Updated: Nov 12, 2018
It was a 4:45am start. We’d missed the sunset from the top tower of Angkor Wat because they close at 5:30pm, but we were determined to get the sunrise. They opened at 5am, so we should be sweet. Prepared the might before, we were out the door & on the bikes in no time. We’d already scouted & planned our easiest entry point to get to the tower & it looked good. There were hardly any people there. Showing our passes, we picked our way along an unfamiliar path in the dark. We’d brought torches, but they were in the hotel room (not quite so prepared then), but our trusty iPhones shed enough light.
Reaching the back of Angkor Wat, there were only 4 or 5 people we could see. Were we that lucky? Was everyone already climbing the steep stairs? We clambered up & walked through to the first inner sanctum of the Wat, where we heard a loud whistle. Yes, it was for us. A warden came rushing over telling us that the Wat was not open. But when did it open? “6:45am”, she said. But that means we can’t shoot the sunrise from the tower either! For the sunrise we were directed round to the front of Angkor Wat, walking all the way around the outside of it, of course. The front is where millions of sunrise shots have been taken for decades & I really didn’t want that, I wanted something special. Wasn’t to be. Rounding the last corner, we found out where all the people were. There were thousands waiting halfway down the concourse!
Of course, I did shoot a sunrise image, herding in amongst the crowd to get a reflection on the pond. It felt like I was a wilderbeest late to the watering hole! I don’t like it, though, firstly because it has been done so many times before, but primarily because the raison d’être of the shot is Angkor Wat’s silhouette. This is currently completely ruined by a massive scaffolding square, erected alongside one of the towers!
So we decided to walk back around to our bikes & head off to Angkor Thom, a large complex (that once housed 8,000 inhabitants) to the north east. That early morning entrance & the quiet walk around away from the crowd helped bring back that sense of peace & history I had first felt so many years ago. This was reinforced at our next stop where we were one of the first in as it opened at 7:30am & there were no tour buses in evidence. So Angkor still holds the old magic for me, I just have to go when there is no one else around! Our next stop was Ta Prohm, a medium sized temple that is famous for the banyan and kapok trees that have grown in, around & on top of it. No small trees either, as you can see from this blog’s main picture. I found a picture of me standing in front of one of the temple’s tree roots in 1966... don’t laugh too hard, I can assure you that high waisted shorts & no shirt were all the rage!
Ta Prohm is a magical place & is currently undergoing some extensive renovation. For centuries, the jungle has been encroaching until the trees and monumental masonry are inseparable. It’s a spiritual place but as we wandered round enjoying the peace & solitude of the galleries, rooms & even the outside spaces which are enclosed by the surrounding jungle, I became aware that the atmosphere was changing. Sure enough, round the corner marches a guide holding a little flag stick, followed by his army of ants... However, I’d tasted enough for one morning. Same goes for the coffee. As we waited for Ta Prohm to open we had a mini breakfast at a local 'establishment'. I made the mistake of asking for 'milk coffee' which looked completely black when it arrived. "Stir it" was the command, so I did & it became a slightly lighter shade of black. I added a couple of sugars thinking it might be really bitter & asked if I could have a bit more milk. "Taste it first" she said because "it's condensed milk & it it might get too sweet." Ouch! I couldn't take back the sugars I already stirred in, so I drank pure caramel!
We moved to the next fabulous temple that I remember, the Bayon. A richly decorated, rather romantic temple that has four faces on every tower. Wherever you look there are faces to be seen. The detail & extent of the carvings mark this temple apart. By this time it was mid morning & there were so many people we had to queue to go up the steep steps to the top. So, a couple of quick pictures & back to the hotel for a well deserved swim! Tomorrow morning we will be back at the Bayon at 7:30 sharp when it opens to soak up the atmosphere in peace. More to come...
Back at the hotel we have to do a bit of washing, but there is also the most welcome of showers & a fabulous pool. Is it too early for a g&t? Heading out on the town for the evening, we opted for the trusty & ubiquitous tuktuk rather than our bikes. Nice to be chauffeur driven occasionally! Siem Reap is a fabulous little town with a thriving nightlife. We got dropped off at the night market, which seems to be only one of several markets, where you can buy most things. Some of the clothing stalls did get a bit repetitive, but it was interesting seeing slight variants in items & large variants in pricing. Haggling, of course, is de rigeur!
The number of places to eat & drink at all price levels is staggering & there were a large number of people. Obviously the tour buses of Angkor Wat like to venture out in the evening too. We wandered along Pub Street, at least I think it was, or maybe it was leading to because the number of signs pointing to it in all directions was bewildering. 'Designer' shops, stalls, Italian restaurants, local cuisine, fruit all over the place. We ended up in Gelato Plus, a gorgeous little boutique ice cream parlour that does coffee as well. They seem to have got the facilities for the endless tourists just right. And to get there you drive along the river & the one place it immediately reminded me of was Little Venice in London! If you ever come to this part of the world, enjoy Siem Reap.
I included a picture of the hotel pool & lounging area (where I wrote most of this blog) in the gallery, just so you could see that we may stay in some pretty basic places, but this is not one of them. Thanks to Booking.com it’s only costing us under NZ$40 per head, per night. :)
You’ll find all the images from my Rovings through Thailand, Cambodia & (hopefully) Laos soon, here: