This post covers Day 2 of temple sightseeing, this time at Angkor Wat’s small circuit. For details on the large circuit as well as sunrise at Angkor Wat, please see my post here.
Annika and I had both heard of people renting bicycles to see the temples that make up the small circuit. Wanting a bit more independence as well as an excuse to get some good exercise, we were able to find a place within Siem Reap that would rent them to us for $2/day (with a $50 deposit). Note: Even though Cambodia’s official currency is the Riel, the US dollar is more commonly used. At around 4,000 riel to $1, the riel serves in lieu of coins for change.
At around 6am, we started the 7km journey to the park from our hostel. Even though the sun had yet to rise, the sky had already began to lighten, making the roads visible to the naked eye. We arrived at the entrance gates around 6:30 am and immediately made our way to the east side of Angkor Wat. The west entrance is where people go to view the sunrise, so by entering from the east side we were able to bypass all of the crowds. Approaching Angkor Wat in person was nothing short of incredible. It helped that we were the only ones around, and we were able to admire this stunning piece of architecture.
Upon entering the temple grounds, a queue had already formed to go up the towers. Although we had heard that it didn’t open until 7:30, the guards were already letting people up. We jumped in line, and after about 20 minutes we found ourselves climbing the steep stairs to the top. There was a fixed amount of people allowed in the towers at a time, which helped eliminate the crowds. Once again, we were afforded the luxury of taking many different photos without many tourist photobombs. From looking out of the west tower, we could still see everybody grouped together behind the reflecting pool, waiting for the sun to ascend past the towers.
We spent close to two hours wandering around the complex. Angkor Wat’s design wasn’t any more intricate as compared to Preah Khan, but the towers and shear size definitely added to its worth. There were many nooks and crannies to explore, and I’m sure a history buff could spend a whole day examining this magnificent structure, but for us, a couple of hours was enough!
Ta Prom was the next stop on Angkor Wat’s small circuit. We had elected to do the circuit in a counterclockwise fashion, in an effort to beat some of the crowds. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived at Ta Prom around 9am, we were no longer alone. This temple was different than the others due to the many trees growing through the temple, their long roots snaking over the rocks. There were also many piles of rubble, where sections of the temple had collapsed. I appreciated those parts as well, as it showed the fragility of these wondrous temples. This temple is also where the movie Tomb Raider, with Angelina Jolie was filmed. While I have yet to see the movie, I’ve definitely added it to my to-do list now!
There was a queue in place to take pictures by the “famous” tree of Ta Prom. I appreciated this, as it allowed everybody a chance to get a picture without having to fight off other people clamoring to do the same. We spent an hour or so wandering around this temple before taking a break in the shade and rehydrating ourselves. As the sun grew hotter, we became more fatigued, and the bicycling became more difficult than when we first disembarked from our hostel earlier that morning.
Before arriving at the last major temple complex, Angkor Thom, we made stops at Thommanom and Ta Keo, both lesser temples, but still unique in their own way. Thommanom was very beautiful to gaze at, while Ta Keo had a steep climb, but rewarded you with great views at the top!
Angkor Thom was our last stop, but the largest in size. The clock was nearing 12 o’clock, and we were beginning to feel “templed out” again. We decided to see only the main parts of Angkor Thom-the Elephant Terrace, Leper King Terrace, and my personal favorite, Bayon.
Bayon had many small towers, all with large faces etched in each side. The details were stunning to say the least. Due to its stark differences, our spirits and energies were renewed, and we soon forgot about our fatigue. A bonus of visiting Bayon later in the day is that it doesn’t matter how crowded the temple itself is, as a majority of the photo worthy parts of Bayon are above eye level. We studied a few of the faces closely, noticing the slight differences in each one. Both Annika and I found them very fascinating!
We then agreed it was time to head back to Siem Reap. While exiting the Angkor Thom complex from the east side, we came across a group of monkeys, seemingly unafraid of humans. There was even a tiny baby, its fur a dark contrast to the light brown of the others. We stopped for a few minutes to observe them at play-very entertaining.
We finally pulled into town at around 3pm, exhausted, but feeling a sense of accomplishment. When doing the math, we estimated biking around 30 kilometers, no easy feat in the hot Cambodian sun! I would definitely recommend it as an alternate form of transportation compared to the many tuk-tuks whizzing around.