73-77 Battambang to Siem Reap (Angkor Wat etc)

See trip index here, Cambodia index here, and more photos from Cambodia here

After another lovely street food meal, with some superb shakes we said goodbye to Battambang – a tatty place with a friendly feel.  Hopefully it will improve over the next few years.  Our bus journey from Battambang to SIem Reap on Capitol busses cost $3.75 and took about 4 incident free hours.  Our $20 guesthouse in Siem Reap feels like a good quality hotel, superb attentive staff, excellent room and outstanding service.  Quite chuffed with the find, though at #3 on Trip Advisor its hardly unknown.

Siem Reap is the main entry to Angkor Wat temple complex and so it is heaving with tourists.  Unlike Battambang which almost closes at 8pm, Siem Reap has a late night feel to the town and a bustle we’ve not seen for a while.  Very full of westerners though with the associated tuktuks and $1 massages, but it does have a nice feel to it along with a huge choice of restaurants.

Obviously, at Siem Reap the main attraction is the Angkor Archaeological Park with all its impressive temples.  Everyone says it takes at least a few days to explore, and as we’re really not hugely into temples we thought this was a bit generous.  But, we took advice and got a 3-day pass ($40) which is the same price as 2x 1 day passes, and hired a private tuktuk ($13) for the day to whisk us around.

Our expectations were not really that great, but we were soon convinced.  We did the standard “short route” tour, which started at Angkor Thom and Bayon temples which were hugely impressive and over a vast area.  The towers had faces on pointing to the 4 points, and the carvings through just were amazing.

After Baphuon and Phimeanakas which were okay we dropped down to the Terrace of the Leper King which had loads of carvings and again was absolutely amazing.  To be fair, even the less interesting temples were set in stunning landscapes which were worth a visit for themselves.

Following a few other minor temples we had a look around Ta Keo which was okay, then on to Ta Prohm which is famous from the Lara Croft movie – Tomb Raider.  The temple is a cross between being ruined and in good nick, and ancient trees are growing in/on/over the walls leaving some astounding views of trees intertwined with the walls.  Photos do not do any justice to the place but it was massively impressive, just sadly popular with tourist – ah – that’d be us then!

We decided to skip some other minor temples and head to Angkor Wat which looked huge from the outside, with a long walkway surrounded by a moat/lake thing!  After 5 minutes of walking, Angkor Wat looked even bigger and even more impressive but were yet to reach it. The scale is astounding and whilst possibly not the prettiest of temples, it really did shock due to the sheer size of it.

You can, of course, climb all over the temples, up loads of steps and explore.  We opted just to read a brief guidebook and not use a guide – a decision we were pleased with looking at how bored some people were of facts that they didn’t care about.  There were a few beggars and kids, but there were also some busking-bands (not begging) from people like land-mine victims – so they got our change.

After a long and incredibly interesting day, we haven’t touched the surface of the Angkor park  – but what we have seen is superbly impressive – far moreso than most ancient things we’ve seen in our previous travels.  Just a shame Lara Croft wasn’t at home….

On our rest day we continued exploring and wandering around Siem Reap, and amongst some nice temples we found a reasonable sized supermarket where we were able to buy some essentials – including hot-chocolate and a small jar of Marmite!  Made Mels day.  There are loads of bars and eateries in Siem Reap – choices between street food and good/cheap restaurants.  Amazing when you consider 12 years ago there was one bar! 

The following day, after marmite on toast for breakfast, we headed into Angkor Archaeological Park again for a big circuit tour including going to Banteay Srei which is about 38km away.  With a private tuktuk for the day it costs $22, but we met a couple of girls who we previously met in Mekong in Vietnam so shared the tuk tuk with them.  As if I would give up a chance of 3 girls company for the day…

Pre Rup was our first stop, which is an impressive mountain temple with lions and great views from the top, and then to Banteay Srei (citadel of the women) which is the most touristy temple we’ve seen.  Very intricate carvings and statues of Monkeys and Lions, but clearly the most renovated and organised.  Takes half the fun out of it when you can’t clamber over stuff.

Banteay Samre was surprisingly nice, an old moated temple, but overshadowed by other temples we’d seen.  East Mebon was also a little dull except for some ancient elephant carvings.

Ta Som though was impressive, back to huge faces on the top of towers and a huge tree growing out of the east gate.

Our final temple was Preah Kahn which was really quite impressive – a vast old monastery which used to have 1000 monks.  Superb carvings everywhere and loads of areas to explore and wander round, with lots walking and sadly lots of piles of the old temple!  More stunning trees growing out of the walls, and some double story structures sort of shows how it used to be.

Overall we’re templed out, but absolutely well worth the visit – must be one of the must-see areas on the planet, and I defy anyone to be bored for the duration.  Clearly tourism is a big thing here and it does contribute to the renovation of the temples, but it is a fine line between leaving the temples “as is” and renovating them.   Banteay Srei which has had huge amounts of renovation feels western, with lots of signs “can’t do this” and “can’t do that” – and it makes it pretty boring.  Whereas Preah Kahn where you can explore anywhere you want is a lot more interesting.

The mind boggles on how big an area the temples are spread over, and of course how on earth they were built, and how they used to look in their prime.  Some research required when we get back.

If anyone is tempted, get over to see the Angkor complexes as soon as you can.

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