[simage=1427,200,n,left,]How many World Heritage Site temples can you visit in one day? At Angkor Wat complex in Cambodia, the answer is quite a lot.
At the end of a four week working trip in Lao PDR, Vietnam, and Cambodia, which Gill has fortunately managed to join (at least in Lao and Cambodia), we managed to take a long awaited trip to Angkor Wat. I need to get back to Indonesia, so we only had three days to get from Phnom Penh to Siam Reap, see the temples and fly back to Jakarta. We managed to do it and it was a great trip.
From Phnom Penh we took the fast boat that heads north up the Tonle Sap river and across the Great Lake to Siam Reap. The river and lake in October is quite amazing, since the volume of water in the Mekong River, which the Tonle Sap joins at Phnom Penh, is so great in the monsoon season that it actually reverses direction. and flows the other way! The Great Lake increases around four times in surface area and the flooded forest and wetland vegetation support an incredibly productive and important fishery. When we took the trip, the Tonle Sap river had just started flowing south again, but the river level was very high and the lake was close to its maximum extent. It was fantastic to see the lake that Hatfield have monitoring for years using satellite imagery, with its floating villages, wetlands, and fishing activities.
Following a relaxing evening in Siam Reap (a much nicer town that expected), we got up well before dawn for our tuk-tuk tour of as many temples as possible in one day. Starting with Angkor Wat (early 12th century) itself for sunrise – the classic calendar photo opportunity – we were not disappointed. It’s our destiny to get up before dawn for sunrise at world heritage sites only to have them shroud in fog or cloud, and Angkor Wat was no different, and included scaffolding as an added extra. However, we accepted the obvious and didn’t wait in vain like 100s of other people for a sunrise that was not going to happen and explored the main temple with the place entirely to ourselves .
Then we moved on ahead of the offering of a comfortable chair and bad coffee while watching the hazy sun finally appear to the Bayon (late 12th century). This temple has the 100s of stone faces adorning its towers.
At lunchtime we had already made it to Banteay Srey (10th century), 1 hour north of Angkor Wat, which is apparently a day trip in itself. We managed to squeeze it in easily. This red colored temple is known for its intricate carvings, which are quite stunning because of their 3d relief. Legend has it that the carving is so fine, it must have been done by women!
After lunch we continued our circuit to Ta Prohm ( late 12th century), which is famous for not being reclaimed or restored from the encroaching vegetation. Despite the tendency to get carried away taking ‘calendar shots’ it is a wonderful place, where the roots of trees have navigated the stone structures to find their way to the earth and buttresses and roots have become part of the temple structure.
Around 4 pm seemed like the end of a long day – defiinitely enough temples – we departed back to the hotel for a shower and then to Siam Reap for a well earned cold Angkor Beer. The next morning we left for the airport and back to Bogor. The moral of this story is that even if you only have a few days, it is worth doing a supermarket sweep of Angkor Wat because you might not make it back for that leisurely tour.