The temples were amazing, there are so many and even more photos. We hope you enjoy… even if you have to read over a few sittings!
Feb 14 – Feb 18, 2016
We arrive in Siem Reap to begin exploring the famous temples of Angkor. Christine opens her backpack to find out her high-density plastic plate which she has travelled with since 2004 broke on the Air Asia flight. Not good, so what else? An aerosol can of SPF cracked and exploded inside her bag …aerosol and airplanes is never a good idea. SPF all over her clothes and you name it. We spend our first morning pre-soaking, soaking, wringing and then running to find a ‘laundromat’. While out and about finding laundry and a SIM card for the cell phone, Mark loses his Maui Jim sunglasses somewhere, we have no idea where. No problem, we are in the $10 sunglass capital of South East Asia (or at least it feels that way) and with a lot of luck, most of Christine’s clothes are salvageable.
We are treated to a variety of sites while riding our limo (aka tuk tuk) to the temples. Children riding their oversized bikes to school, tuk tuk drivers lying in hammocks in their tuk tuk waiting for some business, families transporting themselves on their family moped, monkeys, propagating pigs (now that is a site) and vendors selling food items we still have not been able to identify. We were even passed by a full sized hog (not a little Wilbur pig) lying flat out dead on his back strapped to the back seat of a moped. As he jiggled by, it felt like it was a bit inhumane, but I guess that is the life of a pig in Cambodia? I can still see that hog strapped to the back of the moped.
Our tuk tuk driver is Mr. So Polin. We utilize his driving skills over a period of 4 days. Equipped with his lime green cooler filled with water, hand wipes and Angkor beer, it felt like the most luxurious transportation of the trip so far. Even without an airbag, seatbelt or door in site, we were never scared or concerned for our safety. A bit foolish perhaps? Over the course of the 4 days, he shows us some out-of-the-way temples, his home village and a local culinary delight – live red ants! In a country without much, he lets us know “if it walks, it gets eaten”.
One of the world’s most magnificent sites to see, our description or pictures will never do the Angkor temples justice. The Cambodian “God Kings” of the past each strove to be better than their ancestors in the size, scale and decoration which results in a heck of a lot of temples as they all tried to be better than the one before. These Kings did not mess around. The scale and amount of labour to build them is mind boggling. Temples were built over 600 years from AD 802 to AD 1432. These are seriously old! Phenomenal comes to mind. As we walked through the temples, we were constantly saying “what were they thinking?”. We chose to view the temples on our first day from smallest to largest ending with the famous Angkor Wat.
Inexperience caught Mark off guard at this temple. Our first temple visit, the tuk tuk is greeted by eager children wanting tourists to buy some form of knick knack. We are barely able to get off the tuk tuk. Mark (like a dummy) politely says how nice the items are and “maybe later”. Well, the second we exited the temple those little kids were all over Mark like flies to poop. “Sir, you said you would look and buy”. Christine chuckles and snaps off photos of Mark being devoured by the sales experts. I never make that mistake again.
Prasat Kravan is a small temple from the 10th-century. 5 reddish brick towers and a common terrace.
Banteay Kdei/Sras Srang reservoir
Sras Srang means “Pool of Ablutions”. Our jaws dropped as we walked to the edge of the reservoir and imagined what any enemies would have thought as they tried to cross the water only to be greeted by huge snake heads and, likely, unfriendly occupants. The reservoir is more like a lake and it was dug in the mid 10th century. It is 700 x 750 metres and a 1600 sq. meter cemetery was discovered at the Northwest corner containing mortuary jars with cremated remains.
Banteay Kdei means “a citadel of chambers”. It is a Buddhist temple built 12-13 century. It has been used by monks at various intervals up to the 1960s. Outer wall measures 500 x 700 metres with four entrances.
Ta Prohm was one of our absolute favorites and the most atmospheric ruin at Angkor (but just at Angkor). It has been swallowed by the jungle, then trimmed back so tourists can view it and it knocked our socks off. It was built late 12th and early 13th century. This temple was used in the movie Tomb Raider and although it was fun imagining Angelina Jolie swinging from tree to tree, the raw beauty of the temple easily out shines Angelina’s puffy lips. The outer wall is 1000 x 650 metres and it would have been the site of a very substantial town at the time.
