Wat a Birthday!!
18.06.2012 - 22.06.2012 36 °C
For 500 years up until the 1300’s the Angkor civilisation was ruling this part of the world. They consolidated this rule with building many temples in the ancient capital. The Angkor past is so deeply woven into the Cambodian peoples psyche that Angkor Wat is on their flag, on their money, on the beer and the biggest historical drawcard in all of South East Asia.
We first had to cross another border and had heard that this particular crossing between Laos and Cambodia was notorious for needing many bribes to get across. Because of hearing this we opted to pay someone to do it for us. Back in 4000 Islands there is a bus company who takes you all the way to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. Before getting to the border we filled out our departure cards from Laos, arrival card for Cambodia and Visa on Arrival form for Cambodia. We paid the $23US visa fee, $6US stamping fee, $2US no photo fee (Tanya didn’t have any photos so instead of making you get one, you just pay a penalty). When we got to the border, the bus guide took all our paperwork to the offices and we just got to sit on the bus and not have any hassles. The fee for having this done for us was a single $1US each. Easy!!
Some of the other people on the bus hopped off and did the whole thing by themselves. When they got back on the bus they all seemed to have paid more than us. Through paying ‘admin fees’, not having change and paying for the forms we definitely thought the $1 we paid was worth the easy crossing.
After that the bus ride was long but with headphones and some tunes on, we watched the Cambodian countryside slowly pass by. We actually decided to stop into Phnom Penh for a night to try and get our India visa sorted as we needed that still. Unfortunately when we arrived at the India embassy, we were told that you have to do an online application and then receive an interview date to submit the application. With no option to do it then and there, we cut our losses and headed up to Siem Reap.
Paul had stayed with us for the night in Phnom Penh too and the guesthouse there had got us a good rate at a place in Siem Reap. It had a pool too which was a welcome luxury in the heat. All for $8 per night for the room. When we got into town we organised with Niels and Valentina to meet up for dinner. We went to ‘Pub Street’ which as the name suggests is completely overrun with westerners but Siem Ream has been a big travel destination for long time so it comes with the popularity. Dinner was great as we also met Bastiaan and Eveline over a nice Cambodian BBQ of crocodile, snake, frogs, shrimps and beef. It was a BBQ where you cook your meat yourself on a stove contraption on the table. Most of us went for the BBQ option which was a 2 person share deal so the table was full of sizzling BBQs and broths.
Are these frogs on steroids???
We didn’t stay out too long, as the following morning it was a 4:30am wakeup for our tuk tuk to take us out to the temples for sunrise over Angkor Wat. Siem Reap is about 20minutes away from the temples so when we arrived at Angkor the sky was just starting to show a bit of light on the horizon. Buying a $1 coffee secured us a mat to sit on by the lake and we enjoyed the temple slowly revealing itself to us.
Today was also Tanya’s birthday, so we had timed it perfect for a good way to spend her birthday, even with an early wakeup. There was a lot of cloud unfortunately so we didn’t get much colour in the sky. It was worth the early start though to have our first impressions of the Angkor Wat like this.
The crowds had gathered – you don’t get this place to yourself, even at 5am
Angkor Wat is just one temple that sits in the ancient city so Paul, Tan and I had hired a tuk tuk driver for the day to take us around the massive site that has lots more temples than just Angkor Wat. As the crowds were still relatively small, we decided to head to Ta Prohm as this was going to be the most popular site that we would visit for the day. This temple is commonly called the Tomb Raider temple as Lara Croft was here in the form of Angelina Jolie when they filmed the tomb raider movie here. All the other temples in Angkor have been restored and conserved, but the curators decided to keep Ta Prohm in as authentic state as possible to show what the whole of Angkor was like when it was discovered by early western travellers.
That there is the reason why we probably enjoyed Ta Prohm the most out of everything we saw in our time at Angkor. There was not another person in the temple when we first got there and so we could just walk around in between the giant strangler figs and silk-cotton trees that make the stones of the temples their home. It really feels like you are stumbling across the place for the first time. We could crawl through little gaps in stones and just explore. The trees and temple are woven into one amazing picture!
Notice the dinosaur... How did they know about dinosaurs?
Next stop was Ta Keo. After Ta Prohm this one didn’t seem that great, although it was interesting to note in the guide book that it said that this pyramid temple was never completed. As is the case with lots of temples over the world, every time a new king or ruler comes to power they start with building their own temple to be a lasting memory of them. If one of them only lasts a short time, the next ruler doesn’t have any problem stopping work on the predecessor’s temple and starting his own.
After an early start, we decided to do one more temple and then call it a day. This time it was Banteay Kdei which was quite a long complex of temples and halls. The tuk tuk dropped us at one end and we walked all the way through and met him at the other side. There were lots of images in the walls and columns here. It was pretty quiet so we started to get a few photos of us in different ways than just the usual ‘stood in front of something’ pose.
We bumped into everyone from the restaurant again so organised to meet up in town later to have a few drinks and dinner for Tanya’s birthday then went back to our guesthouse for a few hours sleep so that we could stay awake later on.
Out at Pub Street we met up with everyone and had another good dinner and cheap drinks. One good thing that lots of tourists does is it usually pushes up the quality of the food as everyone fights for the tourist dollar. After dinner we were feeling the effect of the early morning, but managed to party the night away with Niels, Paul and Valentina in the few pubs down Pub Street.
The temples of Angkor are far too extensive to cover off in 1 day, so we had planned to visit for a second day to see the bigger Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat. We wanted to head out around 10am, but hangover s and a sluggish start meant we headed off after midday. It was really warm when we got out to Angkor Thom but it didn’t stop us enjoying the Bayon temple. This was built for King Jayavarman VII and has 216 faces in the spires of the temple.
We walked a bit further up the road and to the Baphuon temple which is on a big mound of earth. There were some pictures showing what condition it was in back in the 1970’s. It hardly resembled what it is like now in its reconstructed form.
The heat was getting a bit much so we walked through the shade of the elephant terrace and stopped for a drink and some lunch before heading over to Angkor Wat to finish off the day.
Leaving Angkor Thom
Angkor Wat is definitely impressive with the whole site of the temple and outer walls surrounded by a large moat. The temple was lit up nicely in the afternoon sun and we wandered around just taking in ‘The 8th Wonder of the World’.
That was it for the temples for us, we could have used our free 3rd day entry and seen more of the many temples are in the area, but we had a visa appointment at the India embassy on the Monday so had to make it back to Phnom Penh for that. What we had seen over two days had impressed us from the smaller temples right up to the big finale at Angkor Wat.
Daniel – You can’t come to South East Asia without visiting Angkor. Everyone knows that Europeans have rich history in their buildings, but at the same time that European churches and palaces were being built, there was just as much going on in this part of the world.
Tanya – We have seen so many temples, wats etc but none the less, the temples at Angkor Wat were incredibly impressive. It was difficult walking around in the midday heat, the complex is huge but a very rewarding excursion.