Angkor & Sihanoukville
04.11.2012 - 05.26.2012 115 °F
With a new, third member added to our traveling act, we were ready to take on Cambodia and all the wonderful adventures it had to throw at us. Our first adventure would be to travel from Bangkok to Siem Reap. The nearly 300 mile distance was traveled by a 4:15 AM taxi to the bus station, 5 hour bus ride to the border, walking a few kilometers across the border, clearing Thai & Cambodian customs, a free government shuttle to the Cambodian bus station, a rip-off of a taxi ride for another hour & a half, then a tuk-tuk to our quaint guesthouse... and that's one of easiest travel days! Since we got such an early start, we arrived at our guesthouse, Bou Savy, around 1:30 PM. After some lunch and a little downtime, we got right to exploring! We rented bikes and headed into Angkor to buy our park passes for the week and watch our first Angkor sunset.
Let me start by giving you just a little background on Angkor. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site only 20 years ago, the Temples of Angkor claim a place among the world's most incredible ancient ruins, alongside the majesty and epic construction feats of Machu Picchu, The Acropolis, and Pompeii. Angkor's temples are spread over some four hundred square kilometers of forest, mountainside, and countryside with the most famous temples near Siem Reap. As one of the most important archaeological sights in Southeast Asia, it contains magnificent remains and priceless information about the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th through 15th centuries. The wats, or temples, of Angkor vary widely, just as the kings who built them but together they tell the story of the rise and fall of the Khmer Empire. While the temples are breathtakingly beautiful in and of themselves, full of ornate details and striking in their size, one of the most amazing aspects of visiting the sites is nothing about these temples feel like you are visiting a museum. In fact, as you clamber around the ruins, climbing up dangerously steep steps, walking under precariously lying blocks, and running your fingers over disintegrating details, it's hard not to feel sucked back into time, imagining what it must have been like to worship in these indescribable buildings in the 10th century.
On our first full day in Siem Reap, we hopped on our bikes and headed into Angkor. The day before our taxi driver told us that 3 million people were coming in from Thailand to see the ex-President of Thailand speak at Angkor. We thought maybe he had gotten his zeros mixed up... how could 3 million people be migrating into Cambodia on the same day as us just to leave in two days?!?! As we approached the park and were overwhelmed by tour bus smoke and forced to make some dangerous bicycle maneauvers, it quickly became apparent that his zeros were NOT wrong. We were told we could not ride our bikes into the park for the day because "Thailand is here". We watched as millions of people lined up to walk across the bridge into Angkor Wat as they were being sprayed with a fire hose. The line of people just kept going forever. If you look closely in the second picture, you'll see a million ant sized people walking over the bridge.
It was clear that we could not see Angkor Wat that day so headed over to Angkor Thom to see the Bayon, the Terrace of the Elephants, and Prasat Suor Prat.
Entry to Angkor Thom
The Bayon was built in the late twelfth or early thirteenth century and was intended to embrace all of the religions of the kingdom. It was later consecrated as a Buddhist temple though. As you approach the temple area, all you see is stone towers but as you approach you see that each side of it's 37 towers have four faces built into it. It is said that there are more than 200 faces in all. It's just beautiful!
Although, I'd seen many pictures and documentaries on Angkor Wat, nothing prepared me for the awe of my first sight of this absolutely incredible building. In 1854, Monsignor Jean-Baptiste Pallegoix spoke about the building saying, "... the workmanship is so astonishing that the Cambodians themselves always refer to them as the work of angels rather than men...". I see no better way to describe this architectural masterpiece, even 158 years later. Consecrated around 1150 to the Hindu god Vishnu, Angkor Wat is the world's largest religious structure with the walls of this huge temple measuring almost one mile on a side along with a 1,200-foot-long walk leading to the temple, lined with 54 huge stone figures holding a Naga, or a serpent. All of this and it's thought that it only took 30 years to complete! Although it's undeniably stunning from a distance, what is even more incredible is that every single nook and cranny of this humongous feat is filled with beautiful, intricate detail.
We got the 'wow' moment of a lifetime as we biked into Angkor early one morning and this is what we were greeted with....
Later, I helped to rebuild some of the ruins....
The next day we looked for a private location to watch sunset since many popular places are insanely overcrowded. We decided to head to Ta Keo. Our tuk-tuk driver said it was closed and we couldn't go but we told him to go anyway. We stepped over the construction signs and climbed up some of the steepest steps I've ever seen for a wonderful sunset!
On our last day in Siem Reap, we got up extremely early, determined to get the most out of our day. We took a tuk-tuk this time and headed to Srah Srang, formerly a royal bathing pool, to watch the sunrise. Although our sunrise at Angkor was magnificent, this was, BY FAR, the best sunrise I've ever seen in my life.
Afterwards, we headed over to the beautiful Ta Prohm. This temple has been left in the middle of the jungle and has become one of the most iconic and most photographed of the ruins. Enormous trees grow out of the temple's terraces and walls with the massive roots growing over, through, under, and everywhere between the giant stones. None of the 39 towers are intact, most are partially collapsed, creating a maze-like incredible state of disarray that is so fun to explore. This temple was a playground built for adults, almost like a magical tree house of the 12th century. We spent a lot of time just sitting, taking in the peace, and being allured with the ground's overall charm.
This walkway actually was completely destroyed and they picked up the rubble, labeled every piece, and rebuilt it to look exactly like the original structure with all of it's original pieces. They are doing this with a lot of the areas of the temple. There are labeled giants stones all over the grounds. What a fun, intriguing, incredible job!
After so many days of 110-115* weather, biking, climbing, and exploring, fighting off heat exhaustion and dehydration, Meg treated us to a few days at a beautiful beach resort in Sihanoukville. We headed to the beach, ready to enjoy our last few days with Meg in complete relaxation.
We had the most amazing time with Meg in such an incredible place! We were so sad to see her leave and head back to America. We tried our best to convince her to stay for our last month but unfortunately real world responsibilities pulled her back home. Meg, thank you for coming and sharing such a fantastic experience with us! You added so much to our trip and we couldn't be happier that we were able to spend time with you! Thank you for being part of our adventure!