29.03.2012 - 01.04.2012 35 °C
Now I’m not a massive fan of temples, or walking around in the heat of the Cambodian sun, but our trip to Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor was pretty good and definitely worthwhile.
By the time our bus got into Siem Reap and we’d checked into our guesthouse it was late afternoon, so we just relaxed for a bit, got some dinner and then went to bed. We needed an early night as we’d arranged for a tuk-tuk to pick us up at 5am so we could see the sunrise at Angkor Wat – the biggest temple in Angkor and the world’s largest religious building.
At 5am we were picked up by our tuk-tuk driver and taken to the checkpoint where you buy your day pass to visit the temples, then we headed straight to Angkor Wat. The closest temple is a 15 minute drive out of town, and the rest of them are quite spread out, so the best way to get around is to hire a tuk-tuk for a day to take you on a tour. Our driver told us the best place to stand to see the sunrise is by the pond in front of the temple so you can get a nice picture of the temple and its reflection in the lake. Unfortunately there were too many people already standing there when we arrived so we sat a little further back on some steps. We waited, it started to get a little lighter – nothing too spectacular. We waited some more, we got bored, we went to get breakfast. When we were done eating the sun had risen a bit higher and the people by the pond had moved on so we managed to get a nice picture:
So was it worth getting up at 4:30am? Yes – but only because it meant we had a good few hours of temple viewing before it got really hot!
After taking some more photos we went in to explore the temple and its grounds but then disaster struck! Stephen jumped over a large step through a doorway – I was just about to tell him to be careful or he’d hurt himself – and on landing his foot got stuck in a crack in the stones. He twisted a bit and then fell over. He couldn’t really walk when he stood up so we went to sit on a wall to let his foot rest. This is when a second (less-serious) disaster happened – a monkey came along and stole my left over breakfast from me while I wasn’t looking! Everyone found this very funny!
Stephen was really in a lot of pain and it took us a long while to get him back to the tuk-tuk. He decided he wanted to see the other two temples we had planned to see though, so we then went to visit Bayon (a temple with many carvings of faces) and Ta Prohm (a temple which has been pretty destroyed by nature and where scenes from Tomb Raider were filmed)
Stephen could hardly walk by the time we got back at lunchtime, and his foot was very swollen so we took a trip to Royal Angkor International Hospital, which was both amusing and expensive! Three hours later he emerged with a diagnosis of a sprained foot, the world’s most expensive ankle support and crutches, and a lot of paperwork to send the insurance company.
We’d had enough excitement for one afternoon so we didn’t do anything too taxing for the rest of the day. We went to ‘Pub Street’ for some dinner and drinks before going to bed in our lovely air conditioned room (we don’t pay for the luxury of air con most of the time!).
We had a lovely day of doing nothing today. We got up late, had lunch, then headed to the guesthouse next door which had a nice pool we could use for $3.
We had dinner on Pub Street again then went to a rooftop bar called X Bar that looked over the centre of Siem Reap. When Stephen won our game of pool, a small Cambodian lady challenged him to a game. She was surprisingly good and won, but it was close!
It was time for another day of temples. Stephen said he would be ok hobbling along, so we got up at 5am again and headed for a temple 40km out of town called Banteay Srei .This one was very pretty and made of red sandstone, so it looked almost pink. The carvings were really intricate and in very good condition, despite many of them not being restored.
Carvings at Banteay Srei
On our way back to see some other temples we stopped at the Landmine Museum. It’s a small museum set up by a guy who has single-handedly cleared hundreds of landmines from Cambodia. He did have very unorthodox methods of doing this (there were some pretty scary photos), but he now has to abide by very strict international regulations and procedures. It was interesting and very shocking to see how many landmines had been laid in Cambodia – many of them by the US – and to find out that many people are still dying and getting injured by these and other unexploded bombs.
I can’t remember the names of the other temples we visited on this day, but here are some photos:
This one looked very dodgy and like it could fall on someone's head at any minute!
Our tuk-tuk ride back to Siem Reap was an interesting one for several reasons: Firstly, we saw two motorbikes, each one with a dead pig strapped to the back:
Apologies for the poor quality, it was quite zoomed in!
Secondly, we ran out of petrol after stopping at some busy traffic lights and had to be pushed to a side street where our driver could buy some more. Thirdly, all the traffic was stopped (twice) while lots of police, army and big blacked out cars and minibuses drove by. We found out that this had been the Chinese president and a load of other Chinese and Cambodian government officials!
Chinese President's car!
We had noticed that there were lots of Chinese flags, big banners saying ‘Long Live the People’s Republic of China’ and billboards like this one everywhere in Siem Reap:
We thought people in Cambodia just loved the Chinese, but I guess it made sense that all this stuff was only there on a temporary basis as there was a state visit to Cambodia of the Chinese president. But is all this fanfare normal? It seemed a bit odd; they must really want to be in China’s good books!
In the evening we just did the usual dinner and drinks on Pub Street, then went back to our guesthouse to pack for our flight to Sihanoukville the next day. We decided to splash out and book a flight because it only takes 45 minutes by plane, but 13 hours by bus! I really couldn’t handle another long bus journey again so soon!