Today was all about the major Siem Reap temples: Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon. Very satisfied with our tour with Siem Reap Shuttle yesterday, we registered for another daily tour with them. We finished the tour with a walk up the hill where Phnom Bakheng is located, hoping to catch the sunset.
Just like yesterday, we started the day with an early breakfast at Goat Tree, our hotel’s restaurant. In addition to the platter of fresh exotic fruits previously mentioned, we also got watermelon juice, our favorite.
And just like yesterday, we got picked up at our hotel by a shuttle from the Siem Reap Shuttle travel company. We were sixteen people in the shuttle today, eighteen including our tour guide and the driver.
The first temple on our list for the day was the one and only Angkor Wat. Built in the 12th century, Angkor Wat was first a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu. Of all the temples in Cambodia, Angkor Wat is without a doubt the most famous and visited one. In fact, it is so popular that it is depicted on Cambodia’s national flag. It’s also the largest religious monument in the world. For Mimi and I, it was one of our most anticipated places to see on our trip, together with Bagan in Myanmar and Ha Long Bay in Vietnam.
We arrived on the site around 9:20 AM and got dropped at the western entrance, right in front of the very wide (190 meters) moat, certainly the most impressive moat we have ever seen.
We crossed the moat with hundreds of other visitors and got to the outer wall of the complex. This wall used to protect the city that surrounded the temple proper centuries ago. However, unlike the temple which was made of stone, all the other city buildings were built of perishable materials which is why they did not survive. We walked towards the temple and stopped for pictures several times.
A first time several hundreds of meters away from the main temple.
Then again in front of the right pond that immediately faces the central structure. There are two symmetrical ponds facing the temple on the west side but the one on the right when facing the temple had a lot less people.
The other pond had food stands next to it which attracted the crowds. Our group stopped to get refreshments as the sun was already hitting strong in the morning. Mimi and I opted for fresh coconuts, our first ones for a while. The coconut water was very sweet and we asked the waitress to open the fruits so we could eat the meat inside. She cut a part of the coconut itself for us to use as a spoon. It worked great, probably because the meat was particularly tender.
After that, we entered inside the temple proper. The walls there were covered with very extensive and detailed carvings depicting wars as well as various important religious scenes. Our guide gave extensive explanations about the meaning of each decoration, none of which I was able to remember minutes after he was done. We passed by four large pools that used to hold water during the Angkor period. The guide made us guess what these pools were used for, although nobody actually knows the answer with certainty, not even these two monks that were walking around one of the pools.
This area of the temple was surprisingly empty as most people seemed to walk through it with little interest. For us, it meant that we were able to have our pictures taken with no stranger on them, pretty impressive considering the number of tourists visiting Angkor Wat every day.
After that we got to the center part of the temple where the iconic three towers are located. We queued up in the line to get up to the top of the structure and admire the rest of the temple from up there. The guards were letting the next set of people up only as other people came back down. We climbed up there quickly. The view from up there was impressive, as expected. We saw a hot air balloon far in front of us which reminded us of our Balloons over Bagan tour back in Myanmar.
We stayed up there for as long as we could, as our guide had set a limit time for the group. Next, we came out of the central section of the temple.
Walking out of the temple, we saw more reliefs. This particular one represented a Hindu legend about churning the Ocean of Milk.
We finished our visit of Angkor Wat at noon. As we walked out of the complex, we turned around one more time to see the temple’s three main towers slowly appear smaller behind us.
After that, our group came back to the shuttle and we went to a local restaurant for lunch. The food was much better than what we have for lunch yesterday. We got to socialize with the other folks on our very international group. There were people from South Africa, Malaysia, China, Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada, Brazil, Argentina and Georgia.
We then moved on to the second temple on our tour, Ta Prohm. This temple was used as a filming location for the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider 2001 action movie starring Angelina Jolie. Fun fact, our guide told us that Angelina visited Ta Prohm within the last month with her son Maddox and that she will be directing a movie in Cambodia about the Khmer Rouge. One of the most distinctive feature of this temple is the presence of many trees growing out of the ruins. The presence of these trees (some of which can be quite high) greatly contributes to giving Ta Prohm a very unique look.
Here is another tree directly covering a wall.
In some places, the trees have caused real damage to the ruins to the point of threatening the structural integrity of nearby walls. We passed in front of a set of columns that had recently collapsed due to the pressure of the growing roots.
We kept walking around and admiring the beauty of the temple. We were not the only ones. This temple felt a lot more crowded than Angkor Wat, probably because it’s a lot smaller and denser too.
We managed to find the one tree we could do a silly pose with, and so we took turn. Mimi’s pose was better.
This other tree had an impressive network of roots.
As we kept following our guide through the tour, we suddenly felt something hitting our shins. We looked back and saw a little Cambodian girl, maybe five years old, repeatedly snapping a rubber band at us for no apparent reason. It did not hurt much so we laughed and tried to have her stop but alas she would not listen. Mimi was her first victim.
She attacked me next. I tried to have her attack our tour guide, without success.
She eventually stopped and we resumed our tour. Our guide was already talking about these interesting carvings including the one that looks like a Stegosaurus (third one from the top).
We finished our tour of Ta Prohm and drove to the third major temple of the day: Bayon. Unlike for the other two, our visit of Bayon was not a guided tour. We had freedom of movement and explored on our own for about an hour. But before leaving us, our tour guide gave us some background about the beautiful reliefs on the external walls. This one depicted a scene of war involving the Khmer soldiers.
That one was also depicting a war scene but featured an elephant, which automatically signaled to Mimi that she should chant her now infamous “We love elephants” song.
The temple’s main distinctive feature is the presence of large smiling stone faces carved on the many towers of the structure. There are hundreds of them all around.
Mimi found a quiet place to pose too.
We took a lot of pictures of these smiling stone faces. Here is a close up of one that was very well preserved.
We came back to the shuttle around 5:40 PM and drove to Phnom Bakheng, our last stop on this tour and a very popular place to watch the sunset. As we arrived there, we saw elephants that lazy or tired tourists can ride to the top of the hill where the temple is located. Poor elephants!
We walked up the hill for about ten minutes. The temple was getting ready to close but we just made it on time before they stopped letting people in. Though the sky was cloudy, we got beautiful shots as the sun had already set over Siem Reap (we arrived a bit too late).
As the temple closed, we walked back down the hill to our shuttle. It was the end of our tour. The shuttle brought us back to our hotel. It was still a little too early for us to have dinner so we decided to finally check out the hotel’s swimming pool. We swam and played in the water for about 45 minutes. We were almost alone there!
After that we took a shower and we went for dinner. We ended up eating at a brand new restaurant that opened just a few days ago called Molop Wat Damnak Restaurant. They were so new that they asked to take a picture of us sitting at one of the tables with food in front of us so they could use it for their online social presence (we later checked and did find our picture on their Facebook place page). The food there was okay but what we liked the most was the quality of the service. The watermelon shakes were delicious, as always.
When we got back to the hotel, we asked the staff to help us renting bicycles for tomorrow. We planned to wake up super early and bike to Angkor Wat to be able to see the sun rise over the temple, an activity frequently present on Southeast Asia travelers’ bucket lists.