07.12.2016 - 07.12.2016 91 °F
What an incredible day exploring the ancient Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples! We started our morning off dark and early when we woke up at 4:00 am. We had to take a tuk tuk at 4:30 am to get tickets for Angkor Wat so that we could make it to the temples by sunrise. We piled into the tuk tuk and met our driver, Cho, who was ready to drive us around to all the temples we could see. Cho was awesome and very efficient and we quickly discovered that he was definitely the best tuk tuk driver around (more on that soon).
Once we got our tickets, our first stop was the iconic spot for sunrise at Angkor Wat with water in the foreground and the temple in the background. This sports provides a majestic photoesque landscape of the Angkor Wat towers reflecting off of the small lake, coupled with a sky lit from the sunrise. Cho dropped us off at the main entrance and told us he'd be waiting off to the side for us whenever we finished seeing the sunrise and Angkor Wat temple. We quickly followed the crowds thru the pitch black to our desired location, walking through small temples and stone-work on the way. It's the rainy season here in Cambodia, and it poured for several hours yesterday (in addition to raining pretty much the whole afternoon), so all of the uneven blocks and stones on the ground created ankle deep puddles for everyone to stomp in on the walk over. Our shoes and socks got a wet pretty quickly as we accidentally walked through several of these puddles, but we made it to our sunrise watching destination before we knew it. We waited patiently and politely declined coffee from every local vendor that passed by and asked. We tried to eavesdrop on some tour guides to get some more history while we stared at the slowly illuminating temple. Sunrise was set for 5:45 and once that time came around we realized we weren't necessarily going to have a colorful sunrise, more of just a lightening of the sky, outlining the temples in bright blue.
Once it was light enough to use the GoPro we took some pics and headed over to the main temple a little after 6:00 a.m. Our hotel packed us a breakfast to enjoy on the trip so we ate our chocolate croissants on our walk over to the temple and saved the fruit for an afternoon snack. The temple was absolutely incredible. The amount of detail and carvings that are still intact is just mind blowing. We heard bits and pieces of tour guides explaining some of the history and overheard one guy point out old bullet holes on one of the pillars. As we looked closer at numerous columns and walks, sure enough, bullet holes were scattered around the incredible carvings. We walked all around the entire Angkor Wat complex, including two smaller temples beside the larger one. The site wasn't overly crowded, which surprised us, and, like you'll see in the pictures, there were many times it felt and looked like we were completely alone. This surprised us because we thought that the temples would be insanely crowded the whole time. It seems that getting to the temples for sunrise really was the best decision; it allowed us some gorgeous pictures of the temples and to beat not only most of the crowd, but also the heat!
After spending an hour and a half or so in the complex, it was time to go find Cho for our next destination. The reason Cho was the bomb.com was because he somehow managed to spot us immediately every single time we walked out of a temple. This was kind of shocking because there were tons of tuk tuks at some of the destinations, which meant there were quite a few tourists inside. Cho started driving over to us before we were even close to seeing him! He saved us a ton of time wandering looking through all of the other napping drivers (some drivers set up a mini hammock inside their tuk tuk while waiting for their groups to finish touring each temple). Cho showed us a map of the temples and provided an awesome game-plan for seeing, and progressing through, each of them.
Our next stop was the larger complex of Angkor Thom. The first stop inside the complex was at Bayon, which was a more run down but equally beautiful temple. The stone had different algae looking organisms growing on all of the buildings, which gave the structures green and grey hues. This was also the first temple where we were allowed to literally climb parts of the building. The stairs were so steep and slanted that you really had to hold on while you were climbing 20 or 30 feet up. The only warning signs around said "be careful," so that's exactly what we did before scaling up and down. The stairs that we had to climb were also extremely narrow and they even sloped downhill, which made it a little more challenging and necessitated us to use our hands to quite literally climb to the top. We spent our time wandering through and around this temple; Justin said that it was his favorite of the day as he really like all of the different colors and hues.
As instructed by our driver, we moved on to Baphuon to Phimeanakas then the Elephant Terrace and Terrace of the Leper King before meeting up with Cho again. Baphuon was pretty impressive with a huge bridge leading up to it. We hiked up three different staircases for this one. Luckily there were wooden stairs built hovering over the original stones ones, so we didn't have as much difficulty climbing to the top. When we reached the highest point it seemed that we were several hundred feet off the ground! The view was amazing. Also, this is where we started to really feel the heat from the sun. It was supposed to rain, but we got lucky and had fantastic weather, which allowed for us to get some amazing pictures. We spent a couple of hours total in Angkor Thom, so we were stoked when Cho found us right away again and we got to sit and cool off in the tuk tuk. He drove us over to Ta Keo next, which is made up of large sandstone blocks. We were starting to get pretty tired at this point (the heat was starting to be a factor) so we didn't spend too much time lingering because we knew we had two larger and more prominent temples still to visit: Ta Prohm and Banteay Kdei.
