Fri 18th May: Well, the hotel just gets better and better. Great night's sleep, hot shower this morning and an excellent breakfast of eggs, toast, jam, coffee/juice and three types of fresh fruit, served on the rooftop restaurant at 6 a.m.
Our tuk tuk driver met us outside at 6.30 and we set off to follow in the footsteps of Lara Croft (Tomb raider was filmed at some of the temples). We stopped to buy a three-day pass for US $40 then arrived at Angkor Wat before 7. Already there were plenty people about and some leaving, who had probably been there to watch the sun rise.
Angkor Wat is a massive early-mid 12th century temple complex. It's the biggest monument at Angkor and quite impressive, particularly the bas reliefs that wrap around 1 km of outer wall. The temple is surrounded by a moat; the central temple complex has three storeys and five corn on the cob towers!
Needless to say we spent quite a long time there. Next we drove a very short distance to the balloon site and I went up in it to get an aerial view of Angkor Wat. The balloon was tethered to the ground and rose about 200 metres; the photos aren't the best due to the constant motion if the balloon and the haziness of the sunlight, but the views were stunning if a little expensive at $15 for about 10 mins.
Next we moved on to Angkor Thom. This is a 10 km sq walled city that includes Bayon (54 gothic towers decorated with 216 enormous faces of Avalokiteshvara (according to the Lonely Planet guide, other guides claim
something different)), Baphuon (a pyramidal temple), a royal enclosure, a terrace of elephants and a terrace of the leper king. And those are just the things we looked at, there are other monuments too. The approach through the South Gate was stunning, 54 gods to the left and 54 demons to the right, and more huge heads on the gate itself.
By about 12.30- 1 it was blazingly hot and we were starting to get templed out a bit, so we called it a day and set off back. A cool shower and the air con were the perfect remedy!
Later we went out and found a great Khmer restaurant in the alley behind Pub Street; we had spring rolls, fish amok, Khmer chicken curry and jasmine rice for $8 for both of us, plus some Angkor beer at 50 cents a glass. We had a look at the art night market (which was extremely similar to the other night markets here in Siem Reap, OK with some interesting items here and there) then picked up a couple of Beer Laos to take back to the room as we were pretty bushed from being up so early and out in the heat for so long. Temples day 2 tomorrow!