After a day’s rest in Sihanoukville, we took a long 13hr bus journey all the way north to Siem Reap, our final Cambodian stop. It is a really great city and I would highly recommend Pool Party Hostel to anyone visiting (don’t be deceived by the name), purely because of their exceptional guest service and friendliness – they can’t do enough for you, and we got a driver for our whole stay there!
On our first day we strolled round the city, exploring the markets and life flowing from the river, and spent a few hours researching in Footprints cafe, a local community-orientated cafe that offers excellent food for customers and opportunities funded by the cafe’s profits for the surrounding community. It also had hundreds of books on sale, so could possibly be one of the best places on earth, but who knows.
On our second day, we embarked on our first adventure of the magnificent Angkor temple complex. I cannot put into words how spectacular and awe-inducing these ancient structures are, and the civilisations and history that go with them, so this post will be mostly pictures attempting to give some idea of such epicness.
Next, we believe our tuk tuk driver took us to Thommanon and Chou Say Tevoda, but we are not entirely sure… in any case, the next two temples were fantastic, with amazing views out over the complex and surrounding forest:
I think it’s safe to say our favourite of the day was Ta Prohm, the famous film location of ‘Tomb Raider’ and subsequent popular tourist stop; the intricate intertwinement of nature’s magnificent towering trees and Angkor’s ancient but humbling ruins was breathtaking:
We ended our day with a quick stop at the world-renowned Angkor Wat, an incredible group of huge structures designed to represent the Hindu faith’s Mt Meru (comparable to Mt Olympus for any classics fans). Unfortunately, after 5-6hrs of walking up, down and around temples in 35+ degree heat, we were finding it difficult to truly appreciate what we were seeing, so we decided to call it a day and embark on a proper exploration following our dawn arrival the next day.
A 3am alarm woke us the next morning to get us to Angkor Wat in time to watch the sun rise above it. Whilst dragging myself out of bed and on the dark, cold tuk tuk ride to the temple, I asked myself repeatedly if a sunrise could be worth it. Yes, yes it was. It is a ritual millions of tourists follow each year, and I can definitely understand why. The temple grounds are crowded for an hour before the sun even appears, but there is an air of intense excitement, full of the belief that we are about to witness something singular and remarkable.
We spent 2hrs watching the sun come up, then another hour queueing to climb to the top of one of the towers to look out onto what the sun saw first, as well as an hour walking through the temple’s corridors and grounds once the sunlight had snuck its way inside. There is so much detail, planning, history, legend, beauty and skill everywhere, it is completely overwhelming regarding where to look or go, but a joy to walk around regardless.
I’m really glad we did visit so far out (for an extra fee), as this temple was different to others we had seen and was interesting in its own right! Monkeys made up the majority of statues, compared to the living monkeys that adorned Angkor Wat, and the brick was a sandy red rather than rough grey. There were also surrounding gardens and a lake, added much later of course, that add to the temple’s attractiveness.
Overall, Angkor was an incredible sight and a truly spectacular place to visit; the perfect mix of historical culture, natural beauty and stunning vistas. A perfect end to a fantastic Cambodian experience.