The second part of our week off was 4 nights in Siem Reap. This is the place that Cambodia is known for. The place most people only come to Cambodia to see – the Temples of Angkor are a few miles from Siem Reap. Now I won’t lie, I wanted to pick a beach resort instead of going to see the famous temples for our little trip because my community has a world heritage temple in it so I figured that would be enough temple for me but I am so happy that we went. It was amazing. We were going to go for sunrise because it is meant to be beautiful but we decided to go a bit later, and it’s good that we did because sunrise happened behind clouds and rain so we didn’t miss anything (very much like the last amazing sunset I went to see in New Zealand so I don’t have much luck with nice sunrises). We left the hotel at 7.30 to get there for about 8. The ticket office is about half way from central Siem Reap to Angkor and an adult day ticket is $37. SO definitely not in a volunteering or travellers budget but you can’t not go. $2 of that goes to a local children’s hospital but I still think it is very very expensive. Kate had been to Siem Reap 10 years earlier when it was a lot cheaper and a lot less of tourist attraction. The grounds are a lot greener and cleaner now and much more accessible for tourists than a decade ago so at least it looks like a lot of the entry money goes on the upkeep of the grounds. It was the first place in Cambodia I had seen someone actually going round in a truck, picking up rubbish bags. Most of the temples are restored and supported by foreign governments such as Japan and India.
We chose to do the short tour, which is 5 temples in one day with a tuk tuk between each (a dream in the mad Cambodian heat) and a tuk tuk to and from the hotel for $15 between the 3 of us, not too bad although it took us ages to decide to use a tuk tuk instead of just walk between each temple which would have taken about 12 hours haha.
The first temple you do is the one everyone has heard of – Angkor Watt, I didn’t realise this was only one temple until I went as I thought the whole sight was called that. But it is the largest religious structure in the world and it is a pretty impressive sight. It was built over 900 years ago, originally as a Hindu place of worship but then it was turned into a Buddhist temple and they replaced the Hindu statues with Buddhist statues. The intricate carvings on the wall are incredibly intact considering its age and they tell a story as you walk around. We didn’t pay for a guide so I am not quite clear on what the story is but I took some photos anyway because they are so good. We spent 2 hours in Angkor Watt and because of how preserved it is it is easy to imagine what it was like back when
when it was a working temple. The French only re discovered the temples in the 19thcentury, so foreigners didn’t know they existed for hundreds of years (I learnt most of this from my lonely planet which is the best thing I bought before I came).
The second temple which is the second largest temple there is Bayon Temple in Angkor Thom and this one was my favourite of the 5. It had amazing large statues of Buddha, and was a bit more higgledy piggledy when you walked around so it was a bit more interesting to explore than the straight square and rectangular corridors of Angkor Watt. By this point it was boiling, the warmest day we had experienced in Cambodia so far so we were very glad we chose not to walk between temples! The minute you put suncream on it just sweated off so it was a vicious circle of sweating and then re-applying suncream. The third temple – Takeo temples wasn’t as beautiful as the first 2 - more plain walls and a more simple design but the steepest steps ever. In the first two temples they had added wooden stairs for to you climb up and around the temples but this one had the original stairs in tacts and so we were able to climb them. I didn’t actually struggle too much going up, but each step was about half the size of Kate and Alice’s legs and then coming back down was a struggle. Alice and Kate ended up coming down using their hands it was that steep so it was very funny to watch.
The final two temples were not as structurally sound. They had suffered more damage in the years since they were built and the fourth one – Ta Phrohm temple was in the middle of reconstruction supported by the Indian government. It was very pretty with a lot of stones having been taken over by tree roots and it felt a lot older than the previous ones. At Angkor Watt they have people to keep control of the tree roots so that they don’t grow up and damage the structure of the temple. The fifth and final temple was Beanteay Kdei temple, also known as the Tomb Raider temple where the original Lara Croft was filmed. This was the perfect hide and seak playground ever – and there was a group of children doing just that. Again this temple was not as well preserved as the first 3, nor was it in the process of being restored. It had the most beautiful Buddha shrine in there, the most decorated one I have seen so far, and the colours were amazing – you would donate some money to light an incense, much like you would light a candle in a church, and pay respect to Buddha. It was at this temple where the thunder, lightening and subsequent rains came so it was a good job it was our final temple of the day. We were absolutely knackered, the heat and the exploring had killed us, god knows how we’d have added about another 5 hours to our day by walking to each temple especially in that heat, but people do!
I will be writing a completel separate blog about the food we ate in Siem Reap and the atmospheric Pub Street because, to be honest, it deserves its own post and this one was a long one. Essentially, it is absolutely worth a day trip to Siem Reap if you can swallow the fact that it costs $37 and focus on how important it is to protect these amazing temples. You can get a 3 day pass to use on any 3 days within a week for $67 if you’re there for longer and are mad for a bit of history, which I am but one day was enough for me and we all know I love history.