I woke up at 0400 just to see the Angkor sunrise everyone’s been talking about. A quick shower then one slice of bread with a bottle of distilled water was all it took for a gastrointestinally provoked person to brave the chilly Cambodian morning on the back of a motorcycle. My driver, Mr. Samuth, was kind enough to remind me of my park pass. It was the only piece of identification equally as important as the travel passport. I purchased the 3-day pass for 40USD in the previous day and was granted free entry to the sunset. (Argh. A cloudy sunset.) Once you reach the checkpoint, show your pass and the guard will punch a hole on the date. They appear curious as they don’t see Filipinas (or Filipinas travelling alone) that much.
Ride through the forest and you’ll see the rest of the tourist population making their way with bicycles, tuktuks, buses, or private cars. Mr. Samuth dropped me off and hawkers started selling me guidebooks at the entrance to the Angkor Wat. It was good that my driver lent me a guidebook beforehand, so I politely refused and walked directly with other tour groups towards the moat crossing. I eventually found a spot in the old library to watch the sun rise, but another cloudy sky failed to provide me another dramatic moment.
Day one. I was glad that it didn’t rain. There was a typhoon in Manila during that time. After spending half of my morning in the Angkor Wat, I went back to the hotel for a heavy breakfast. Then I hopped on the motorcycle and made like a tomb raider for the rest of the day.
The great king Jayavarman VII built Ta Prohm in honor of his mother. It is a tree temple complex, very popular for photographic opportunities, probably attributed by Lara Croft’s movie scenes around here. This is where I saw loads of Chinese/ Korean/ Japanese tour groups. Too many people in the complex disturbed the whole serenity of the place, and I couldn’t find a spot to read the guidebook Mr. Samuth lent me.
Ta Keo is at the east of Angkor Thom (the huge temple city that encloses Bayon also). It’s my favorite temple in the archaeological park because it had four sets of narrow steps (I guess it was about 5-6 inches narrow) that bring you to an awesome forest view. It felt like climbing a wall without a harness, so imagine the horror of going down! I had body aches and tremors when I went back to solid ground. That Chinese chap (pictured above) even celebrated as he reached the last step.
Bayon was the center of life during the Khmer empire. Surrounded by a moat just like Angkor Wat’s, Prasat Bayon had numerous galleries and towers with smiling faces. Although you might get lost in the labyrinth-like corridors, you could find a lot of places to rest and think how bustling this complex was back in the day.
I went to the sunset spot a little bit early and it was definitely warm during that 15 minute uphill climb. I somehow missed the children selling cold drinks at temple entrances. Phnom Bakheng, the temple on a hill, is famous for its views of the Angkor Wat and the rest of Siem Reap. You could even find a few elders and tourists with impaired gaits sacrificing for the long climb to see the magnificent sunset. You have to be there to say that you have totally completed a temple day in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
But always bear in mind that it is a tourist spot that imposes safety precautions and behavior guidelines. Follow the rules. Don’t fall over and never bring home rocks.
In my first temple day, it’s good that I didn’t hire a tour guide for 25USD. If ever you want to, approach those wearing yellow long sleeved shirts. They’re licensed to take you around and they can speak in a variety of languages. It was manageable going around temples alone, actually adding up to the whole spiritual experience of the place. Besides, I still had trouble understanding the Cambodian accent of speaking in English (It sounds like Thai, for a bit).
Just don’t forget to rehydrate, wear some sunscreen, and have your sense of direction intact before heading here. It’ll really be helpful to bring a copy of the Angkor Archaeological Park Map. Check out Section 2 for the places I’ve been to this day.