The bus arrived in Siem Reap around 6am, while it was just getting bright. Slept on and off during the night though not the most comfortable as Mike's water leaked onto the mattress so I constantly felt like I'd wet myself lol. We were picked up by tuk tuk and taken to our hotel then slept most of the morning. Mike again wasn't feeling to well after the bus journey so I had breakfast alone - instant noodles and coffee. Not sure that will be something I carry on having at home though :P At lunch time we ventured out to the Old Market area for food at a noodle bar, then headed back home to sort out uploading photos and such. The Old Town was very touristy - they even had a 'Pub Street' where all the bars were, and heaps of night markets and restaurants which we would enjoy once Mike got better.
Mike was feeling much better, and despite a mix up with the front desk, we got ourselves a tuk tuk tour of Angkor for $15 with our guide Long, and paid $40 for a 3 day entrance ticket. As we didn't have a plan of where we should go, Long took is on his standard first day route: Angkor Thom first to see Bayon, Bauphon, Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King, Thommanon, Ta Keo, and Ta Prohm before lunch, then Angor Wat to finish. We entered Angkor and went straight past Angkor Wat to begin with. It was exciting to see the first glimpse of it over the causeway, then zoomed past onwards to Angkor Thom, passing through the South Gate. The gate was impressive, taking us over a bridge depicting the scene of 'Churning of the Ocean of Milk'. This would be a common theme shown on the entranceways which had a massive Tug of War between Gods and Demons. Through the gate, we travelled further until we came to the Bayon. It looked incredible - a crumbling, mass of towers covered with identical faces staring at you from all angles. We left our guide for a few hours to explore here and the other temples in Angkor Thom. In all we spent about an hour at the Bayon, but that was rushing. Inside there was a maze of corridors on the ground level, with carvings worn away on the walls. Upwards, on the second level, we we're face to face with the hundreds of giant smiling faces on the many towers. These are said to resemble King Jayavarman VII who built it in the 12th Century. The heat was really intense on the top, and you could go higher to the third level as well. The place was incredible - definitely Mike's favourite (Mike: The Bayon wasn't one of the most impressive temples from a distance - not like Angkor Wat - but up close, it had incredible detail. Every mazy turn you'd find something new, interesting or impressive carved or sculpted into the walls and towers. I could have spent a lot longer here). Afterwards as time was running out, we dragged ourselves away and headed to the Bauphon - Angkor's giant jigsaw puzzle. This temple is supposed to represent Mt Meru (the mythical holy Hindu mountain). Restoration had started before the civil war with the pieces taken out and carefully labelled, but the records were destroyed during the Khmer Rouge years, so it's still only half done (the front half luckily, so you can still tell what it was supposed to look like).
Lining the road that runs north - south through Angkor Thom was the Terrace of the Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King. The Terrace of the Elephants was most impressive as it was a wall covered with life-size elephants, used as a viewing area during parades. I can only imagine how awesome that must have looked. The Leper King was a tad disappointing as we went looking for the statue of him, and it just looked like Buddha :S
Back in the Tuk-Tuk we exited through the East Gate past the 11 monuments to the king's wives, then onwards to Chau Say Tevoda and Thommanon situated opposite each other. They both looked very similar, but Chau Say Tevoda looked newer and has more of a redness to the brickwork. Ta Keo next was completely different to the others as it was made of sandstone with a large staircase, but looked unfinished. This was apparently because sandstone is difficult to carve, so they left it. At this point we were both baking in the heat but had one more place to go before lunch.
Ta Prohm. My favourite of the day was next. We went further into the forest until we came to the entrance. The buildings (built by Jayavarman VII - the same as the Bayon) were all crumbling and covered with plants. Most of the trees seemed to have taken over, roots covering the roofs and walls too. It was beautiful especially streaked with the light coming through the tree canopy. Unfortunately the peacefulness was broken by the sounds of diggers and tree surgeons cutting down some of the huge, ancient trees who've obviously been there hundreds of years. Really sad to watch. Ta Prohm is supposed to be like what most of Angkor was like where the French rediscovered the place so can only imagine how much more they'll be cutting down to get the right look of the place.
Afterwards we had lunch then headed back on ourselves to Angkor Wat. Still as impressive as when we saw it that morning, we left our Tuk-Tuk and crossed over the causeway, lined with nagas (the seven headed serpents that serve as a bridge that are supposed to help humans to reach the home of the Gods) to the main entrance gate, then onwards to the main temple - the largest religious building in the world, built by Suryavarman II (who unified the Khymer Empire) in the 12th century and dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It was huge with the three main towers visible, and the main building stretched out either side. Bit disappointed that there was a lot of green tarpoline draped over the main entrance, but didn't matter too much. Once inside we walked round the central complex, then out to the courtyard where you could see that there are five towers and because of the angle, it only looks like three from the front. The central tower (representing Mt Meru again) was huge, and we were able to climb up and explore at the top. The views were brilliant - you could see a few of the other temples covered in the trees, but you could really get a sense of how huge the Angkor Wat building and grounds were from up there. We had a bit of time to sit around and take it all in (whilst crossing some no entry signs for a photo with the towers) before heading down to explore the grounds more. At this point it was getting pretty hot and we were struggling, so we decided to head off, hoping we'd have time another day to explore more.
