Finally! After 22 hours onboard a plane operated by China Southern Airlines, Tristan and I finally arrive in Siem Reap. The airport is ubersmall; we are being dropped on the airfield and aren’t allowed to enter the airport until we fill out an ebola-scrap of paper that is immediately thrown onto an already piled up stack of forms that probably hasn’t even been viewed once. But we have 99 problems and that certainly isn’t one.
Nervously we walk up to the counter and admit on having entered the country without a valid visa. „$30 please.“ That’s all… It really is that simple and we end up paying about half of what we actually would have paid in Germany – considering what we saved on postage… Needless to say that we leave the airport in such a bliss, extremly upbeat about what’s to come! But the next little scare is waiting for us right out front – or rather not waiting: The people from the hotel were supposed to pick us up but they obviously forgot about us. In our warm clothes from Germany we get hot pretty fast and take the next TukTuk to our hotel downtown.
This first ride with the TukTuk is absolutely frightening – I literally see my life pass by slowely as I pray to God to somehow arrive safely. These Khmer roads are CRAZY! It seems like there are no traffic rules whatsoever except for the honking maybe that appears to be a right of way. First honk, first go, no need to stop. After about 20 minutes and 100 almost-crashes we arrive at “Home Sweet Home” (0111 Wat Bo Village – $8/night with fan, $10/night with A/C) and get settled. Our room is clean and has a little balcony and as the fan is running as if it had to compete in a marathon, we fall asleep within just a few seconds.
The Long Trail
The next morning, our TukTuk driver picks us up on time at 05:00 a.m. and takes us to the gates of Angkor Wat, the temple complex that spreads out on 250 square miles. We pay $40 each for a three-day-pass, which is justified for the great shape the temple complex is in. A one-day-pass costs $20, seven days lie at $60. The ticket booth is open to the public from 04:00 a.m. to 06:00 p.m. every day.
TukTuk drivers charge $15-$20/day for taking us from temple to temple (as the temples stretch along a 16 miles trail – there’s also a smaller trail that can be mastered by bike).
First stop: Sunrise at Angkor Wat. Don’t expect calm and quiet here. Every TukTuk driver takes their guests to Angkor Wat to see the sun set.
Angkor Wat is the world’s biggest sacred construction. (*all information regarding the temples is taken from Andreas Neuhauser’s Kambodscha, a travel guide published by Reise Know-How). It was built by Suryavarman II. in the first half of the 12th century. Originally dedicated to Vishnu, it was later converted to a buddhist temple.
Angkor’s outer appearance is characterized by five towers (Prasat) in form of lotus blossoms. The central, and with 213 feet highest, tower is the oldest. It is surrounded by four smaller ones. According to Hinduism, the high tower symbolizes the mystical mountain Meru – the holy mountain in the center of the universe – where Vishnu lives. The number 5 represents Meru’s mountainpeaks. (- http://www.kambodscha-spezialisten.com)
Angkor Wat was built within 37 years and was supposed to be as well a temple as the King’s grave. Scientists, therefore, believe that the temple faces the west to catch the last rays of sunlight before the Kind would embrace eternal darkness.
Us, however, get to see the first rays of sunlight as this day has barely even started and the sunset does indeed beautify the already impressive Angkor Wat.
We take some pictures and decide to move on to the next temple and come back here in the afternoon. Just a little tip: Agree on a meeting point with your TukTuk driver! Ours certainly didn’t think we would be that fast and after quite a while we find him sound asleep amongst the hundreds of TukTuk drivers. Sorry to interrupt your little nap but Bayon temple is already waiting for us!
Bayon is the temple situated in the very center of Angkor Thom and characterized by 54 towers and more than 200 stone faces making you feel like Lokesvara, a Mahayana-Buddha is watching your every step. The temple is beautiful and the best thing: We are almost alone because all the other tourists are still way back at Angkor Wat.
When more tourists arrive, we head on to the temple complex Preah Khan which used to be a convent school. This temple is absolutely stunning!
Preah Khan seems less tremendous than Angkor Wat and Bayon but it springs so many surprises on its visitors that you can’t but love it. Coming from the outer wall, we enter the complex through trees that make this place seem even more idyllic. The monks and the convent’s students used to live here. The second wall separates the homes from the sanctuary that includes several sacred sites and smaller temples that spread out in the forest. We take some time to take a good look at everything. There’s no boundaries, no shutoffs, just the temples, the untamed nature, and ourselves.
We are amazed by the half reliefs that used to picture Buddhas but were altered during the short time of Hinduization after the death of Jayavarmans VII.
Next stop on this longer temple trail is Neak Pean, installed in a swamp and surrounded by a moat. It kind of disappoints us because we can’t just go off exploring by ourselves. But I guess, in this case, the journey becomes the destination…
Very fascinating: the outer swamp seems dead but as soon as we walk through the gates to the sacred island, nature flourishes and bursts with life.
Ta Som is quite similar to Preah Khan. There’s more tourists here now but they spread out exploring the nature and temples and we are not really bothered at all. Those who follow the path until the very end are rewarded with a most spectacular sight:
The old main entrance is entwined by the roots of two gigantic strangler figs. We sit down and take a little break refreshing and gaining power with the cool water of a fresh coconut before continuing on to Pre Rup.
Pre Rup is a three story structure with five towers whose roofs are brick-built. Because of the whitewashed towers Pre Rup was called the white temple. It served as the archetype for Angkor Wat which can be seen in the southwest from Pre Rup’s top platform.
After a nice little snack consisting of fresh pineapple, mango, watermelon, and bananas we set out to our last checkpoint on today’s long trail: Angkor Wat – the part we didn’t get to see in the morning.
This time we approach from the east entrance – which is way prettier than the main entrance by the way!! Lakes to both of our sides, trees as far as we can see and finally Angkor Wat’s monumental towers – gigantic and incredibly impressive.
The low reliefs tell beautiful and also terrible stories but even though Angkor Wat is the biggest and probably most popular temple, I like the smaller ones hidden in untamed nature much better. Maybe it’s all the tourists here, or the time of day, or maybe it’s just the heat – I can’t concentrate or take in any more information.
It has been a long day though, and it’s not quite over.
You know where we watched the sunrise. Want to join us for the sunset? Click here.