We spent about another hour and a half wandering through the maze that makes of Ta Prohm. This site was definitely the most packed. This was also one of the few sites where we saw (many) large tour groups, which made it a little less enjoyable to get lost in. A lot of people know about this temple from its appearance in Angelina Jolie's Tomb Raider film, but the site is so big that you really only see small pieces of Lara Croft wandering around in the temple in the film. We tried to take the less traveled paths going in the opposite direction of the tours. We got to see less crowded areas that had huge trees growing on top of fallen buildings. At one point we saw a before and after of one of the buildings that was literally reassembled using all of the fallen blocks. It was a huge puzzle that they put back together! After walking around the empty half of the complex, we ventured back into the tours because they were all heading to the more famous spots in the site. For example, we got lost in a stampede of people when we were searching for the main door covered in tree roots that's seen in Tomb Raider (and there were people crowded all around the site when we finally found it). The entire site was very different from the other temples, mainly because of all of the massive trees literally growing through and on top of the buildings and stones; it was quite majestic and it was amazing to see the combination of the man-made buildings and the nature overtaking the temple.
After finally finding our way out of the site (we really did get lost), Cho quickly found us again and took us to the last temple, Banteay Kdei. This was a nice one to end on because it was way less crowded than the last one. The first building had a beautiful Buddhist prayer room that had colorful flags, incense, and statues with bright adornments on them. We strolled through the entire site and played around in the ancient playground, climbing through small slanted doors and over fallen bricks. Our last bit of energy had us skipping back to Cho knowing that we would finally be able to stay off our feet for longer than 10 minutes during the ride back to the hotel. By 12:15 we'd already been up 8 hours, so we figured it was definitely time for some lunch and a nap.
When we got back to the hotel, we showered right away and had lunch. I had a spicy chicken stir fry and Justin got a chicken curry. Both were delicious! It was definitely time for a kanak attack, so we both took a nap for a few hours to rejuvenate. After we were rested (sort of) it was time to hit up Old Town and Pub Street to explore the town. Justin looked up a popular restaurant called Genevieve's, so that was our first stop for dinner. The restaurant served both western and local food, and we obviously opted for the local. We ordered tempura prawns for an appetizer, and I had the fish Amok (local curry type dish) and Justin had fried noodles with pork. We topped it all off with two draft beers. Everything was incredible! My fish was super flavorful and Justin's pork was the most tender pork I'd ever had. We both finished all of our meals and left feeling fully satisfied. After dinner, it was time to walk it off so we ventured around town. We strolled over to the art night market and walked around the different stands, all mainly selling different versions same stuff: bracelets, watches, travel items, and souvenirs. We made our way over to another night market and eventually gave in to one of the many places offering $2 foot massages for thirty minutes. Since we'd had such a long day and walked more than 10 miles, I was able to convince Justin into finally getting a massage! He's never gotten one before!! He was a little skeptical in the beginning, but eventually gave in and admitted it was actually pretty damn relaxing. We both felt much better afterwards and we walked around for another half hour or so before calling our hotel for a tuk tuk ride back. Once we got back to the hotel we tried to write the post and go through the pictures, but Justin took more than 1600 pictures and I could barely keep my eyes open to finish the post, so we had to delay until the morning.
We're planning on getting some souvenirs and more massages for our last day in Siem Reap. I might even try a fish foot massage where you put your feet in a tank with fish! We'll see! Until then...
Kaela and Justin
The amazing Bayon temple!
On our way to the sunrise at 4:30 a.m.
Sunrise in front of Angkor Wat.
Wandering around the Angkor Wat temple!
Tuk Tuk rides > Bike rides
Some of the sites you have to quite literally climb up to get the full experience; these pictures are from the Bayon temple, the second of our day.
More pictures from the Bayon temple.
Pictures from our third temple of the day: Baphuon.
A few small temples on our way to the Ta Keo temple.
Climbing up the Ta Keo temple to enjoy the view!
This was the top level of the Ta Keo temple, several hundred feet above the ground.
Pictures from the Ta Prohm Temple; the most crowded one of the day.
One of the most famous areas of the Ta Prohm Temple, which had a scenic shot within Angelina Jolie's Tomb Raider film.
Our last temple of the day: Banteay Kdei.
Our tuk tuk ride back to the hotel!