After a bit of three day blur in Bangkok, our journey began at 4.55am (!!) on Tuesday 24th October. That’s right, we had to get up and out of our apartment to catch the train from Bangkok Central to Aranyaprathet, then to negotiate the reported touts and scams at the border town of Poipet, before heading to our current location Siam Reap-the city that now serves the ancient city of Angkor.
To be honest, I was quite apprehensive about our first foray into overland travel and crossing borders, especially when you consider that a lot of what I have read in preparation seems to focus on what can go wrong, rather than how you can just get it right. Perhaps things have changed, but for sure the journey proved to be much easier than I expected. First up was the 255km, 5 hour, third class only train-for just 48 baht (just under £1). Ok it took 6 hours, and my arse was a little numb at the end of it-but I’ve had much less pleasant experiences on British Rail and been charged a kings ransom for the privilege!
So, having managed the early start and the lengthy train journey-the part of the day that I was most concerned about-crossing the border!! The border town that we were crossing at is called Poipet, and from all reports that I have read I was expecting to enter a lawless wild west of sorts. We hadn’t pre arranged our Visa’s and so it looked like we were destined to be scammed, pick pocketed, overcharged and spat out into Cambodia. Now admittedly the border is a very strange place, but I fancy that was somewhat magnified by my prior research and associated nerves. Truth is that it was very straight forward-you get stamped out of Thailand and enter a kind of wilderness where there are, quite bizarrely, three or four massive casinos!! Seriously, like a mini Vegas-apparently this is the place to come if you’re Thai and you want to gamble in a legal capacity! Then you go and get your Cambodian Visa in the official office, get yourself stamped through and hey presto-we made it! Now just for a three and a half shared taxi ride to the wonders of Siem Reap.
Finally, we’ve arrived-our adventure Tuk Tuk awaits
Fed, showered and rested, our Tuk Tuk arrives to take us on our first day of exploring. First stop-the floating villages of Tonle Sap and something that, if I’m to be honest, is a little bit of a weird experience. 6000, mostly Vietnamese and Khymer, people live in floating fishing villages on Cambodia’s largest lake. These people are beyond poor, and rely on catching catfish from the lake to make some income for their existence. Even more shocking than the conditions that they live in, is the fact that in recent years a typhoon absolutely devastated the community, and claimed the lives of many who lived and fished on the lake-evident in the presence of a sizable floating orphanage. It becomes apparent that the tours that you are taken on are a means to raise monies and donations for the village-not directly from the tickets, that goes to the government-moreso with supplementary expenditure with boat rides through the mangrove forests, and the option to purchase food for the orphanage-it’s nigh on impossible not to do something to help.
Onto the temples! An hours’ Tuk Tuk from the floating village and we are treated to our first encounter with Angkor Wat-the worlds largest religious monument-built in the 12th century, it’s absolutely breath-taking. It truly is epic in proportions, and really does need to be seen to be believed! As you arrive you are greeted with what has to be the worlds most impressive gatehouse on the shores of the moat that surrounds the temple, and then you have a long walkway into the depths of this gargantuan masterpiece. Just as impressive is the heat, as I struggle not to melt into the ground around me! Angkor Wat is just the start, we truly are at the beginning of exploring a lost civilisation, and formally the worlds greatest city…Some feel that the next temple you encounter, Angkor Thom, is actually more impressive because of the detail, and following that we moved onto the temple made famous by Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. I think that most people, with a view of Cambodian temples in their mind, would think of the famous image of a temple being consumed by the jungle-well that image is of Ta Prohm.
So that just covers off day one, come day two and we were a little more adventurous and decided to negotiate the perils of the unfathomable driving etiquette on mountain bikes-tackling the Angkor Grand Circuit with it’s many amazing temples and monuments. All in all we covered over 50km on our bikes on day two, exploring every temple that we could find-and rather than continue this lengthy post with more of my words-I’m just going to share some of the photos from a selection of the temples that we have visited, and I’ll be sure to keep on updating my Flickr account with more and more as we go along-I have hundreds!!! Food and coconut smoothies are calling, and I’m pretty sure if you’ve read this far you’re probably in need of a break as well!