Three days in the city of Siem Reap and the visit to the temples of Angkor Wat.
Our very first day in Siem Reap started with a wake-up call at 5am to explore the temples at dawn and in the chilly air. Rent the bikes for 1$, we ride for 7 km in the crazy traffic among bikes, motorbikes, tuk-tuks and cars that cross each other without any logic.
At the entrance there are three types of ticket: the one-day entry (20$), the three-non-consecutive-day entry(40$), and the weekly pass (60$). We choose the second, even if we’re gonna use it for two days only.
The first temple we visit is Angkor Wat, the most famous. At the view of the three central “towers”, we immediately realize to be in front of a world wonder: walking through the portals we try to imagine the fear of the farmers approaching the temple. Despite the early wake-up, we can’t avoid the crowd, and taking pictures without anyone in it isn’t easy at all.
The visit of the site is simple and you can fairly move from a temple to another following many well displayed paths. Distances from one site to another are around 2-3 km so better to move in tuk tuk, motorbike or bike.
The second temple is Angkor Thom, the widest one, that includes the beautiful terrace of elephants (and real elephants for tourists), the Bayon, Baphuon temple, which you can hike to the top, and other small temples hidden in the jungle.
The temple of Preah Khan, a bit detached from the most popular ones, surprised us: certainly the lack of tourists contributed to create a fascinating atmosphere of mystery. The best aspect of visiting these places is exploring the narrow alleys that often lead to desert courtyards, wondering how was the temple in its great era, and pretending to be an explorer looking for treasures.
The last temple is Ta Prohm, completely surrounded by the jungle and set of the movie Tomb Raider. Maybe our expectations were too high and it disappointed us a bit: there are mandatory paths to follow and this ruins a little bit the “wild” ambience.
The second day in Siem Reap we decide to rent a motorbike (10$) and to baptize Edo to drive in that insane traffic. We can’t understand how there are no crashes in such chaos! Rights of way and turning signals do not exist, everyone literally jumps in the street and who’s driving has to avoid anyone else showing off great slalom skills: that’s the generale rule, pretty much. After a few kilometres on the main street, we take a narrower road that leads us straight to Kbal Spean, 35 km far from Siem Reap. Here we do a short trek in the jungle for about 2 km before getting to a religious site where the river bed stones are carved beautifully. Unluckily it’s the dry season now, so there’s no waterfall: for sure a visit during the wet season is much more worth.
We have a quick lunch in one of the small houses built to welcome tourists and then we take the road back to Banteay Srei. It’s a small temple surrounded by rice fields and suggestive swamplands. Nevertheless it looks like a miniature (doors are only 1m high!), the colours are amazing, running from the pink of the stone to the green of the moss.
The highlight of the day was the road and what we saw (when we weren’t trying to avoid the holes on the asphalt) though: huts alternated to very nice houses, food trucks always running, 3, 4 or 5 persons on the same motorbike, barefoot children playing on the road side, stopping only to wave hi, students in uniform walking (or the more lucky cycling) home, and then skinny cows, pigs, dogs and chickens crossing the road.
Approaching Siem Reap the number of shops, luxury resorts and Burger Kings increases. After returning the motorbike, we walk to the triangle shaped neighborhood where tourists can find shops, pubs, restaurants; among all this western style, the local market was an adventure we hope not to experience again (let’s just say that hygienical norms to store food are quite different from ours).
We walk back towards our guesthouse; walking along the river we enjoy the sunset behind the Wat Bo temple, while the coloured lights of the bridges start to mirror in the water.