Overall, we were really surprised by how many temples Angkor had. I thought it was only really Angkor Wat, but in reality Angkor was a huge Kingdom, with loads more buildings that haven't survived today as the Kings were the only ones allowed to live in stone/ brick buildings. An awesome full on day, we arranged to head up to Banteay Srei, the far away temple the next day with the same Tuk-Tuk driver.
Pub Street for dinner - as we were both feeling iffy we were on the caesar salads for dinner. Was lush. As we'd both decided to stay off the alcohol for the week before christmas, it was difficult to not join in with all the Happy Hour promotions on Pub Street, but we stuck to it :) Traffic through town was interesting as well on the tuk tuks - on our way into town we had seen a group gathered around a stage. Turns out it was for a grand opening concert in aid of a new clinic. It came with music and a fashion show - all in petrol station :S Most random thing of the day - was a shame there were more people outside the barriers looking on than inside though.
Woke up early with the plan to head out to see the far away temples and maybe see some of the main temples in Angkor again. No such luck as I woke up feeling sick - think I'd caught whatever Mike had :( We cancelled the trip and spent the day sleeping pretty much before venturing out later on the evening to eat. We thought pizza would be a safe bet, but it was a bit too much so we briefly wandered through the night market and headed home.
Much better than yesterday - managed to get up and out at 8am for our trip. The first stop was Banteay Kdei. The driver said it was only a small temple but it was really stunning. Possibly my favourite of the temples. We walked up to the temple which looked initially like a dilapidated English country mansion, framed by huge trees, the leaves fluttering down around us. There were very few people about as it was so early, but the walls still held some of the carvings, with most of the walls intact though a couple engulfed by trees. Round the back they had a few moss covered ponds which looked lovely in the early morning light. Bonita :) Next up was Pre Rup. This was a monster of a temple - built up high with five towers. Each tower had beautiful stone doors that were sealed, but looked as if they used to be painted and glimmered slightly gold in the light. Another precarious climb down and we were off again. This time we were heading off to the far away temple of Banteay Srei. It took about 45 minutes in the tuk tuk, through little villages to reach the temple. It was one of the first to be fully restored and so had a huge complex built around it. First chance to sample the infamous 'five star toilets' - bit disappointing after those in Chengdu with the massage function lol. Back to the temple, we had to go through a series of entrance gateways with beautiful carvings of Hindu deities and stories. Banteay Srei is known for the best bas-reliefs of all the Temples of Angkor which was really evident. Through a walkway we reached the temple which had a central corridor with secondaries coming off it, until the central courtyard which held another stand alone building with multiple tiered towers and monkey guardian statues. The carvings were brilliant and it was hard to take it all in. In front of us the whole time as well was a Chinese guy who looked to be trying out a full repertoire of poses from Blue Steel to Gangnam. He seemed to accidentally photo bomb most of our shots, but was hilarious. We only had an hour and half to walk around which flew by. By this point I was exhausted - it was nearing midday and the temperature had been getting up to 36 degrees. We wizzed off to our next stop - East Mebon. This was a temple built within an artificial lake which has since dried up. First thoughts were that we'd been here before, that this was Pre Rup again. Turns out it was built just after Pre Rup and is a bit of a copy. We didn't stay here too long because of that and headed to Ta Som. what I really remember about this temple (temples all seem to look like each other after a while) was that it had stone elephants guarding the four main corners. They were pretty big though Mike still managed to bang his head on its ears while he climbed around it. We had a few more temples to see but as it was nearly 1.30pm we decided to stop at a restaurant for a drink and a pancake as it was all we could manage. The pancake turned out to be more cake than crepe so couldn't manage it all sadly (as i'm not one to leave my puddings). Short wander to nearby Proan Neak Pean - we'd been staring at the black and white photo of this monument in our room in Siem Reap for days. We had to cross a causeway to it, but found we couldn't get much closer as it was within the water and cordoned off. Took some artsy fartsy shots then headed on to Prah Khan. This was said to be the home of the king whilst he was constructing the huge city of Angkor Thom. The lay out was similar to the city with four main gateways across a surrounding moat, with the 'Churning of the Ocean of the Milk' story played out with a massive Tug of War between Gods and Demons to receive the liquid of immortality. Looked very impressive. As we didn't feel like we'd appreciated Angkor War enough on the first day, we headed back for once last look whiz around as well as stopping off for a glimpse at the Bayon too. Angkor truly looked impressive, even the second time around. We got to look more closely at the bas reliefs - the wall carvings on all four sides depicting famous battles of the King who had built Angkor Wat, and scenes from Hinduism with Shiva (God of Destruction), Vishnu and Brahma (God of Creation). The whole area of Angkor is definitely something I won't forget. It's difficult to imagine what it would have been like in ancient times. I think of the castles and ruins back home and how amazingly these ruins here are still standing, with all the intricate detailing, despite so many years of civil war and nature enveloping the buildings, like at Ta Prohm and Bantai Kdei. I said to Mike that I didn't know if we'd see anything this impressive again. Though he reminded me we still have the Taj Majal to see next month, and the mighty Victoria Falls in Africa. All pretty amazing stuff to come.
Last night in Siem Reap. We really enjoyed our stay here. Out for another lush meal. This time I had a Khmer red chicken curry. Much like the Thai version, but definitely sweeter. We strolled through the infamous Night Markets once more to pick up our last few tit bits, then called it a day.
We had an amazing time in Cambodia. It really surprised us how diverse it is. Best beaches we've seen so far, though we're definitely looking forward to some rest and relaxation over the Christmas period :)