I like to ride my bike!
We took a break on Day 4. Not from temples, but from the TukTuk. With very flat terrain and a great road network we decided to rent some bikes for the final day.
Not Mountain Bikes, with their abundance if gears and good brakes.
Instead we chose girly bicycles with baskets and manual brakes (aka your toes!).
The things we do to save a few bucks.
The first part of the journey, to the ticket checkpoint, were fraught with dangers. Cars, buses, motorbikes and other cyclists jockeying for position. Added to that John thought he was back in London and so kept moving to the wrong side of the road at junctions. Tut tut!
After that the cycling was easy and as we rounded the corner of a large moat, Angkor Wat’s Western Gate awaited us!
As the earthly representation of Mount Meru (Hindu version of Mount Olympus), Angkor Wat is simply staggering. Not only is it the largest religious building of any kind, it draws you in and makes you feel tiny, with its towering summit, lengthy causeways and sheer size. More than a temple, it is the physical manifestation of the Cambodian Spirit. It is on the flag, most of the beer labels, adorning the currency and it’s picture is everywhere and on everything.
Built as a temple to Vishnu and as a mausoleum (evident by its Western orientation) it is chock full of detail. 3000 apsaras ( heavenly nymphs) are carved into its walls depicting 37 different hairstyles. The two causeways are flanked by nagas all the way along, as well as two libraries in great condition in the foreground.
To build it took 300,000 labourers and 6000 elephants to lug the mighty sandstone blocks into place.
Once inside the inner walls you can climb all the way to the summit or Bakan (Kingdom of the Gods) via some very very steep steps but we were rewarded with great views from the windows up there.
We felt torn to leave Angkor Wat but there was still one more temple to see. Or should that be set of temples.
Surrounded by a large moat and high walls the fortified city of Angkor Thom is even larger than Angkor Wat. At its zenith over 100,000 people called it home and at that time, in the 12th century, it was the largest city in the world (3 times the population of either London or Paris at that time).
To get in we had to cross a bridge. The southern bridge is flanked by 54 gods and 54 daemons engaged in an epic tug of war on the causeway overlooked by the stone face of the god king himself above the gate. (See Churning of the Ocean of Milk)
From there we cycled up a road for a few kilometres before we reached the temple of Bayon. With it’s stooped corridors and 54 gothic towers it is very impressive. That atop all of those towers are 216 enormous smiling faces is mind blowing!!!
From afar it looks like a pile of rubble but once you are inside its wonders reveal themselves to you and at any one time you are being watched by a dozen or more of the faces.
Next up the road is the work in progress that is Baphuon. Restoration work was halted during the civil war and with the Khmer Rouge destroying all the documentation, experts now have 300,000 stones to put back together. It would have been the most spectacular temple had it not been partly demolished. It is certainly different with its pyramidal structure and raised causeway leading to it.
Before we entered the guard said that my ‘Wife’ couldn’t enter as her shoulders were exposed! We immediately waved our fingers and produced her pink shirt and gained entry. Take that UNESCO Guard!!
With our water bottles empty and the prospect of a cycle journey back to Siem Reap we decided to do one more area before giving up for the day. There wasn’t much left unseen anyways so we did good.
Next door was Phimeankas and the Royal Enclosure. This was the former royal palace of the Angkor Kings but sadly hardly any remains besides the walls and outer features. There is one temple but it is very small.
One of the remaining features is the Terrace of Elephants. This was used as a viewing platform for public ceremonies. It consists of a 350m long terrace with five piers decorated with life-size garudas and lions. It must have been some sight to stand here back in the day to inspect a procession of Angkor’s armies, War Elephants, chariots by the score and rows of infantry – the sun shining off their spear tips and shields.
The cycle back was uneventful except that we got stuck behind some Asian tourists who wouldn’t let us pass for ages, so we had to join their Peloton for a while.
Soon we were chilling back at our pool. Relaxed in the knowledge that our Temple exploring was complete.
That’s what we thought!