We arrived in Siem Reap and quickly secured lodgings in the Shadow of Angkor II Guesthouse, across the river from the Old Market Area. That afternoon was spent in search of a TukTuk driver for the next few days.
There is only one big reason to come to Siem Reap. Not for what the town lacks, as it is fully equipped for the backpacker and flashpacker alike, but for the wonders it plays host to in the nearby Angkor Wat Temple complex.
Spread over a vast jungle park and with some of the temples over 30km away from the town we would need some wheels to help us explore it.
The plan was simple. Knock off all the temples surrounding Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, starting with the furthest away, and then leave the best until last.
We secured the services if a driver called Sophoryl who was attached to our hotel and agreed to start at 7.30am the next morning.
What follows is 4 days of climbing, exploring, snapping, pointing, searing heat and some of the best sights in the world.
Day 1: Banteay Srei and the River!!
Traffic was heavy before the gates. This is due to the ticketing system whereby you specify a number of days and get your photo taken. We forked out $60 for a week ticket as it was the same price as 4 day tickets but less hassle.
With our new passes we were waved through the checkpoint and headed for our first temple Banteay Srei
Located 21km north of Bayon, this Hindu Temple to Lord Shiva is considered the finest temple on wart for art due to the preservation of its magnificent carvings. It is believed this is due to the pink sandstone used as this is less weathering than normal sandstone.
In English Banteay Srei means ‘Citadel of the Women’. Well named, for the intricate carvings were not drawn by the meaty fists of men but the graceful hands of ladies.
One of the few temples not commissioned by a King (A Brahman Tutor in this example) it was built in 967 AD. It’s carvings include breathtaking scenes from the epic Hindi poem the Ramayana, as well as decorative make and female divinities standing guard.
As this was the first major Temple to undertake restorative work in 1930, it is also the most commercial and as we found out, very very busy!
It was at Banteay Srei that we met a Japanese girl, whose photo shoots would make Naomi Campbell exhausted. Her ‘Friend’ or photographer, hard to judge, had to take 20-30 photos of her at each station. Different poses, books to hold and even different scarves. Even some of the other Asian tourists were laughing at her. During the break of one of her shoots we jumped in and recreated some of her poses, the results of which are below:
The next stop before lunch was the riverbed carvings of Kbal Spean.
The River of a Thousand Lingas, or the climb of a Thousand rocks as we would come to know it as, is located another 10km northeast of Banteay Srei in the heart of the jungle.
Deposited at the entrance by our driver, we had no idea we had to endure a 2km hike up rocky, sometimes impassable terrain. Karen had flip flops on and I had light Vans shoes.
Lonely Planet describes the walk as “along a pretty path that winds it’s way up to the jungle”.
Are you for real?????? It was hellish, broken stones, perilous climbs and rickety steps in some places. We had to plan every step. It felt that at any moment John Rambo would pop out and kill one of us, it was that tense!
But we made it to the top.. Just! Unfortunately a combination of low waters and years of pillage have reduced the wonders of the sights here, certainly not worth the 4km of climbing.
Karen had black feet after that climb down.
Exhausted, hot and after t-shirt changes we made it back to the TukTuk and headed for much needed lunch before the final temple if the day, Bantay Samre.
Dating from the same period as Angkor Wat this temple is in a great state due to the mammoth restoration work undertaken. It consists of a central temple with four wings and each preceded by four gates and the remains of a now dry moat can be seen surrounding it.
The temple is quite compact and has very steep steps so this took its toll on our already sore legs.
We got some great pictures here as many day trippers will ignore this temple in search of bigger game which does this temple a disservice.
It is here that Karen picked up 5 points in the Irish vs Scottish competition as a tour group passed by and they were all ‘blethering’ aloud.