Today we will spend the entire day in Siem Reap seeing the various Temples in the area. Meanwhile the ship will be at sea enroute to Sihanoukville where we will rejoin her after she arrives tomorrow.
Before we get started, take a look at the following maps so you can get oriented to the area and the distances involved.
This maps shows the location of the airport, our hotel, the downtown area and the 3 temples we visited along with the spot where we viewed sunrise.
This map shows a little more detail of the areas we visited. The number “1” by each temple indicates where we were dropped off and then we walked to spot labeled number “2” or number “3” (in the case of Angkor Wat) where we doubled back to our original drop-off spot. Visiting the temples requires walking up to a mile at a time in intense head, climbing steep stairs and uneven rocks. If you are mobility limited, you will be restricted to viewing the temples from a distance in most cases. There may be other options for people with mobility issues, but they weren’t obvious and if this is an area of concern for you, careful research in advance is required to avoid disappointment or at least calibrate your expectations.
We had a 5 AM wakeup call so we could meet our guide and 5:45 and head out to see the sunrise over the temples. Sunrise was at 6:30, but by the time we got to the entrance station to buy our tickets the sky was already getting light. The tickets cost $20 per person per day, you buy one that is good for all the temples in the Siem Reap area. They take your picture and print a ticket with photo in one corner so you can’t transfer the ticket to somebody else. Here is a copy of the ticket.
Once we had our tickets we got back on the bus and proceeded to Srah Srang, also known as the Royal Baths, where we would watch the sunrise. This is a large rectangular body of water, roughly 1/3 mile wide by 2/3 miles long.
While we were waiting for sunrise at 6:30 AM, several groups of children – from 7-10 years old – were selling postcards and trinkets for $1. We actually needed some post cards so we bought a package of 10 for 1 dollar – not a bad price, and the young entrepreneur would make a little money. We learned later that they would buy the cards for 50 cents and sell them for $1. We would see similar children throughout the day at every temple entrance or place when one of the many tourists busses would stop. A few people in our group tried to refuse the cards and simply give one of the children $1, but they insisted that they take the cards or they claimed it would otherwise it bring them bad luck. We later learned that begging is prohibited in the temple areas, so if they don’t complete a transaction they risk violating the “no begging” rules.
The skies were very hazy and when the sun first appeared and was almost fully formed as a red ball over the temple. After a few minutes, the sun cast an interesting reflection on the Royal Bath and then gradually grew brighter and brighter as it rose higher and higher in the eastern sky.
After about 20 minutes we strolled over to a nearby market that sold bread, various produce items, meats and fish. None of the items looked particularly appealing to western tastes. There was a small open air coffee shop that sold a local coffee. We decided to give a try, and asked for it “to go”. It was sold cold and we were quite surprised to find that they served the coffee in plastic zip lock bags, that had two straws rubber banded together sealing the top. This plastic bag was placed in another bag with a small handle so you could carry it around. None of us had ever seen coffee served that way previously. It tasted OK and was more like cocoa than coffee. It was fun to try and the price was right at 2 for $1.
Ta Prohm would be the first Angor temple we would see today. We learned that there are over 200 temples in the Siem Reap area but unless you are a Cambodian temple aficionado they all ended up looking pretty similar after a while. It was still early with the temperature in the 80’s but the humidity was quite high. We started to sweat almost immediately with even the smallest amount of exertion. This temple was built in 1186 by King Jayavarman the 7th who dedicated it to his mother Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm has 5 enclosures that have only been partially restored. This site is unique because of the giant tropical fig and silk-cotton trees that are growing on top of the walls. Ta Prohm was featured in the movie Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie back in 2000.
We were able to walk completely thru this temple, taking about 1 hour to cover the ¾ of a mile. The bus met us on the other side and took us back to the hotel for breakfast. Breakfast was served buffet style and it was a very nice spread. Eggs to order were available with the usual selection of both western and Asian breakfast items. With our next tour was scheduled for 10:30 am, we had some time to take a short nap and a shower. Today’s high was going to be around 100 degrees with high humidity, we would need to start as fresh and rested as possible.
Fresh as daisies, the nine of us piled back in our bus at 10:30 sharp to visit Angkor Thom which means Big City. As we were approaching the parking area, we noticed elephants along the street being ridden by men sitting on the elephants neck directly in front of a small platform that would hold a couple of people. We learned later that elephant rides were available for $20 a person but only before 10am or after 4pm. If you are interested in riding an elephant here, and it did look like fun, you need to plan ahead to avoid the disappointment of the rides being booked up.
After being dropped off and prior to entering Angkor Thom we looked at an exhibit that showed the machine they used hundreds of years ago to lift and move the thousands of rocks used to build the various temples. They also had some rocks and tools set up where you were encouraged to try your hand at carving your initials into stone.
