The flight from Laos to Cambodia was in another tiny propeller plane, but fortunately this time it was smooth and eventless.
I decided to spend my time in Siem Reap in a hotel and was pleasantly surprised when they arranged to pick me up from the airport for free!
I met the guy holding the Dan Robertson plaque and jumped into my 1st Cambodian Tuk Tuk.
One thing that has surprised me in each country I arrive in, is what mode of transport a Tuk Tuk is.
India’s tuk tuks vary from province to province, and the Pilipino version was a motorbike with a sidecar!
Cambodia’s answer to a Tuk tuk? This
A carriage reminiscent of a Victorian horse and cart, being pulled by a moped!
I got settled into my hotel and went for a walk around Siem Reap. Siem Reap is a much smaller city than I Imagined, there weren’t any sky scrapers to be seen. It was very flat, and very dusty!
I wandered down Pub Street, a street filled with western restaurants and got a nibble before heading back.
I had arranged to go visit the Koh Ker temple area and Beng Mealea temple the following day.
These 2 complex’s were situated over 100km away so it was going to be a long day.
After a couple hours in the mini bus I arrived at the Koh Ker complex. The temperature was over 36 degrees so I was very thankful for the aircon in the van!
Koh Ker is similar to Angkor in that there are a lot of temples in a relatively small area. Unlike Angkor, Koh Ker hasn’t had a lot of money thrown at it, so many of the temples are true ruins and over ¾ of the temples are off limits to tourists due to the presence of many landmines in the forested areas.
Due to how far away it is, Koh Ker gets few visitors, this makes it perfect to visit. It is almost empty of tourists and you get a real feel for the temples.
The first stop was at 5 small temples, all in the same area. 2 of these temples were covered in tree roots, with one being almost totally incorporated into the tree. It was stunning, the ground was littered with stones, it had a really authentic feel to it!
The stones on the floor were the cause of my latest Mr Bean moment. Trying to get the perfect photo. I walked backwards, eyes on my camera and fell backwards onto my ass over these piles of rock! Fortunately nothing was hurt, except maybe my pride!
We visited an array of other temples in Koh Ker, some in better states of repair than others. I personally preferred temples that were ruins, or had trees growing out of the stone. It made me feel like an adventurer rather than a tourist!
In The middle of Koh Ker is a clearing. You have to walk through forest ruins to get to it. As you clear the trees and enter the clearing, a 7 teared pyramid rises in front of you. It has been restored to a point to allow you to climb to its peak to either pray or soak in the views. Many of these ruinous temples are still used to send a prayer or 2.
I was struck by the amount of forest seen from the top of the temple. Through the day id visited 7 different temples, from this view 36m up, you couldn’t tell that there were hundreds of ruins in my view! All I could see were trees!
After leaving Koh Ker we got to Beng Mealea. A huge temple, almost totally in ruins. Very little is known about the ancient temple here. Its more modern history is a sad one. I was looted for much of it stone, and during the Cambodian Revolution the complex was used as a barracks, the surrounding area heavily land mined. Work has been ongoing with the help of the German government to clear them all.
The size of this temple is hugely impressive and I wander how much more impressive it must have been when it was whole. Its courtyards were filled with rocks and rubble, its walls and interior filled with trees. Trees growing over anything they can latch onto.
The effect is spectacular. Our guide told us that many more trees have been cleared recently and 10 years ago the temple was in almost complete cover!
I got home after a great day and was very excited to see Angkor Wat the following morning.
I got up at 4am, aiming to go see the sunrise. I was due to be picked up at 4 30. I downed an energy drink to wake me up and waited for my bus. And waited. And waited. 5 o’clock came around and I phoned the people up. The tour had been cancelled and they hadn’t thought to inform me!!!! I was fuming but they assured me it would go ahead the following day!!!! I was wired from my energy drink so couldn’t go back to bed!! I took the free day as a chance to do some binge TV watching!
I repeated the following mornings routine. Got up and waited for my bus. This time however I waited until I was in the bus before drinking the energy drink!!
Turns out due to their mistake the day before, they were giving me a private tour to make up for it!! The 1 star review I was planning quickly changed to a 5!!!!!
We drove to the ticket counter and I paid my $37 for a day pass to the complex! (Koh Ker and Beng Mealea had been only $15)
We got to the temple and walked over the bridge and in front of me was Angkor Wat. The sun was yet to rise but I could see the amount of clouds in the sky and rightly assumed there would be no beautiful sunrise that morning!
Ill admit here and now. Controversially I was very underwhelmed with Angkor Wat. Following my previous day I was expecting something a bit more ruinous and remote. There were hundreds of tourists everywhere. Much of the temple has been “Restored” so while still impressive, a lot of it isn’t original. There were even a lot of scaffolds up as new repairs were being done.
I wandered around with my guide who told me some really interesting stories about the extensive carvings on the wall (all recreated) and we explored the large temples interior. Its certainly an Iconic building and I’m glad I visited it. But there were just too many tourists for me! I much preferred the peace and emptiness of my previous days trip!
We went to visit the famous Ta Prohm. Made famous as the Tomb Raider film was filmed here. Like yesterdays temples some of the ruins had been taken over by trees. Unlike yesterdays trip however there was a clear tourist route on where and how to explore, rather than the freedom to wander!
Due to being on a private tour I was able to stop at a few more temples tat weren’t on the itinerary but by this point many temples began to blur into one! I was a bit templed out!
Our final temple of the day was Bayon temple. The last of the 3 iconic Angkor temples. Bayon is famous for the huge number of faces carved into the temple. It is often called the temple of many faces.
I really did enjoy walking around here! Faces in various states of repair stared out at you almost everywhere you went!
It also set me up to have a few comedy photos taken!!
I was really pleasantly surprised when my guide asked my permission to go to some boutiques on the way back. He explained I shouldn’t buy anything but himself and the driver would be entered into a prize draw for taking me. Impressed by his honesty I agreed and we spent about 45 minutes going from shop to shop, me smiling as I felt like I was in on a scam!!!!
The company I went to both temple complexes with were called Siem Reap Shuttle tours and I can really recommend them if you find yourself in Siem Reap.
I left straight after being dropped off at the hotel and jumped on a mini bus. Bound for Phenom Peng.