Chau Say Tevoda and Ta Keo
Built in the mid 12th century, this one is a Hindu temple that was never finished. It is built entirely of sandstone. The summit of the central tower is almost 50 metres high …we didn’t count the number of steep stairs it took to reach the top.
Angkor Thom (East, West & South Gate, Bayon, Royal Palace, Elephant Terrace)
Angkor Thom means “huge city”. It could easily take half a day to visit all of it, we went to it twice. It was the last capital city of the Khmer empire established in the late 12th century. It covers nine square kilometres. There are several monuments within its walls including jaw dropping Bayon, the massive Elephant Terrace and amazing 23-metre-high towers at the city gates that made us feel like the Jurassic Park kids as they passed through it’s gates. The walls surrounding Angkor Thom are eight metres high, three kilometres long and flanked by a moat! Pictures will never capture the enormity of this place.
The reason tourists come here, it is the largest religious monument in the world! The site measures 162.6 hectares. It was built as a Hindu temple and transformed into a Buddhist temple. Built in the early 12th century. It is the best preserved at the site and remains a significant religious center. It is also the symbol on the Cambodian flag.
We engaged in friendly chit chat with a monk who was raising a wild macaque monkey after its mom died. One highlight was walking the outer terrace walls covered in extremely detailed bas reliefs, each telling their own story. Another, a young monk asking Christine how old she was – can you believe that? As we leave the euphoria of the temple, we are quickly reminded of the poverty and sadness in Siem Reap as we walk by mothers begging for money with their children lying on the ground naked, filthy, and suffering deformities many believe result from the Vietnam war Agent Orange use. As we drove away in our tuk tuk with cold Angkor beer in hand, a side of guilt quickly set in.
Largely unrestored with numerous trees growing among the ruins. It was built mid 12th century to honor the kings father.
A Cambodian band of men injured by landmines sit under a straw-roofed platform playing local instruments producing very peaceful music. They are playing to raise money for those affected by landmines. We Sompiah, provide a small donation and request to take their picture. They happily oblige. A beautiful boardwalk crosses a section of the 3km x 900 metre reservoir and ends at an artificially made island with Neak Pean …a temple that many tourists just breeze by, but we loved it. This temple was designed for medical purposes with 4 connecting pools representing Water, Earth, Fire and Wind.
This small temple consists of a single shrine largely unrestored.
Built in the 10th century on an artificial island it was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. It has 2-metre-high free standing stone elephants formerly surrounded by water.
This temple was built for the King and finished in AD 961. Pre Rup means “turning the body” and refers to a traditional method of cremation.
We climb on board our tuk tuk ‘limo’ for an awesome, breezy 32 km trip to Banteay Srei. We pass huge dirt mounds along the road and in the fields. Mr. Polin stops after I ask him what is making them. We walk over to a tree and he brushes the bark to expose a flurry of ants working away. He states they are delicious and edible, but only these ones, do not mistake them for others. He offers me one after he gulps a few down. I pause, I hesitate, I squirm and I act like a little girly-boy. After taking a few deep breaths and telling myself “I can do it”, I take that little squirmy, infuriated ant in my hand and gulp him down like I hadn’t eaten in days. To my surprise, it did NOT taste like chicken, it had a sour taste and it was quite good. Mr. Polin says they taste even better when included with the ant larvae. Oh boy, bring it on! Later in the trip, we stop to view a large group of men fishing standing in a pond. One man calls out in Cambodian asking if I wanted to join them. I didn’t think I could just jump in the water in my underwear (I should have been wearing those SAXX) and thought they would laugh at my pasty white, rice and noodle filled squishy body next to their hard working, under nourished frames, so I regretfully (I dislike regrets-I should have jumped in) pass on the opportunity to “go fishing”.
