Entrance gate to Angkor Thom
Today was my first day of templing - I had bought a 3 day pass that would allow me entrance to many of the various temples in and around Siem Reap
. My driver Mr Hua came to meet me at my hotel at 8am and an official Angkor Wat tour guide which I ended up hiring. I figured that with my extremely limited knowledge about Khmer history (read none!) I would be better off having someone explain to me the significance of what I was looking at. I know I could have just bought along my Lonely Planet and/or bought a guidebook at the site (there are children everywhere trying to sell you guidebooks) but I didn't want to spend my time at these great temples with my nose in a guidebook probably looking at one bas relief and then reading about the wrong reference in the book.
So, the investment of a tour guide I felt was a wise move. Not really knowing how much information I'd retain anyway (short attention span read not a great student!) I figured that it would be more than what I would retain reading from a book.
We drove to the entrance to Angkor Thom and I got very excited to see all the cars, tuk tuks, motorbikes, people and elephants! Yes, there were several elephants at the entrance gate to Angkor Thom which were ferrying tourists through the gates for I guess an old world experience of how people used to travel through here years and years ago. Look out for the wall that runs along the small lake - you will find that many monkeys live there and are quite curious about the tourists. First up, we went to what would become one of my favourite temples, Bayon.
The one with the many faces - so unique - and set against the back drop of the beautiful blue sky, was very peaceful. Sitting and looking at the face carvings became quite reflective for me - and I was amazed that I was actually there. Wandering around, clambering up the many stairs, jumping across old ruins - I guess this is as close to being Indiana Jones as I would get :-0
After taking many many photos here at Bayon. We moved across to Baphuon temple. This is a short walk away from Bayon and within the general grounds was a monstery and a couple of Buddhist temples. This wasn't as impressive to me as Bayon, but I guess this is because I knew little about it. We continued on to the Terrace of the Leper King and Terrace of the Elephants.
There are beautiful carvings in amongst both of these terraces which look to be in fairly good condition. By the time we had finished up here, it was around midday and the driver dropped me back at my hotel for a lunch break - ready to pick me up for the afternoon temple visits at 2pm. This was good as during the middle of the day, the heat can become quite unbearable, so having a break for lunch in the town or a dip in the pool was a great way to relax. I wandered into town to grab a bite to eat for lunch (for the bargain price of $2) and then met my driver and tour guide at 2pm.
Just as an aside, I know that many tourists like to independently arrange for their own tuk tuk driver to take them around the temples and you can negotiate a daily rate with them - probably in the vicinity of $15 or so.
However, if you are in a position to be able to afford a driver (the going rate is $25 per day), I would highly recommend this for the following reasons:
* it's bloody hot, so the air conditioned car is great to come back to after traipsing around the temples and sweating like a pig
* the roads between temples are not all in the best condition, so I would imagine the tuk tuk ride would be quite bumpy. It's great from an adventurous point of view, but your bum will probably thank you for your consideration at the end of a long day templing
* the driver I had kept an esky full of ice cold bottled water which was VERY handy so that I was always kept well hydrated - i think this is common amongst many drivers
So, my afternoon installment of templing was to include a trip to Banteay Kdei, Thommanon and THAT temple, yes, the Tomb Raider temple, Ta Prohm.
The many smiling faces of Bayon
Not surprisingly, the bulk of time was spent exploring Ta Prohm - and there are many many many tree growths that are amazing to look at in this temple. And of course, I took many photos of THAT tree. Again, I marvelled at the fact that I was there.....the other temples came second fiddle to the mighty Ta Prohm for me.
My original itinerary then had me visiting Phnom Bakheng for sunset. However I had read and had been told by several people that the sunset on this particular hill top temple was quite overrated and out of control with tourists for the view of Angkor Wat. Given the largely negative feedback I'd had about Phnom Bakheng, I decieded to avoid this one altogether and to instead go to Pre Rup temple for sunset.
This temple would have attracted tourists of approx 300 people I guess but at least you could wrangle yourself a decent viewing spot. But I wasn't overly fussed with the experience. I tend to enjoy sunrises more than sunsets anyway.
My driver recommended that I go to a family run restaurant for dinner that evening called Arun which was on the other side of town across the bridge. So I wandered outside my hotel that evening in search of a tuk tuk. I didn't have to go far........there must have been about 10 tuk tuks waiting outside and as soon as I walked out they all jumped to attention asking if I'd need a ride. The quickest guy there won my fare and he took me to Arun. He asked me how long I would be and that he would wait for me and drop me back into town, but he could only wait if I would be finished within 45 minutes as he had to get back to town to pick up another tourist that he had booked.
So, my tuk tuk driver waited for me and told me to meet him right back here and he would find me. I was a bit worried I wouldn't recognise him amongst all the many many other tuk tuks and drivers. I had no idea what he was going to do whilst I was dining and I did feel a bit slack that he would literally be standing there waiting for me, but I had been told that this was quite common. This was great, but I almost had indigestion trying to wolf down my dinner...however, I managed, and went back outside to meet my tuk tuk driver. I was worried I woudn't be able to find him, but he found me - just like he said he would. We got talking and exchanged stories and he turned out to be a good kid, also with a sad story, but who was willing to share his stories with me.
He asked if I needed a driver during the day, but as I had already arranged a car, I told him that I would be after a tuk tuk in the evenings. He gave me his mobile number (again another irony) and he told me to call him or text him if I needed a ride during my stay. He dropped me off at Pub Street and off I went back to the Red Piano for a drink. As you can probably tell by now, I am a creature of habit. Stayed here for about an hour and then wandered around trying to figure out if I should treat myself to a massage.
There are plenty of places around that offer massages. They range from the fairly standard $8-$10 USD for foot massage, body massage or combination to $30-$35 USD for the more boutique massages for an hour.
I thought I would like to try a couple of different places given the price for a massage was quite affordable. After walking around, I spied a sign for a massage place called Bodia. I don't know what made me look at it because it wasn't a massive place and it was above the pharmacy and had a side entrance. I suppose it could have looked dodgy but I walked up to it and it was quite peaceful and well lit and looked quite modern. The prices were at the higher end being approx $20-$25 for a massage. But I decided to up the ante and go for the luxurious 2 person 4 hands massage for the bargain price of $35 USD. I was very impressed with the treatment rooms and the decor, and the massage was sooooooooo relaxing. I made a mental note to try and fit in another visit back here before the end of my trip here in Siem Reap.
I literally floated home back to my hotel after my massage.