1/27/12 - 1/29/12 83 °F
Like many visitors to Cambodia, exploring Angkor was at the top of our list of things to do upon arrival. At 5am on our very first morning in Siem Reap we got to it. Our guesthouse provided a couple of baguettes and bananas for a quick breakfast and then we hopped in the tuk-tuk that would to cart us around for the day. The city of Angkor is inside a park of sorts that you need to pay to enter. They offer one-day, two-day or week-long passes. We had heard there was too much to see in only one day and opted for the two day pass. It turns out we had heard correctly, there is way to much to explore in a single day especially considering the number of steps you inevitably have to climb. We lasted a solid 6-7 hours that first day and we were beat.
Tickets in hand we proceeded to Angkor Wat, the first stop for all of the MANY early temple tourists on a given day. The best itinerary for exploring some of the lesser temples in the area is debatable, but it seems like everybody agrees it's best to head to Angkor Wat for sunrise.
As evidenced by the crowds:
It was still fairly dark as we crossed the moat and entered into the massive courtyard that sprawls from the feet of the temple. Obviously I'd only seen pictures of Angkor Wat up to this point and the sheer size of the entire structure surprised me. It was impressive even in just the earliest hint of light. We found a decent spot to stand and watch as the silhouette of the temple came more and more into focus until the first red-orange rays of sunlight crowned the uppermost towers. It's a sight well worth the early wake-up call, to say the least.
As the sun went about it's business of rising the crowds began to thin and spread in every direction across the grounds. We headed for the temple itself where we made the walk through the lower portion of the temple, the inner walls of which are covered from floor to ceiling with bas-reliefs depicting the epic Hindu poetry of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Those walls drew a majority of my attention as we made our walk but if you looked close enough at anything in Angkor Wat there would be something to see. Every inch of the place is covered with incredibly ornate decoration.
When we'd had our fill of Angkor Wat we headed to some of the less talked about structures in the city of Angkor Thom. Neither Sam or I knew much about Angkor Thom. It was beautiful to look at but at that point we were pretty jealous of the groups of people enjoying the breadth of knowledge their tour guides had to offer. If I could do things over I would make a point to find a good guide, at least for the first day there. But since we couldn't go back in time we just listened in whenever we came upon a group with an english-speaking guide! It worked well enough and after seeing the Bayon, the Baphuon, the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King, we called it a day.
We took one day off to recharge a bit and on our third day in Siem Reap we headed out on what is referred to as the "small tour" which includes Preah Khan, Ta Som, Tha Prohm, Neak Poan. Each of the structures we visited were incredibly detailed, each beautiful in it's own way. Even without much knowledge of Hinduism or Buddhism, the temples are a lot of fun to just explore and marvel at while trying to picture how amazing they must have been in their time. Two days of temples, ruins, bas-reliefs, statues, moats and countless steps was two days well spent, and should remain a must-see for any visitor to Cambodia.