Banteay Srei means ‘Citadel of the Women’. This Hindu temple had incredible 3D, stone carvings – thought to have been carved by women as they are too elaborate for a man. The stone is a pinkish hue and it was begun in AD 967. This temple is small, but it is gorgeous. The 3D carvings blew us away. I wonder if man today could carve such intricate work from stone? Well – maybe women could!
Next day, we get up bright and early and we are in our tuk tuk for 7:00am. Today is a 68km drive to the incredible Beng Mealea and we were a little concerned we chose to use a tuk tuk for the trip. But while tourists flew by us in their posh air conditioned buses, we knew we had the better transportation. Mr. Polin took us through villages where families set up their stands for the day. Folks showered by their home with their bucket of water. Children laughed and played beside the road and waved to us as we passed by. Mr. Polin stopped at a small ruin in a Buddhist temple en route and we learnt that monks cannot eat after noon (I quickly change my mind to join even though I still think I would look good in orange).
Our absolute favorite temple!
Beng Mealea was built as the same floor plan as Angkor Wat, and it is the ultimate Indiana Jones experience because it is largely unrestored and mother nature has overtaken it. We could have literally spent all day in this temple. We enjoyed walking through the long dark chambers and were absolutely amazed at the massive 100+yr old tree roots intertwined through the huge blocks of sandstone.
The locals ask tourists to adhere to some very simple rules. No shorts on women, cover up the arms, be quiet and respectful while visiting the temples. After 4 days of watching tourists in the temples half naked, in flip flops, talking loudly, more concerned about how they look in a selfie (selfie sticks are everywhere!) than appreciating the temples, I break down for my very own “look how pretty I am photo shoot”. Man, human beings can be so annoying at times.
On our way back to Siem Reap, Mr. Polin shows us his home village and a temple where he used to sit and read as a child. He was born in 1977 and recalls being 7 years of age and the Vietnamese and Cambodians fighting outside his village. He describes the fighting he would see in the fields during the civil war. He notes the “skies being red” as a result. I ask him if his family was ok and he confirms that all 8 siblings escaped the wrath of the Khmer Rouge and the 2 million people that died over a 3-year period.
Lastly we stop for Bamboo rice on the side of the road. Wow, that was delicious!
We use our last day to revisit some of our favorites (Ta Prohm, Angkor Thom, Angkor Wat) and one extra temple, Ta Nei. While taking photos of Christine, I feel an ant crawl up my leg under my pants. The little gaffer makes it to my knee before I get him out of there. Little did I know he had a friend. I suddenly felt the chomp of “something” right in my crease of my buttocks. I dance around, reach into my pants and pull out a squirming red ant …I think about eating him, but not entirely sure if he was the eating variety, I throw him to the ground. When we get to the tuk tuk, Mr. Polin has a delicacy waiting for us. Red ants and larvae. He had picked a nest off a tree, and dumped the contents in a cut-off water bottle. This time, we convince Christine to try it. She takes it like a trooper and we enjoy fine cuisine in the jungle.
Only a few tourists visit this little 12th century temple. A dusty, bumpy road into the jungle brings you to this mostly deserted temple.
Before we say good bye to Mr. Polin, he has one last surprise for us and brings us to a park where massive fruit bats hang from trees in the daylight. He states how the locals do not like them (they eat all the fruit) and we stand there thinking, we may not like them either – they are big and creepy.
The Temples of Angkor – bucket list item checked off and WOW, was it worth it!
Phew, a long post, but even longer seeing it all in 40C heat. Hope you enjoyed it.
Mark and Christine
Sample Expenses Angkor Wat, Cambodia (all in USD)
- $1 Mango cut fresh at a temple (2 for $1 at more remote temples)
- $0 free ants!
Transportation, on different days
- $15 Tuk Tuk to Angkor Wat and around numerous temples for the day
- $30 Tuk Tuk for more Angkor Wat temples + Road trip to Banteay Srei 30 min away, for the day
- $35 Tuk Tuk to Beng Mealea (2 hours each way + stops at local temples)
- $80 Angkor Wat admission for both of us for 3 days.
- $10 Beng Mealea entrance fee for both of us.
- Laundry – 3 kgs (one load) for $3, hung to dry right on the street – so much for being clean.