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Discovering Angkor

Siem Reap

View Two Pairs of Shoes on arianemeena's travel map.

For most foreigners, Siem Reap exists for one reason: as a base for the Angkor Archeological Park, the official name of sprawling complex of temples spanning several centuries of Khmer imperial history.

Having survived the minibus I spent my first full day chilling out as it was raining and I thought it best to defer my visit for the better weather forecasted for the following day. I used the time to see the Angkor National Museum, which although extortionate ($12!) was beautifully laid out and a great introduction to the history of the area. The afternoon improved enough to allow some time by the gorgeous pool at my guesthouse.

The next morning, as much to my surprise as yours, I got up at 5am and cycled to Angkor Wat on the pink bike I had hired the night before for the princely sum of $1.

The sunrise was slightly marred by a bank of dark clouds that appeared at exactly the wrong time, but still provided a decent photo or two and ensured I was there early enough to beat both the heat and the Chinese tour groups.

Angkor Wat is the best known temple complex and the largest religious monument in the world. It was originally Hindu but was gradually converted to a Buddhist site when the official religion of the Khmers changed and has been in constant use since construction began in the 12th century. It is suitably impressive and contains some truly spectacular bas-reliefs.

Next came Angkor Thom, the ancient citadel. Most of the buildings were wooden so long disintegrated, but what remains are several temples and terraces. Bayon has many faces of Buddha hidden in its towers.

Baphoun has been painstakingly pieced together from stone blocks scattered in the forest, a process that only finished in 2011 after over 50 years of work and was described as the worlds largest jigsaw puzzle.

After refuelling with fried rice and fresh coconut water (and joined by a British girl and her Nigerian friend who I'd bumped in to at every temple before lunch) I cycled the couple of kilometres to Preah Khan, which was the first royal capital. It is undergoing work to stabilise it but remains largely untouched.

Continuing my circuit I visited Neak Pean, a man-made island on one of the reservoirs that has an ornate at its centre (see Instagram for a view of the walkway) and Ta Som, one of the smaller temples.

By this point the temples were blurring in to one, but a highlight of the day was cycling along the beautifully maintained flat road, not another tourist in sight, catching glimpses of ruins between the trees with the sun glinting off reservoirs and paddy fields.

The late afternoon light provided the atmospheric Ta Prohm with even more character. Known as the Jungle Temple, this is where some of the adaptation of Tomb Raider was filmed. Whilst some restoration is being undertaken, much of the temple has been left at the mercy of the trees, which have grown through and around the stonework creating some spectacularly eerie visuals.

12 hours and 45km after the start of my day, the sun set over the moat at Angkor Wat.

Posted by arianemeena 20:25 Archived in Cambodia

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Very impressed that you cycled it! It was tiring enough getting a tuktuk everywhere!

by Lucien

Great photography and explanation! Love it

by Bala

Loved the atmospheric photos,and fairly gobsmacked by both the v early start and long bike ride!?
Enjoy next stage of trip through Laos etc.Mx

by Jane Waran

Stunning photos and a beautiful day aptly described. It's days like that that make travelling such a unique experience, and temper thoughts of constantly smelly clothes, arduous packing and repacking and having to get to grips with yet another local public transport system.

Who'd have thought you were reluctant to get on board with this whole blogging thing?!

by Josh

Doh, meant to say impressive work! Had no idea that it's such a big complex x

by Ali

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