Nearby there was a refreshment cart selling cold drinks, ice cream and pineapple slices. Here is where we first noticed the Macaque Monkeys, and they were everywhere. You need to keep you hat and possessions under firm control and unless you want a close encounter, don’t try and feed them pineapple. We didn’t offer them any food and they left us alone, but some women nearby thought it was fun to feed the monkey until he jumped on her shoulders and started going thru her hair looking for something. It took a little doing to get him off, but she was giggling the whole time, although probably a little unnerved. When the smoke cleared, the monkey and girl were both doing fine.
Angkor Thom was a bustling city back in the late 12th century when more than 1 million people lived inside the walls. At the time it was the richest city in Southeast Asia. Per our guide, the Siamese destroyed this city in the 15th century because they thought if they destroyed it here, the city may reappear thousands of miles away in Siam. It didn’t work and the city has been a ghost town ever since. At the center of Angkor Thom is the Bayon Temple, which was restored by the French, using lava rocks for the walks and conventional rock to cover the floor of the moats whose purpose was to stabilize the soil where they built the temple. At the center is a large ornate Buddhist structure that rises into 54 small towers, most of which are topped with huge smiling faces.
It was now around noon and the heat and humidity was intense. We would walk maybe 100 yards then seek refuge under shade, cooling down a bit, before moving on. During one stop, we watched as a monkey stole a sun hat that was sitting a on motorcycle. He managed to get the hat’s chin strap stuck on his head as if he was wearing it like a person. He ran to and fro trying to shake it off and finally disappeared in the branches of a large tree. Fate of monkey and hat remain unknown.
We had to cover about ½ mile from our last shade near the Elephant Terrace to where our bus could pick us up near the North Gate. The Elephant Terrace once formed the foundation of the long gone royal audience hall made from wood. The Terrace is a 6 foot stone wall, carved with elephants in relief and giant eagle people, that stands next to a parade ground that was used for ceremonies centuries ago.
Once outside the North Gate, our group waited under a shade tree while our guide hiked a couple hundred yards to where our bus was parked. Cell phones didn’t work here or otherwise he would have called. Our next stop was lunch at the Khmer Village Restaurant, which had air conditioning so we were all happy. Lunch was good and we enjoyed our hour eating and cooling down before we headed out for the main event – touring Angkor Wat.
It was now 2pm and we were in the heat of the day. It would have been cooler, earlier, but much more crowded, so we decided earlier on to trade fewer crowds for more heat. Something to consider if you have more than one day would be to visit temples only from sunrise until about 10 am – shop or hang out by the hotel pool until another visit right before sunset. It would take two days to see what we saw in one, but we didn’t have any time to visit the town of Siem Reap itself. I would avoid any temptation to visit more than 3 temples unless you are already an Angkor Wat enthusiast and know exactly what you want to see.
Our bus dropped us off as close as he could to the entrance to Angor Wat and we started our march into the Temple. We will have to walk a little more than ½ mile and then to the center point and then retrace our steps on the way out. There isn’t any shade along the way, so we take in slow, stopping for photos along the way. It takes us 30 minutes to walk about ½ mile. Along the way we pose for the classic shots in front of the iconic towers of Angkor Wat. Once inside the main compound the popular photo was to lay your iPhone on the center of the temple with everyone staring down, with the center showing between the group.
The crowds were light at this time of day, so there wasn’t any wait if you wanted to climb up to the base of the spires where you could walk around and see vistas in all directions about 60 feet off the ground. Since there wasn’t any line, a few of us climbed the stairs and enjoyed the view. It was certainly something you could pass up and not feel you missed anything if there was a line.
After resting for about 1 hour near the center of Angor Wat, it was time to walk the ½ mile back to our bus with the temperature just touching 101 degrees. On the way back we came across a couple posing for formal pictures for their wedding and even though it was over 100 degrees, they were looking pretty cool.
Once we reached the street, we paused under a shade tree while our guide was planning to walk ahead of us to get the air conditioner in the bus started. The bus couldn’t get any closer to us so rather that walk the final ¼ mile we all decided to pay a $1 each and have a “Tuk Tuk” take us directly to the bus. In a few minutes we were back in the bus, cooling down and on our way back to the hotel.
We were back in our rooms at 4:30 and had until 7pm to get cleaned up and get ready for our dinner which included a demonstration of various Cambodian Dancing styles.
The dinner and the show was at the nearby Khmer Bar Be Q restaurant and included the following fixed menu:
- Fresh Spring Rolls with Shrimp
- Mushroom Salad with Beef
- Khmer Coconut Soup with Chicken
- Main Course:
- Stir Fried Fish with Kompot Green Pepper
- Chicken Skewers
- Fried Mixed Vegetables with Cashew Nuts
- Pork Caramel
- Banana Chef Special
The dance started about 8pm and lasted an hour and was called a Khmer Traditional Apsara Dance which consisted of 6 different styles:
- Golden Mermaid Dance
- Cardamon Picking Dance
- Fishing Dance
- Apsara Dance
- Blessing Dance
- Khmer Coconut Shell Dance
The dancing was very good and we enjoyed it very much. Afterwards we headed back to the hotel while others with more energy headed into town and the night markets.This entry was posted in Uncategorized