How could I visit Siem Reap without planning a trip to Angkor Wat? Well the thing is I couldn’t and I went! Now there are various ways to see the complex, you can hire a tuk tuk driver to take you around (I believe the going rate is $15 for the day), you can hire a moto (basically on the back of a motorbike, don’t know the cost), organised tour, or take a bicycle. I opted for the last of these options as the place I’m volunteering also has a couple of bicycles and the entry ticket is already $20 for one day and I’m trying to do things on a budget.
I was advised I wouldn’t be able to see it all in one day as it is a lot larger than you would think but all that did was spur me on to see as much as possible in the one day, buying a ticket for the following day if needs be. Covering 60+km through a combination of cycling and walking I managed to hit up all the major sites.
Rather than go into the details of all the temples I visited (which was 15) I’ll just give my general impression of the whole place along with a few noteworthy mentions in my eyes.
A lot of the temples are in a state of disrepair, which I personally feel is how they should be left. There is however lots of restoration
work going on as well so you can see plenty of cranes, buttresses and other architectural band-aids to help preserve them and also offer a facelift.
Whilst of course you need to make sure it’s all safe so visitors can explore, I almost feel that we should let relics age and wither. Yes it is sad that future generations might not get the chance to see them themselves, but so long as there is a good record of these sites I feel we could still educate them about them, without trying to defy the way time affects everything. A contentious point but it leads of to my next one!
Walking around the smaller temples first I feel that I am meant to be in awe of the amazing structures and feel a sense of wonder. Ok yes, they are nice, very mathematical buildings including lots of symmetry and pleasant geometry (which I do enjoy), nothing blew me away. What did impress me however, was the perseverance and dominance of the trees in the area. Throughout various temples, most notably Ta Prohm, you can see trees protruding through the structures, growing around, through and generally just wherever they want. I found this much more entertaining, imposing and moving.
Now this will sound overly pretentious and hippy but bear with me as I do genuinely feel this is correct. One of the main reasons I like the trees doing what they’re doing is that it reminds you that all our structures, refineries, skyscrapers, whatever we build on this planet, is subject to the wills of nature. No matter how great we think we are as a species we should always remember our place. Eventually when we drive the Earth to boiling point it will eject us the way our bodies eject foreign and destructive things inside ourselves.Eventually the environment will balance itself out. I’m not saying that Angkor Wat shouldn’t have been build and this is nature rebelling, I just feel that it proves as a good reminder that our time here is rented and we should try our best to be better tenants.
Onto a more positive note the whole complex is a wonderful place just to cycle around and I strongly recommend doing so if you have the stamina. I’m no triathlete but am relatively fit, the roads are pretty flat (save a few pot holes), and by choosing to travel by bike you can go at your own pace, go wherever you want (within reason) and follow ‘the path less travelled’. I managed to find a way to cross the river by cycling through a dirt tract in the forest and it was hardly difficult, just a little rough on the bum! So here’s a taster of some of the scenery.
Moving on to the noteworthy temples before I sign off! Ta Keo was really fun just because it had really steep, narrow steps and I thought that was quite entertaining to climb. It’s near the main drag so can be quite busy, also very exposed to the sun. Ta Prohm as previously mentioned is nice if not only because you can see nature fighting back. It’s also quite shaded and a nice little place to explore. Again, fairly busy, well most of the temples are! Ta Nei is really nice just because it IS a temple that’s very quiet. Harder to get to, bumpier roads, a little out of the way and I guess not as ‘remarkable’ as the rest, yet here I am remarking so…moving on. Oh it’s also relatively unrestored so there’s a lot more clambering about the ruins, there are signs that they are beginning to repair it but I still reckon it will be pretty peaceful.
I won’t bother to describe Angkor Thom or Angkor Wat as you’ll get much better information from some research rather than me. They were impressive due to their size and surroundings as they are more in the middle of a flat area so the size is more observable and less impeded by the surrounding trees. They’re cool but personally I wasn’t that fussed. Angkor Wat is meant to be the place for sunrises and sunsets so here’s the best out of 24!
Oh I forgot to mention that on my cycling I actually saw a family of monkeys, who I’m always fascinated by, and decided to stop by them for a while and just watch them eat. It was clear they had a new baby as a couple of them (I’m assuming mum and dad) were hiding it from the rest of the world and not moving at all. Here’s a picture of their toddler though.