Prince Mekong Resort
We took Maya’s advice and decided to stay at the Prince Mekong Resort in Siem Reap. She was right that the owner, Erich, has wonderful advice about visiting the temples. After we checked in he sat down with us and a map and went over a suggested plan for our 3 day visit to the temples. It was worth staying at the Prince Mekong for his advice on how to escape the crowds while site seeing. The room was only $18/night, and came with free breakfast, laundry, and bicycles for riding to the temples. The room itself was not the nicest, especially after our stay at Cara Hotel in Phnom Penh, but overall it was a great value for the money.
Angkor Temples Day 1
On day 1 of our temple excursion we woke up at 4am! Breakfast at 4:30am, and peddling off to the temples at 5am! It’s a good thing some fellow travelers had warned us to bring a flash light if we planned to bike to the temples for sunrise. It is pitch dark along sections of the road! Especially once you get past the ticket booth, where you pay $40/person for a 3 day pass, you cannot see where you are going at all without a light! Some other bicyclists followed us for quite a ways, since they did not have lights. Even with our little flash lights we could only see a small patch of ground around our front tires, but amazingly George led us right to our destination for the sunrise.
[I don’t want to complain too much, but it makes me angry that the Cambodian government makes millions off of the entrance tickets to the temples but they do not do anything to help the poor in their country, let alone pave the roads to the temples– instead foreign governments donate to pave the roads and provide bridges and most of the cost for restoring the temples. And the government officials pad their pockets and drive their Lexus SUVs. I won’t be returning to Cambodia, unless there are some major changes!]
The temples themselves, though, are amazing!
Phnom Bakheng Temple
After an hour bike ride we rushed up the hill to Phnom Bakheng to make sure we would get there in time for sunrise, and once we got to the top of the hill we realized we still had to climb these stairs!
Angkor Thom City Wall
Erich gave us a neat tip, to go up onto the wall surrounding Angkor Thom City and bike along the wall. It was a beautiful bike ride in the still cool morning air, with almost no one else in sight.
At reaching the first corner of the wall we passed some rubble from a collapsed tower. From this point we had to bike another 2.5 km along the west wall then towards the center of Angkor Thom to reach our next stop, Bayon Temple.
Bayon is located in the center of Angkor Thom City. Notice the many faces in the towers.
While the towers had similar faces (probably all of the same person), the walls had many carvings of battle scenes.
Just north of Bayon is Baphuon. You must cross an impressive long raised walkway to reach the temple (currently under restoration by the French).
Then just north of Baphuon is the Phimeanakas area that also contains the ruins of the Royal Palace.
There are many other ruins next to here, but not shown, including: Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King, Prasats Suor Prat, and others.
Ta Nei Temple
After visiting the ruins in Angkor Thom we headed out the Victory Gate (East Gate) and passed several other impressive ruins but did not stop until we reached the ‘new’ toilet. At this point there is a dirt road that goes to the left (South) that will lead you to Ta Nei, a seldom visited temple. To reach this temple you need to keep turning right at all the intersections except the first one! After about 1km of sandy and dusty roads we reached Ta Nei. Note: make sure your bike is in decent condition because the road is not forgiving and you don’t want to have to push your bike 15km back to your hotel.
While there are other temples that have been left to the destruction of mother nature, here at Ta Nei you won’t have to fight crowds to take photos. We were the only tourists around!
Ta Keo Temple
After returning to the main road, next to the toilet, continue down the main road for another 2km and you will reach Ta Keo! One thing you will notice is that this temple is lacking carvings. It is said that this temple was never completed, yet it is still amazing!
What I remember most about this temple is that while I was climbing down the stairs there was this little girl, about 10-years of age who was yelling at all the guys to buy stuff from her. She shouted, “If you don’t buy from me, you are a lady boy!” It was so funny that I almost fell and that would have been very bad! Then when I passed her I received the same treatment since I did not buy from her either, but I probably should have because I still laugh about it whenever I think about the experience.
Ta Prohm Temple
At this point we were physically exhausted. It was about 35 degrees Celsius and 99% humidity! Plus we had biked about 20km and climbed several temples, but we still had one more temple for the day. We continued south on the main road for another 2km until we reached the temple that is now famous from movies, such as Tomb Raider, Ta Prohm.
Though this photo shows no other people, we had to wait at least 5 minutes to get a shot without hordes gawking at this tree! While impressive you can see similar trees that are devouring temples without the crowds at Ta Nei. It was truly amazing to see how no matter what man may build, nature will eventually reclaim it.
At about 2pm we were finished but lacked the energy to bike back in the heat. Luckily there is no shortage of vendors trying to sell you anything and everything! We bought a couple of cokes and enjoyed them in the shade for a few minutes before we began our long journey back into Siem Reap.
It took us about an hour to get back into town, and I blame that on the low pressure in my back tire. We stopped for lunch in town by the river and ate at the only place we could find that had air conditioning!
Day one completed 😀