First of all…. we admit it: Tom and I are NOT temple people. (A week long Nile cruise, five years ago gave us a rather brutal introduction to the feeling of being ‘Templed Out’ – we have since been careful not to repeat the experience).We understand that in this part of the world, to say that you’re not temple people is positively sacrilege however, this must be taken into consideration when reading our account of our day in Angkor and indeed to explaining away the fact that we stayed for a mere day, when three day and week long tickets are available to those with better temple stamina/budgets!
Needless to say that a single day trip to the Angkor temples must start early. Sunrise (and sunset) is a key part of of your spiritual/cultural/romantic experience – three things that Tom could not be more on board with. So an early start we had. Ignoring the advise of our friendly guesthouse host who told us that we ‘MUST’ take a tuk-tuk as driving the Beaut around would ‘DEFINITELY’ not be allowed, we rolled up at 05.30 on our own wheels, bought our $20 day trip entry and were waved in, no questions asked. (Moral of the story – never listen to the advise of anyone trying to sell you a tuk-tuk).
As non-temple and non-tourist people, having our own transport made all the difference. In the first instance, when the crowds gathered by the moat of Angkor Wat for sunrise, we were able to pull up by the side of the road and grab an elevated view on top of our girl, unmolested by hawkers and crowds alike. Later in the day the Beaut proved equally advantageous, when avoiding the ‘tour bus / tuk-tuk’ loops and allowed us to get out to the furthest (and quietest) of Angkor’s temples.
Following the sunrise over Angkor Wat the next logical thing is to get yourselves inside to have a proper look, and actually, its one of the best times to do so, as many of the ‘People’s Republic of Bus Tours’ head back to Siem Reap for breakfast (not necessary as you can get an egg baguette on site for $1). Angkor Wat is obviously the main attraction and for good reason, its the largest, the most imposing and its fairly well preserved with some walls of colour still telling their stories in places. Those who like the biggest and the best will be suitably awed by Angkor Wat but for those, like me, who are fans of chaos and dilapidation, your day will only get better after you have ticked this one off.
Enter the shady Ta Prom, set of Tomb Raider and completely overrun by nature: man may build but eventually the wild will reclaim. Trees grow under, over, on and around the walls and temple and the moss is everywhere. It’s utterly charming and the longer walk around the outer walls is well worth the effort.
Next, to Ta Som. A random pick from the guide book, (incidentally, don’t rely on the scale of the maps, it’s generally further than it looks) this one is blessedly smaller, and whilst a little less wild than Ta Prom, the most beautiful feature is the rear gate which, though still intact, has been totally enveloped by an enormous tree and its exposed roots.
As I said, we’re not really temple people, so after three good temple explorations and with the midday sun staring to crisp our pasty white skin – we made that lunch time. The food inside is actually pretty good but be sure to ignore the prices on the menu – haggle hard but expect fairly slow service (even by Cambodian standards.)
Re-fueled and with enthusiasm at an unexpected high we made for Angkor Thom, the walled city housing many temples and in particular Bayon Temple. This one is a must for all but especially for those with transport they’re a little proud of due to the fairly epic photo opportunities. Leaving behind all chat about how much we love the Beaut, Bayon Temple is really special. Special because it has a very different feel to the others we saw, for some unknown reason the colours stick in your mind. If feeling artistic you might say Charcoal and British Racing Green. But it’s the upper level, that wows. It’s covered…and we mean covered with towers of enormous and beautifully caved faces, 216 to be exact. The photos cannot really do it justice but maybe the couple getting married there (All in Pink) would disagree.
Four seemed like a poor effort considering the temples of Angkor total fourty-six, (mentioned in the guidebook at least) so we picked one more – really off the beaten track, though my bad habit of not quite reading to the end of the paragraph backfired somewhat, when we discovered that it was atop a hill and a good 30 minute hike (in 35C heat I will add). Now this one is true chaos. Fallen stones are all over the shop and huge and beautiful flowering trees burst from the top of the twin towers but best of all we had it all to ourselves, a blessed relief after some of the maddening crowds.
A short drive back into the thick of it and nothing remained of our day but to watch the sun go down over one of the lakes, complete with an Angkor beer and fishermen (practicing their butterfly stroke of all things).