AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

Siem Reap: Day 1

We had read before arriving in Siem Reap that getting the three day pass was the best way to see the Angkor area. The Lonely Planet guide had a recommendation to spend the first few days exploring the smaller temples further away and build up to Angkor Wat on the final day. Otherwise, after seeing the biggest and best first everything else would look a small and not as good in comparison.

For our first day we decided to hire bikes ($2 for a bike with gears) and cycle around the perimeter of the main temple complex and visit some of the more remote temples. We cycled past Angkor Wat and continued towards Angkor Thom. Angkor means city, wat means temple and Thom means great. So this was the great city, the capital city of the Khmer Empire, which once covered all of modern day Cambodia, Thailand and Laos.

Angkor Thom is surrounded by a moat, 3 km long on each side and there is a gate on each side. We cycled though the southern gate. On either side are a long line of people pulling a snake. One side represents good, the other evil. This comes from the Hindu story about the Churning of the Ocean of Milk.





At the centre of Angkor Thom is the huge temple of Bayon. The tour we had booked on our final day visited Bayon so we cycled around it until we reached Baphuon. The temple is big and very high. It has an impressive walkway leading to the temple and then has three levels to climb up. The original steps the monks would have used are too steep and dangerous for tourists (although the modern wooden steps put in place are still precariously steep). There isn’t much to do here other than climb one side and come down the other after a few minutes at the top.



The path at the back of the temple lead directly to another temple hidden away in the forest, Phimeanakas. There was very little to this temple other than it was high and steep. There was no art or carvings preserved. By this time it was about midday and getting hot. Annemarie decided she was staying in the shade, so I took the camera and went alone. The steps to the very pinnacle were smooth and slippery and incredibly narrow. Once at the top I found a shrine for Buddha and a woman selling incense, I was wearing shoes so I couldn’t enter and immediately went back down.


After this we wandered back to the road and walked along the Terrace of the Elephants. It is named that because it is decorated with elephants and was probably used to give crowds a view of elephant fights (amongst many other animal fights) which were held in front of it.


By now it was hot and we were hungry and thirsty. We went back to the bikes (under a tree in front of Baphuon temple). We ate our pain au chocolat and drank the water. That was our Christmas dinner.

We then continued the cycling onto Preah Khan.




A long straight cycle took us to Ta Som in the top corner of the main temple complex.





A short cycle away was East Mebon. We were going to skip this temple because it was getting later in the day and we were starting to get a bit worried about getting back into town at a reasonable time, but when we saw it we just had to go in and climb around and explore this temple.





We continued down the road to the final temple of the day Pre Rup. This temple was impressively high so I decided I would have to climb it. Annemarie, feeling tired decided to stay by the bikes. The temple was indeed impressive, rising 35m high and the top can be reached via some steep steps.

Cycling around the site gave us a sense of scale of the complex. Not only was every temple huge but the bike ride in total was 30 miles. Considering that some of the temples had sat in a huge artificial lake called East Baray (another was on the west) it is difficult to believe that most of the temples are over a thousand years old. Apparently none were built by slavery or forced labour, they were built by dedicated farmers and stone masons who believed they would be rewarded in the afterlife.

All our photos from the day can be viewed here.

The recording of our cycle ride: