Home, home in Cambodia. Where the traffic and bicycles play.
After an almost peaceful border crossing at Poi pet we hit the road and headed for Siem Reap. I’d been before but really wanted to show Tim what it was all about.
And cheap beer.
I wasn’t sure if I had been romanticising Cambodia but within a few hours Tim had reached the same conclusion – Cambodia is a country worth supporting. Here is a nation that lost millions of relatives just a few decades ago. These are people that have struggled with poverty, corruption and massacres. And people who don’t seem to hold a grudge at all.
But more about this awe-inspiring nation later.
For now, I’m going to tell you about Angkor.
The first time I went to visit the temples was four years ago with a tuc tuc driver. A really helpful and knowledgeable tuc tuc driver. He picked us up in time for sun set and sun rise, he took us to the best temples and he told us tons of stories and history to keep us informed. It was brilliant.
This time though, me and Tim fancied a bit of exercise so we hired bicycles. We set off early evening to see the sunset. You can buy tickets on the way at the unmissable ticket office and they are valid for the next day too. Unfortunately we missed the unmissable ticket office.
We cycled up the wrong road. A much prettier route and one I recognised from four years previously as our tuc tuc driver wanted to show us the scenic way. We got all the way to Angkor Wat with about half an hour to spare. But we couldn’t get in without a ticket. After a short bartering session we managed to convince a police man on a motorbike to take us to the ticket office for 1500 riel. We sped towards the ticket office as the sunlight began to fade.
Would we make it?
We arrived at the office at the same time as a bus load of people but were ushered to the front, I think because of our police man friend.
A photo and payment later and our faces were proudly displayed on our tickets. Smiling back at us as if to say, you can do it.
We hopped back on the motorbike, all three of us squashed on like eggs precariously balanced on one big spoon.
As we sped towards the temples, I could see the sun slowly turning orange. We can do this I thought. It’s not far.
We got there just in time. Angkor Wat at sunset.
Unfortunately, that’s not where the sun sets. For the sunset you need to climb a steep hill. A hill that’s not next to Angkor Wat.
We missed it.
Despite our failed attempt at watching sun set we’d had fun, bargained with a police officer and got some good exercise. A success of sorts, I thought as we planned our temple day.
The next day.
We set off at 4.30am to cycle to the temples. It was just over 13 kilometers and took about 45 minutes to get there, much the same as it takes in a tuc tuc… only more exhausting.
We joined the crowds for sunrise at Angkor Wat, following the lady from restaurant 22’s advice and heading to the left where you can see the impressive structure delicately reflected in the water.
TIP: Make sure you go through the first part of the Wat, there’s water outside the temple, but it’s not the famous bit. Inside you’ll be one of hundreds, but it’s still worth it.
And so is the cycle ride to the next lot of temples.
Throughout the day we visited Angkor Wat, Phnom Bakheng, Angkor Thom, Bayon, all western temples, Takeo and ending up at Prah Thom – otherwise known as the tree temple. My favourite temple.
Unfortunately it is currently undergoing work to protect the buildings from the trees. Or to make it a more tourist-friendly and accessible site. Four years ago there wasn’t a proper path, it was wild and rugged and a lot of fun. Today paths are being built and designated photo areas are already in full swing with queuing tourists.
That day we cycled 26 kilometers, some in the dark, some in the burning sun. And, whilst I loved my tuc tuc tour and definitely learn a lot more that way, I would definitely recommend cycling it. So get your wheels and hit the road.
Ankgor Wat, where seldom is heard a discouraging word. And the skies are sometimes too cloudy for the sunset and sunrise (although it was perfect when we were there). Home, home in Cambodia.
Notes about the city itself
You would never guess from looking at it that Siem Reap is Cambodia’s second biggest city. It’s made up of about two main streets/roads and traffic isn’t half bad – which makes it perfect for cycling around.
Here are a few of my top things to do:
- Sit by the pool at The Golden Banana and relax with a fantastic ice-coffee. I’m not sure if it’s their policy to let non-guests use the pool, but it was quiet when we were there and they seemed happy to let us have a dip.
- Watch a traditional dance show with a meal. We enjoyed a good show at a restaurant on Pub Street, but there are many others to choose from.
- Explore the many markets. Our favourite is the arts market, which sells arts and crafts as well as good quality gifts and homey things.
Whether you stay for one day or three, Siem Reap is a great base to explore the temples. We had plenty of fun there and hope to be back again in the future.