Siem Reap is world renowned for Angkor Wat, the world’s largest Hindu complex. If you have seen Tomb Raider then you will have had a sneak peak at this ancient structure. Built in the 12th Century as a dedication to the Hindu god Vishnu, it has now been transformed into a Buddhist temple, housing a multitude of Buddha statues and bas-reliefs, or wall carvings, detailing Hindu battles and local histories.
Our travel guide boldly stated that to do the complex justice we must spend at least 4 to 5 days exploring the vast number of temples. At $20 a day each this wasn’t happening. We decided that one day on a pushbike would suffice.
Riding along the cracked tarmac, beeping Tuk Tuks sheltering stretched out tourists were dashing past us so eager and impatient. The cool breeze was keeping us motivated. After a 6km ride we finally arrived outside Angkor Wat and parked up. The only point you will notice the temple is when you are directly in front and even then the feeling of awe is quite minimal because you are basically looking at a moat and a long wall, both there to protect the temple housed within. But we had only just arrived and there was something we needed to do first.
|Aww, doesn’t he look dead sweet|
Gareth’s mate, Jay, was celebrating his 30thbirthday a couple of weeks later so Gareth, and Jay’s wife Sonia, had hatched a plan for us to send him a birthday message. Gareth had the genius idea to do it outside Angkor Wat and recruit the help of a few local kids to give us a hand. This was what we came up with:
|Outside Angkor Wat – For Jay|
The structural significance of the temple is that it represents Mount Meru, the home of the gods in Hindu tradition. The central towers symbolize the five peaks of the mountain and the walls and moat that encircle the temple are the surrounding mountain ranges and ocean.
|The bas-relief that encircle the temple|
|Angkor Wat temple from the inside|
Inside the protective outer-wall was a little cooler than when we were exposed to the nigh-midday sun, this made the circumnavigation slightly bearable, but only just. The bas-reliefs covered the walls from floor to ceiling and demonstrated the abilities of the highly skilled craftsmen of the day. The maze-like interior was even cooler and brought the temple to life as locals congregated in corners to worship imposing orange-clad Buddhas.
|Worshipping the Buddha inside Angkor Wat|
We followed a route that went into an area called Angkor Thom (literally: Great City), the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire. It is approximately 1.7km from Angkor Wat so we hopped onto our bikes and leisurely made our way there. Here were the more dilapidated ruins and temples, some breathtakingly elegant, others were tall and majestic, and some were a bit of a let down. Last summer we visited Pompeii and it might have ruined successive visits to historical landmarks that don’t date back 2000 years.
|Yep, that’s me under that tree|
After half a dozen temples we both agreed that we didn’t need to see anymore. Regrettably, we had taken the wrong, or the long, route so ended up cycling 35 excruciating kilometres back to our guesthouse.
|Looks old like|
The nightlife in Siem Reap is probably one of the best I’ve experienced so far in Southeast Asia. A good number of bars are open till 3am, a handful are open even later, which is unheard of generally in a population that are in bed by 10pm and up at 5/6am most mornings.
We made friends with a lovely Dane called Kristina, so we all went out for a Cambodian BBQ, which turned out to be quite an event. We had a unique selection of meats; chicken, beef, squid, crocodile, kangaroo, snake and ostrich, which we would cook on what looked like an upside down colander that had a block of pork fat atop it to clean away the burnt residue. Around the upside down colander was a moat of watery stock; in this you would boil some vegetables and it became a tasty soup. There was also the obligatory rice and noodles to fill up on. Quite a laborious affair at times but all in all, great fun. I didn’t appreciate BBQ as being Asian but it really is just as popular here as a noodle soup or a meat and rice dish such as Sweet and Sour.
We followed up our BBQ with a bit of a bar crawl of potent cocktails that are as cheap as £2 in some places and as lethal as turps everywhere. After getting a tad tipsy we needed a night on the tiles to use up our drunken energy, we ended up making shapes till 4:30 in the morning. It was just as good, if not better, than a night out in Liverpool – who can boogie in their £2 Havaianas without getting snotty looks?
Just thinking about the next day gives me migraine. Gareth’s two days of pain eventually became suspected Malaria. We had been taking Doxycycline tablets the whole time we were in Laos and had to continue taking them for four weeks after leaving the Malaria zone but the alcohol could have reduced its effect. The look he got from the bemused nurse was priceless as she handed over the sheet stating the blood test found no traces of Malaria. As it turned out we were just hungover hypochondriacs.
I’ll admit it, we overindulged in Siem Reap, spent too much money on food (a lot of pizza was consumed) but, as cities go, Siem Reap has everything you need, great food, great culture, great history. We could have spent two weeks soaking in the energy of the city but we had to move on because our wallets couldn’t cope much longer. It was onwards to the capital city of Phnom Penh.