The highlight of our time in Siem Reap was definitely going to Angkor Wat. Although it’s supposed to be beautiful at sunrise, going that early also means waking up at 4:30am and since we had already made plans to go out with new friends the night before we opted to go for sunset instead. With our condensed timeline we also only had one day to spend there whereas many people often break up their visit into multiple, shorter days. In order to optimize our available time there, we had arranged to have a tuk-tuk driver pick us up at 9am and spend the day with us there shuttling us between three of the main temples until after sunset (approx. 6:30pm).
The sun was already beaming in full force when we arrived and purchased our tickets. Previously, a man at our hotel had advised us that if we didn’t want to pay for a tour guide we could buy guide books there to save some money. However, since Kelsey and I both decided to buy a book, it didn’t really end up saving us any money. To anyone going there in the future I wouldn’t recommend against getting a tour guide as they seem to be very informative and worth the reasonable fee of $15 for an hour but once we figured our books out they were also sufficient and gave us something to take home at the end of it. Upon first glance of just the entrance and wall built around the actual temple, you realize just how grand and breath-taking the sight actually is. After passing through the protective wall and walking the path leading towards the entrance old temple, we suddenly saw…monkeys! Now, I have to mention that Kelsey and I had almost given up hope that we would see any monkeys on our trip unless we specifically sought them out so to see them just hanging around Angkor Wat was definitely a lovely surprise. One monkey spotted a water bottle in the hand of a passerby, went up and stole it from him and, without hesitating, opened the water bottle and began to drink it…this only strengthened my desire to own a pet monkey at some point in life. They weren’t all cute and cuddly though and there were a few times where someone got too close and one of the monkeys looked like he was about to pounce.
After the excitement of the monkeys, we finally entered Angkor Wat. Our guide book suggested we go to the second floor first so we went up and started taking a multitude of pictures. (My camera battery started flashing red right around this time which did not impress me since it was still only the beginning of the day. I had to be a little selective with pictures I took but the little battery pulled through and literally died just as we were walking out at the end of the day.) We explored the upper level and ooh’ed and aww’ed over just how intricate the carvings and inscriptions are before heading back down to the ‘bas-reliefs’. Using our books, we walked around this lower level in a counter-clockwise direction and followed along with the hindu, mythological story engraved into the walls. It was fun to read the story and then be able to spot the different characters on the walls and definitely made it a lot more interesting than if we had gone sans guide or book. I don’t know that the sights at Angkor Wat can be properly described without seeing it in person and being able to interpret it’s history but I will gladly lend my book to anyone who wants to borrow it.
After Angkor Wat our tuk-tuk driver Dan took us to the Bayon temple. The Bayon is probably best known for having many slightly smiling faces engraved into its towers. Our guide book said that there is still argument over just how many faces there are or were at one point and that if anyone counted them for themselves they were welcome to write in with their estimated number. Bayon has not been restored to the same level that Angkor Wat has been and is still very much in ruins with huge piles of rocks blocking entrances and pathways. While walking around and exploring the maze-like temple it started to pour rain so Kelsey and I took cover inside one of the towers. Once the rain finally stopped and the sun returned in full force we were able to go to our final temple of the day Ta Prohm.
Ta Prohm is the temple that modern day restorers have chosen to keep in much the same condition that all the temples were found in when first rediscovered. The ruins of the temple are intersected and supported with tree roots that have grown into and between the bricks over the hundreds of years since it’s original construction. It’s quite a site to see the gigantic tree roots sprouting out between the ruins and provided for a good number of memorable photographs.
The end of the day was supposed to be spent up on a mountain watching the sun set over Angkor Wat but by the time we hiked up to the top the clouds had overtaken the sun and rain had started to fall once again from the sky. Unfortunately, due to the overcast, there was not much or any of a sunset to watch but the day was still a highlight of our trip so far.