Our primary reason for making the trip to Siem Reap was to see Angkor Wat. Our Tuk Tuk driver from the previous day had negotiated to take us on a 5:00 am tour. We declined but he was about the same age as our son and had a picture of his wife and child in the Tuk Tuk so we agreed to hire him for the following day. We headed out on to the streets of Siem Reap and found a breakfast consisting of a fruit shake, eggs, a baglet, tomatoes and cucumber for $1.50 US each. We borrowed local style bicycles from the hotel and headed to Angkor Wat. The bikes would not have passed a safety check but the brakes and some of gears worked. Lucky for us it was very flat.
Angkor Wat is a huge group of temples spread over several kilometers which you can explore for days. You need a pass to get in. They sell daily and multi-day passes. We bought passes good for 3 days in the same week. If we had it to do again we would buy a full one week pass. There are checkpoints on all of the roads going into the area and at most of the major sites. We managed to miss the administrative buildings and ended up at the first checkpoint where they don’t sell passes and they will not let you in without one. We had to go back. The administrative offices have free maps which are very useful but you have to ask to get one.
The forest was full of monkeys and it did not take us long to meet some. They were fearless but not too aggressive. The first temple we stopped at was one of the smaller lesser known ones Prasat Krauan but it was still big and impressive by world standards. Every site of any size was full of people selling things we negotiated and got two 1 liter bottles of water for $1. Like everywhere else we went on this trip no one was drinking tap water.
Our next stop was much larger Banteay Hdel where I got a blessing and a string armband at a shrine. The sellers outside the temples were pretty aggressive and determined to sell us pants for $1. We rode on to Pre Pup and Cost Mebon and bought a $2 shirt. After several hours of exploring in the hot sun we rode back to town had dinner and explored Pub Street which is the Seim Rep version of Ko Sang Road. Full of tourists, bars, stalls and places to eat bugs. The bridges in town are lit at night and we followed the crowd of tourists across the river to more stalls and an artisan market.
Although the entire complex is referred to as Angkor Wat that is actually the name of one of the largest and best known temple complexes. Watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat is one of things you are supposed to do in life so off we went. Our 5 am Tuk Tuk did not arrive the next morning but we did manage to flag one down and to haggle the fair down to something reasonable. We arrived just before sunrise only to discover that we were far from alone. There must have been 1000 people there. All with cameras, tablets and phones trying to catch the magic moment when the sun rises above the Wat. There were people selling food, clothing and even coffee which they brought to you right in the middle of the crowd. I am not sure why but 95% of the cheap clothing they were selling had elephants on it. There was a group of Australians behind us and every time someone tried to sell him pants one of them asked if they had anything without Elephants. Many tried but no one could produce a pair of pants without elephants.
It was a bit cloudy and the sunrise was actually not that amazing. Angkor Wat is amazing but it was pretty crowded. We walked down the road to Angkor Thom via Phnom Bakheng which we had almost to ourselves.
We climbed up the elephant path but did not see any elephants. Like many of the sites Phnom Bakheng is being restored by overseas universities and the UN. The work has been on-going for many years. Everything came to a stop in the 1970’s when the Khmer Rouge came to power. It not only came to a stop, the Khmer Rouge actually tried to destroy the sites. Many statues and carvings were beheaded or damaged. Signs at many of the sites refer to the fact that worked stopped in the 1970’s and there are small indicators of the past in Seim Rep as well. Being there today it is hard to imagine that an estimated 1.5 million Cambodians were killed by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979. Cambodia does not hide from the past there was a copy of the Killing fields left for us by the hotel in our room.
We spent the rest of the day walking around the temples on foot. We were amused by Monks taking selfies, texting elephant drivers and a rich Japanize family pulling suitcases along a dirt road in high heels for no obvious reason.
We ended the day back on Pub Street with a fish foot massage and a beer all for $2.00. The fish eat the dead skin off your feet it’s pretty weird but if not why not!