Yesterday we visited Angkor Wat and many of the other temples of Siem Reap by tuk tuk. If you are seeking historical details, spiritual meanings or analytical details, read no further. Consult your guide book or any of the many sources available on the subject. If you want to know the more practical kind of stuff, read on.
You can negotiate a tuk tuk for the entire day for about $12. If you want to include a sunrise or sunset, expect to pay around $15. We went for the sunset option. Unfortunately there were so many seeking the same view at the same time from the same lofty temple (Phnom Bakheng) that we pulled the pin on it. The queue was so massive that we clearly weren’t going to get in. But we did get some great views going up and down the steep hill. We experienced no problems with crowds at any of the other temples. In the intense heat of the middle of the day some were actually quiet. Taxis are available for approximately $25 for the day, if you like the respite of air-conditioning and some people hire bicycles for approximately $3 for the day.
There are lots of temples in the area. Most date back around 1000 years, which gives you an amazing sense of being a part of history. The tuk tuk tour takes in only the main ones. The archaeological park admission charge is $20 for one day, or you can buy a 3-day pass for $40. If you are right into it, or want to do it at a slower pace, you can buy a 7-day pass for $60. The days do not need to be consecutive. Your pass contains a photo and is therefore non-transferable. Perhaps you could test the theory that all foreigners look the same!?
If you had visited Siem Reap 1000 years ago you would have been even more amazed by the sight of all the temples in their full glory. Apparently this was before internet! The number and scale of them is simply staggering. Many nations are supporting their restoration, particularly India, France and Germany. The area is of course World Heritage listed and is all part of a massive park with some very old and beautiful trees and lakes. We were pleasantly surprised to be under shade for much of the day, which certainly heightens the experience. But the humidity in April is still draining.
One of the most visited temples is Ta Prohm, also known as ‘Angelina Jolie Temple.’ Some scenes for her movie: ‘Lara Croft – Tomb Raider’ were filmed here in 2000. Built in the 12th century, the jungle has recliamed much of it. There are now huge trees growing out of the roof and some sections are entwined by massive tree roots.
There are many salespeople in the park. Some will pester you relentlessly, but mainly as you enter or leave the temples. Aaah, tourism! At less popular temples they will even hassle you inside. Enjoy the experience. There are also many ‘guides’ around the place who will happily latch onto you. I prefer not to use them (doesn’t suit my learning style!) but we did have one tag along for a while at Bayon. He claimed to have lost a leg to the land-mines (tapped his wooden one for effect) and sought an outrageous tip at the end. He was more than happy to accept a range of currencies. (The land-mine victim band, which busks in the park, proudly have prosthetic arms and legs on display to encourage bigger donations.)
There are plenty of food and drink options around the park, particularly near Angkor Wat. We had a nice cheap lunch there. While we were eating we had a great chat to a young boy and a teenage girl. Their English has developed really well simply from chatting to the tourists and they have developed a solid knowledge of Australia. Sambo’s school has over 5000 students, with 2 sessions and 58 in his class. Half attend mornings and the other half afternoons. An unexpected bonus to our day was seeing all the local families that rely on the park for their livelihood. With their young kids, their stalls and assorted animals, there is no shortage of side-shows to supplement the temple tours.
A looong, but enjoyable day ended around 6:30, 8 hours in and out of the tuk tuk.