Today we experienced the most beautiful place we have ever seen. We skipped the sunrise at Angkor since we spent it in the pool (see previous post). The dream team hired a tuk tuk for the day and headed to Angkor. Only after a lay-in and a much needed Full English breakfast at the hostel. Khmer breakfasts are usually French baguettes, we needed our fuel so Full English it was. Cambodia also serves the best freshly squeezed juices – perfect for that morning!
The Angkor temples are the reason why people visit Siem Reap. Apart from the Tonle Sap lake, this is just about the only other major thing to do here. Some even travel here just because they want to get the full Tomb Raider experience – I heard this before, I’m not kidding.
To hire a Tuk Tuk for the day exploring the Angkor temples would only cost you $15 per Tuk Tuk. So if there’s four of you, that will be less than US$4 each. If you really want to save, you can hire a bike for US$2/day and enjoy cycling around the ancient temples.
A lot of people assume that Angkor Wat is the only temple to visit since that’s the one that is always being advertised in all brochures and travel agencies. That is just wrong and don’t let any tour agencies with such itineraries fool you. You need at least two days to cover all the temples in Angkor – it’s that huge. Some even find other temples such as Bayon and Angkor Thom to be more majestic than Angkor Wat itself.
What I love about the temples is that there are only a few restricted areas which are only due to your own safety. You are free to roam around the temples as you please, go to hidden corners and even little spots no one has crawled through. You will definitely get the Tomb Raider feels here. Unfortunately, most of the Buddhas have missing or replaced heads. This is due to theft when the temples were found many years ago.
Some people just know how to ruin it.
Anyway, the experience is authentic so you can tell your Tuk Tuk driver exactly which temples you want to go to.
Tour guides are dotted around all the temples so if you need an explanation of the history of the temples, they’re there for a small donation. Alternatively, Lonely Planet stocks books on Angkor so you will be able to navigate through the temples, learn its history and understand the meaning behind the carvings just by glancing at the book.
As you walk into some of the temples, you will be greeted by a monk or someone dedicating their day to prayers. As you follow them, you will be led to a dark area with a glorious gold Buddha statue with many offerings such as strong smelling Jasmine flowers and incense sticks surrounding the statue. Accept the joss sticks and bow as the monk prays for you, wishing you good luck in your life.
They will then tie ask you to leave the stick in a pot full of sand while they tie a blessed string around your wrist. Even just for a minute, it felt extremely spiritual. None of them were pushy with donations, this is the typical nature of Buddhists as they do things out of the goodness of their hearts. Still, make sure you leave a donation to support them.
Your driver will usually ask you if you are hungry during lunchtime. Kind of obvious where this will be headed to. Most drivers have agreements with certain restaurants by bringing their customers there. Don’t get ripped off if he drops you off at an air conditioned restaurant that charges quadruple the amount you’d pay elsewhere. Instead, walk over to the many street food vendors. We went to one that whipped up a quick instant noodle meal with lots of delicious seasoning and fried egg for just US$1.
The Lychee drink I had with mine was part of a 3 for $1 deal. There will be kids everywhere shouting out this deal to you saying, “Buy some cold drinks, 3 for $1” in their most adorable voices. Oh yes, the kids, I’ll get to the kids later.
Your final temple to visit should be Angkor Wat, otherwise you will be missing out on the rare moments that will take your breath away. We did all the mandatory jump shots (clearly I should have been left out on this one, my feet barely left the ground) and as many photos as we walked up to the temple.
This is when you will be greeted by a bright eyed little kid with the cutest face ever. He will lift up a basket of braided bracelets you know you don’t need. “Buy something!” he squeaks. Before you know it, you would have bought a bracelet from ten other kids. Now you’ve dug yourself a deep hole my friend. This is when more kids start running to you with other things like fans, magnets, postcards. You tell them “But I already bought something from him!sorry!” and the respond “No but I give you good price. 4 for $2”
Once we got to the temple, we had an assortment of patterned fans, fridge magnets, 30 postcards each (never planned on sending even one). My poor friend Olivia had one boy following her all the way to the top of the stairs of the temple, he didn’t give up for what seemed like forever before he turned his back. She felt bad and said “Aww I’m really sorry, bye bye!” and he turned back, gave her the most evil look and yelled “NO BYE BYE!”
Needless to say, we were all softies in our group. More experienced travellers seemed to know better by being firm with their answers. They do offer good deals but make sure you say no when you genuinely don’t need anymore. We are constantly reminded that this only encourages the parents of the kids not to send them to school. That is the harsh truth. Buy what you really need, don’t look them in the eye and say no. You will be helping the kids by a great deal. It’s also very tempting to pat them on their head – DON’T. This is extremely disrespectful and offensive in Khmer culture.
Once in the temple, we noticed we were the only ones in there. Pretty lucky for us but I guess that’s the benefit of going during a weekday. Maybe it was closed and security didn’t see us? It was the main temple yet it was empty. Hmmm.
This made the experience all the more magical.
Some men dressed as police told us it was $5 each to get to the highest point to look at the sunset. Two of my group went ahead while the rest of us explored the temple before finding the perfect spot to watch the sunset.
There was a stone bench facing the sunset on a balcony-like part of the temple. What’s even cheesier? there was tree shaped as a love heart!
Step aside Eiffel tower, this is the place to be proposed at!
The scene definitely took our breath away. It was beautiful and extremely priceless. As left the temple, we kept silent, taking in the views with the sound of crickets becoming louder.
There was a monk stepping out of a little temple in front of Angkor Wat. He had some joss sticks in his hands and was praying towards the sunset, bowing in front of it. That evening was definitely something special.
“Happy” ever after
We came back to the hostel all relaxed, content and hungry. It was barbeque night and for $5 you get a monster plateful of meat. We had our dinner by the pool with a couple of beers before jumping in. The rest of the night was spent by the pool which was extremely relaxing as we chatted away. And then we decided to try some happy brownies that bar was serving for $4 a slice, a strong slice at that. This just made our conversations even more interesting, hilarious and some things, questionable – here’s looking at you Joe!
By the way, only go as far as having “Happy” brownies and pizza. Or some legal energy drinks rumoured to have speed (I honestly think that’s a lie). In my opinion, Happy brownies are harmless fun. Anything more than that is plain stupidity, you don’t travel halfway round the world just to endanger yourself. I am sure the hostel won’t tolerate anything worst. Prison in Asia is not like the hotel-like ones in England. Think Bridget Jones and don’t be an idiot.