We arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia in the evening and were met by a driver to bring us to our hotel. We checked in and requested a breakfast box for our sunrise tour of Angkor Wat, the area’s most popular tourist attraction, scheduled for the next morning. Angkor Wat (meaning “Temple City”) is the largest religious monument in the world, residing on a site of 400 acres, and originally constructed for the Khmer Empire as a Hindu temple. Eventually it converted to a Buddhist temple as it remains today.
As planned, our tour guide was at our hotel at 5:30 am to meet us. We drove a short distance to an off-site location to purchase our Angkor pass. We drove through the dark and around the outer moat of the temple until we reached the entrance. We perched on an outer wall of the moat and watched the sun come up behind the temple. It was a beautiful site to witness and worth getting up so early.
Once we were able to see the floating bridge across the moat, we crossed onto the temple grounds. We stopped to take reflection photos of the pond and sat down in the outdoor eating area to have our box breakfast. Following breakfast, our guide took us on a 1-2 hour tour of the temple and was very informative and showed us the various statues and carvings as we walked through the three main galleries.
The highlights of the tour were the monk and monkey we saw by one of the empty baths and climbing up to the top of the temple which provided a great view of the temple and surrounding area.
Next we went to nearby Angkor Thom (meaning “Great City”) which was the capital of the Khmer Empire and consists of over 30 temples within the city gates. We started at the furthest gate first and made our way back past the Terrace of the Elephants, and finishing at the impressive Prasat Bayon.
At Prasat Bayon, we got to view the unique face carvings on the temples and get some good photos as our guide was telling us some history.
While leaving Prasat Bayon, we came across some monkeys by the road and stopped to check them out. They were quite entertaining as one of the was chugging a can of soda.
One of the temples we visited had a real dog standing guard in place of the missing lion and we got to witness a monk blessing two girls on temple stairs.
Following that, we went to another temple that was not as popular, as it had not been restored and has a lot of ruins covered in moss. It was neat to see and provided for some good photo opportunities.
The final temple of the day, Ta Prohm, was featured in Lara Croft Tomb Raider. Its unique feature is several trees that had grown on the temples and the sprawling roots over the temples made for a very unique and cool visual. Unfortunately, this place was very popular, making it difficult to take pictures, but with patience we were able to get some good ones, including this “Tomb Raider” action scene!
By this time we had seen quite a lot in one morning/afternoon and were ready to get back to the hotel as we had another busy day of guided sight seeing the next morning…thankfully not so early.
The following morning we had a several hour drive to witness the floating villages of Kompong Khleang. I didn’t know what to expect of this tour but it turned out to be as fun and impressive as the temples. As Andrew put it, “it’s a photographer’s dream.” We boarded a covered boat that had several wooden chairs secured to the deck and off we went up the Tonle Sap River to the Tonle Sap Lake.
The Kompong Khleang floating village consists of houses, markets, temples, schools, etc. either on stilts, floating, or on an island. We got to pass by many locals out doing their daily routines and the coolest thing was watching the children canoe as fast as they could leaving the temple and boys playing in the water using a group of empty soda bottles tied together as a floatation device.
After the wonderful visit to the floating villages, we went to Beng Mealea, another large Hindu to Buddhist temple that hasn’t been restored. While I was feeling under the weather, our tour guide and Andrew explored the temple. The temple had a lot of ruins and was covered in moss. Andrew got to explore through one of the dark passageways and climb through the rubble to access the center of the temple. He also found this nice vine to swing on! The temple had some wooden stairs and guideways built throughout the site so that it was easier to get around all of the rubble. When they were done exploring, we headed back to the car and made the hour drive back to the hotel.
On the way back, there were a couple of interesting things along the road we noticed. One was that there was one stretch of road about a mile long that had carts of sticky rice being sold, one cart after the next. We were wondering how they could get enough business to sustain themselves all selling the exact same thing without much to differentiate themselves. We felt bad for them after a big storm blew through and they had to take cover! The other thing that was interesting was they sold gasoline in clear bottles (mostly Johnnie Walker for whatever reason) in stands alongside the road as well. Hopefully those two industries don’t get destroyed when the “truck stop” finally opens along this main road as they were pretty unique to see.
One of the carvings we saw at Prasat Bayon had the Apsara dancing figures (I tried my best to imitate!). The Apsara dance dates back to the Khmer temples when these dances were performed for the royals consisting of slow gestures to narrate stories. The curling of their fingers and toes are the prominent feature of this dance style. We saw there was an Apsara dance with a dinner buffet at a restaurant near our hotel, so we decided to check that out for dinner. Unfortunately, I got too sick to stay for the show, so I left Andrew alone to the entertainment and he was really impressed. The dancing was broken up into four costumed segments and included male and female dancers. As expected, the dancers were extremely graceful and received great applause at the end of the show.