Time for more temples and we explore the iconic complexes at Angkor, by bike, on foot and even running round them… 241 days in.
Leaving Bangkok we splashed out a couple of pounds extra to get a bus straight through border control and on to Siem Reap, for less hassle, no changing of buses and to hopefully avoid any border crossing scams it seemed worthwhile. In fact it was very easy, having already applied for an e-visa we sailed through immigration and we even got lunch, drinks and a free tuk tuk to our hotel included. Cambodia was looking good so far!
First full day in Siem Reap and time to hit the temples of Angkor. With so many to see we went for a three day entry pass, we were fortunate to arrive before the prices increase in February but at $40 each it was still really expensive, nearly two days’ budget gone in one go! We had read that you couldn’t hire scooters in Siem Reap but spotting some for rent next to our guest house; we negotiated ourselves a deal for $8 a day, on the condition we didn’t drive it too far, not quite sure what would happen if we did! The roads were quiet, flat and it was easy going from temple to temple on the scooter. We started off with the edge of the ‘grand circuit’ visiting Prasat Kravan, Banteay Kdei, Srah Srang, Pre Rup and Ta Phrom. Highlights were Banteay Kdei and Pre Rup, for us they trumped the more famous Ta Phrom (the jungle and tree roots snake their way through the temple), the two were quieter and more fun to explore without the hoards of other tourists.
Next morning was an early start as Mike was running in the Angkor Wat international half marathon. No Kenyans this time, we assumed there was no prize money or the steep $60 entrance fee put them off! The profits from the race fees are distributed to local charities and quite a few local school children were running in the 3k event. The atmosphere felt like a running event from back home, (although Mike felt the start should have been a bit better organised considering this was the 21st year) and running past the temples as the sun rose was apparently a sight that would tempt even the laziest couch potato off the sofa. Definitely recommend for those that like to run whilst on holiday, in fact during the race he spotted runners from Headington Road Runners back home in Oxfordshire and Namban Rengo, the Tokyo club he joined for a training session back in May. The training paid off and he finished in 1 hour 32 minutes, 33rd place. Spectating from the sidelines, I felt bad for the those arriving at Angkor Wat for the sunrise that morning, finding a couple of thousand runners and songs such as on top of the world by Imagine Dragons blaring out across the sound system to disturb the normally tranquil setting!
Hopping back on the scooter the next day we continued our leisurely grand circuit. Getting up early we thought we would avoid the crowds and the heat, however, we neglected to read that the temples didn’t open until 7:30! While we waited we negotiated ourselves a small discount on some breakfast – you don’t seem to be able to haggle in Cambodia but you may be offered a discount if you ask.
Crumbling, overrun by trees or even submerged, the temples continued to impress as we wandered and photographed our way around Preah Khan, Neak Pean and Angkor Thom, which includes Phimeanakas (which Mike remembers running all over on his previous visit, now not allowed), Baphoun and Bayon. Our favourite of the day was the Bayon, Bas-relief carvings and massive stone faces on the top.A bit of bas relief.
Final day on the temples and we saved the most famous ’til last, Angkor Wat, it’s also the closest to Siem Reap, so we ditched the scooter, hired a couple of Miss Marple bikes and enjoyed the flat straight roads. In our temple visiting, we had ignored the typical sunrise and sunset trips, through wanting an extra hour in bed and avoiding a night time trip on the bike, Ankor Wat is the famous sunrise location and even during the day time there was a constant stream of visitors entering. Once inside, the crowds dispersed a little and it wasn’t as busy as I expected, however we must confess that it was a little bit underwhelming, it was massive, there’s the iconic silhouette and the Bas relief carvings were extensive and well preserved but for us some of the other smaller temples we visited had greater appeal and charm, perhaps starting our tour rather than finishing there would have been the better route for visiting.
Suffering from temple fatigue it was time to move on and head to Battambang, the third largest city in Cambodia and after the tourist hubbub of Siem Reap it was a nice change of pace. With Mike feeling a bit under the weather we took it easy for our few days stay, however we did pop along to Nary restaurant to join in with their morning cooking class. Chef Roh took us to the local market to buy our ingredients, first with a cautionary word about what we would see for us delicate westerners, animals will be butchered in front of you, the meat won’t be kept chilled in fridges like in the supermarket and so on, it seemed a bit over the top but apparently he’d had tourists run off upset with what they had seen, we have been travelling in Asia for long enough to now accept and expect all this as standard. It was fun to be shown round a market for once and be as touristy as we wanted, taking pictures, sniffing herbs and spices and staring as the women gave the fish a swift bash, gutted them and remove the head with a few quick thuds of the knife, fish scales flying everywhere.
Back to the kitchen we chopped, grated and pounded our ingredients, folded, stirred and fried when instructed and an hour or so later we had rustled up fish amok, beef lok lak and spring rolls with dipping sauces for lunch. Our creations would have probably brought more of a frown than smile to the masterchef judges but it was a fun morning and at $10 pretty cheap for a cooking class, even in Asia.
Late afternoon we headed out to Wat Sampeu for sunset, perched on top of a small hill, we were expecting good views across the flat plains surrounding the city. Surprisingly you don’t get much of a view and the small hilltop temple was full of tourists and kleptomaniac monkeys. Watching the mass exodus of the bats from the cave once darkness had fallen was fun, especially as all the other tourists jumped up from their seats at the ‘viewing gallery’ restaurant, beer in hand to get a better view further down the road! The best bit for me was the chance photo Mike captured of the monks visiting and posing for photos.