that is the case I am not quite sure how they would have managed to climb some of the steps which can be around half a metre high and very steep and narrow. I’m not going to list all the temples or describe them; instead I’ll let the accompanying pictures do the talking. It was a great day and being on bikes and going a bit further away from the majority of the tourists meant that we didn’t experience the mass overcrowding that can happen at the more popular spots. Having left town at 8am we returned around 5.30pm, tired but more than a tad saddle sore. Mark was impressed with my effort on two wheels – so much so he now seems to think I am ready for the challenge of cycling around the globe! Not sure about that just yet, but with a bit more training who knows…..
I didn’t mention but today was New Years Eve, however we both felt exhausted and anticipated that after a quiet dinner we would be ready for bed by 10 and fast asleep soon after. On our way to dinner we walked up the aptly named “Pub Street” which seemed surprisingly quiet. “See, nothing’s going to happen anyway,” Mark said. I replied that I wasn’t so sure and it was still early. They had put bunting across the street and set up stalls on the pavement selling drinks so someone was expecting a few party goers. During dinner at a great Mexican restaurant we got a second wind (and no, not from off the refried beans) helped by a few tropical flavoured margaritas and daiquiris and went on to another bar. Around 20 to midnight I suggested going back to Pub Street which we did. It was absolutely jam-packed to the extent you could hardly move. Many of the bars and restaurants also have balconies on the first and second floors and these were packed too. There was a massive sound system in the middle of the road and it was a street party in the truest sense of the word. At the stroke of midnight everyone celebrated, many by letting of hand-held fireworks that were being sold. We lasted another couple of hours and then left the still-packed streets to go to bed.
New Years Day was a day off the temples – handovers, tropical sunshine and bicycles don’t mix but the following day we visited some of the further afield temples by tuk-tuk. They have really cute tuk-tuk’s in Cambodia – they’re like mini carriages attached to the back of a motor bike. Some drivers have customised theirs with themes like Batman, funky colours, golden chariot and Butterfly Man (is he one of Batman’s friends?). Today we went to the Roluos group, Banteay Samre, Banteay Srei and Phnom Bok. The following day we took to two wheels again and cycled around some of the more popular ones including Angkor Thom, the Bayon and Angkor Wat – not such a big circuit and I reckon only 30 km on the bikes but I think a lot more steep steps as I ached more the following day than I did the first time we went out.
**Mark’s footnote to follow at some point…..
And now for the pics – I know there’s a lot but I really did try to edit them down for the blog and this is nothing compared to the number we took!