12.04.2011 - 16.04.2011 32 °C
With less than a week until my flight to India, I only had time to visit Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor. My original plan was to travel down through the south of Lao, cross into eastern Cambodia and make my way west to Siem Reap. However, time was an issue, things take longer than you allow for and I didn’t want to have to rush. Consecutive days on busses bumping over poor roads wouldn’t have been fun.
Angkor was the seat of the great Khmer Empire, which ruled much of South East Asia. There are many temple complexes; the most famous, and therefore most touristed, being Angkor Wat. One must purchase a pass, which allows entry to all of the temples. Most people use tuk tuks to get from town to the temples, but I thought hiring a push bike would be more fun (and it only cost $2/day).
One evening I went to Phnom Bakheng, a temple on top of a hill, to watch the sunset.
Too many people for my liking, but the ruins were impressive. A path winds its way up through jungley forest to the temple.
Alternatively, you can ride an elephant.
One of the things I liked most about the Angkor ruins is that many of them are now hidden amongst dense jungle, giving them a mysterious, mystical feel. However, for the buildings themselves, this is a mixed blessing as invasive undergrowth damages the structures and many have collapsed. Sections of Phnom Bakheng are currently being repaired.
Incredibly steep steps.
Angkor Wat in the distance.
The hotel I stayed at was owned by a Cambodian and a Welsh guy, John. John said he and his wife moved over to Cambodia to sit out the recession. They make enough from the hotel to live comfortably and save the rental income from their home in the UK to sort them out when (“/if”) they return. Pretty good idea really.
Cambodia has a strange system of currency. They use Riel and US dollars, at a rate of 4000:1. For example, if something costs $1.50, you can pay with $2 and get 2000 Riel change. It takes a while to get used to this – they should really pick one currency and stick with it!
Causeway leading to Angkor Wat. The huge complex is surrounded by a moat.
The buildings, a maze of passageways, courtyards and galleries, are remarkably well preserved and intact, given that they are 900 years old. It was incredibly humid the day I visited – never sweated so much!
Intricately detailed carvings are everywhere.
Restoration work being carried out on the three main towers.
Carvings on the walls of several galleries illustrate Hindu epics.
The Angkor Children’s Hospital is always short of blood so I decided to donate. I’d never given blood before but felt that it was the least I could do. Everything was clean, sterilised and I got a free t-shirt! I felt so good after doing it, to have potentially helped save a child’s life, that I have decided to continue doing it when I get home. It doesn’t cost anything, after all. That day, cycling in the heat made me feel a little funny, but no worries.
Ruins are scattered throughout the Angkor area, some just on the side of the road.
Ta Prohm, the last ruin I visited, is one of the most atmospheric. It’s also famous as being one of the places in which the Tomb Raider movie was filmed.
Trees have grown into and amongst the buildings, giving it the feel of a long lost city – which I guess it is. Many of the Angkor temples have only been rediscovered fairly recently and, unlike Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm has been left, more or less, as it was when it was discovered.
I was there at the end of the day. Walking around and inside the dark passageways at sunset, with nobody else there, felt like I was discovering the place myself.
My time in South East Asia was drawing to a close and, from Siem Reap, I got a bus back to Bangkok. The last bit of hassle came at the airport. My flight to Kolkata was due to leave early in the morning so I got to the airport the night before and waited for 12 hours. Then, when I tried to check in, I was told that the time of the flight had changed and that I had to wait for another 12 hours. Not great news after a night of no sleep. If I’d known, I could have booked to stay the night in a guesthouse. Oh well, Bangkok’s new airport is an ultra-modern, fairly pleasant place to hang around for 24 hours – it could’ve been worse. And I had a good book…