After a brief stopover in Bangkok we continued our journey through SE Asia, heading out to Cambodia; 3 countries in as many days is not bad going.
Crossing overland between neighbouring SE Asian countries is the most common way for budget travellers to move about. From Bangkok we boarded a bus heading to Aranya Prathet, a border town where we were able to sign out of Thailand and walk into Cambodia. Easy enough, you just have to accept that some borders are not without their underhand dealings; in order for a Cambodia visa, alongside the $30 fee the officials wanted an extra 100 Baht (£2), just “because”.
12 hours after leaving Bangkok we arrived in Siem Reap, the closest town to Angkor Wat. Within the next hour we had jettisoned our heavy luggage at a guesthouse, and were tucking into tasty Khmer curry washed down with a well deserved Angkor beer!
Siem Reap is the hub which supplies the tourists that visit Angkor, and the town itself is nothing like anything we have experienced so far. Amongst the usual market stalls selling trinkets and souvenirs you can also find many western establishments like Costa Coffee and the Hard Rock Cafe. Most restaurants also cater to westerners, selling pizza, pasta and baguettes – fortunately it doesn’t take too much to find local food, you just have to walk in the opposite direction to the crowds.
The temples of Angkor are situated 7km from Siem Reap and so are easily accessible by bicycle. Entry to the complex is by ticket, and you either buy a 1 day, 3 day or weekly pass. In order to see the whole area in a relaxed manner we opted to spread out our visit over three consecutive days; getting up early, cycling to the area and spending most of the morning exploring. By lunchtime we found ourselves culturally saturated and would return to Siem Reap, ready for a hit of fried noodles or rice.
Angkor Wat is the largest religious building in the world; first a Hindu Temple, now a Buddhist one, it was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century. Today the region of Angkor is one of the most important archeological sites in SE Asia, attracting millions of visitors each year. However there is a lot more to Angkor than Angkor Wat itself; the architectural site of Angkor covers 400 square kilometres and is made up of scores of temples, excavation sites and communities – many of whom are direct descendants from the Khmer Empire.
On our first day at Angkor we visited the atmospheric ruin of Ta Prohm, famed as the backdrop in the opening scene of the Tomb Raider film; however it is most impressive for the way you can see the power of nature. Massive tree roots eat up the stone work as if it is made from play dough. On day two we headed to Angkor Thom, a huge moated complex which includes the mysterious Bayon temple. Here you are met with 214 Buddha faces which smile coldly down on you from every angle. We saved the main attraction of Angkor Wat for our final day; however, despite its size and grandeur, for us it was the Bayon faces which were the most impressive and mesmerising.
With our tour of Angkor complete, we are ready to head south and see the more authentic side of Cambodia.