After a long and frustrating border crossing, which you can read about here, we had a great nights sleep at the Dancing Frog guest house in Siem Reap. We booked a tuk tuk driver through our guest house, to take us to the Temples of Angkor, which we'd been looking forward to visiting for weeks, while planning our travels.
The Temples of Angkor is the largest religious site in the World, spanning a huge area which is only really explorable by motor, due to the large distance between the temples. It took around half an hour to get to the Angkor area from Siem Reap, where we stopped at a big ticket booth area to buy entry passes. There are one-day, three-day and one-week passes available, so we opted for the 40 USD each, three-day option, as we planned to visit for sunrise the following day. When driving further into the area we were really excited to see wild monkeys as the side of the road!
The temples certainly didn't disappoint, with each area being quite different from the other. We found ourselves constantly being amazed by the intricately built and carved temples, many of which are partly ruined. We were caught out by a guy who we think was actually employed a steward or guard in the first temple, as he had a uniform. He lead us to a couple of areas that were pretty cool and we wouldn't have otherwise found and insisted on taking a few photos of us. He then obviously wanted a tip, but I realised all I had was a couple of 1000 riel [0.15 GBP] notes and then quite large denominations of USD. He clearly wasn't impressed by the tiny tip I gave him and asked for more, but we made our apologies and scurried away quickly!
After some more enjoyable wandering through this first temple, we passed a group of around eight people, mostly children, who were trying to sell us various items. We politely refused, but the whole group surrounded us and followed us for a fair few metres. We were a bit worried about being pickpocketed so tried to walk away quickly. One girl followed us for a full ten-minutes, repeatedly telling us that if we didn't buy something, she wouldn't be able to go to school. I would have paid her something to go away, as it was seriously annoying, but again I only had the larger notes. We also know from guide books and other literature, that handing out money or buying stuff in this situation only worsens the problem, so we are trying to buy food and souvenirs from charitable organisations on our trip where we can. This includes the amazing Friends restaurant in Phnom Penh, which I'll write about in another blog post soon. We were offered many other items for sale during our exploration of the Temples of Angkor, but thankfully that first situation was a one-off, as everyone else backed off almost immediately when we politely said no thank you.
Our tuk tuk driver was waiting for us as we walked out of the first temple area and drove us to the next, which was a few minute journey away. We had to walk over a long wooden pontoon to get to one of the areas, and saw a huge snake in the water! After lunch at a pretty nice local restaurant [which the tuk tuk driver is clearly paid a commission to take us to, as with everything else in Asia], we were particularly excited to visit Wat Ta Prohm, aka the Tomb Raider Temple. This area was huge and has extensive ruins, with large trees intertwined in it. It was amazing to walk around and no photos can do it justice.
We arranged with our driver to pick us up at 4.30am the next day, which is considerably earlier that I've been up and about in a very long time. I'm used to going to bed at that time after my recent Freshers tour! I hadn't slept well at all and was very blearly eyed during the journey to the main temple, Angkor Wat. It was still dark when we arrived and we headed straight into the temple, where we were greeted at the door by a man who gave us incense sticks. Not knowing the protocol, we were then told to touch the foot of a Buddha statue and put the incense stick into the sand next to it, which seemed normal enough. We were then told to give him 10 USD each, which goes to the monks. We couldn't believe the cheek of it! So many people must hand over this money, which is clearly nothing official. We gave him a dollar and walked off quickly, with him shouting after us. There are little [and bigger] tourist scams EVERYWHERE in Asia.
We had some food at a little cafe on site and waited for around an hour for the sun to come fully up. It was quite nice to watch, although it was quite cloudy, so when the sun was fully up, it was obscured by cloud, which was a bit of a shame. We then spent some time exploring Angkor Wat itself, which we found nowhere near as interesting as the other temples. It's strange that this temple is the most popular, as some of the others we saw the day before were way more impressive. It's still great to explore, just certainly not as exciting as the other temples, which far less people seem to go and see. By this time we were already shattered, so we headed back to our guest house and slept for the rest of the morning.
We didn't particularly like Siem Reap in general and found it to be quite chaotic and dirty. We found a couple of pleasant enough places to eat and visited the Night Market, which we thought was very boring, offering standard, factory made tourist fodder. We spent a bit of time exploring the city, but we weren't overly impressed with the area at all. After two and a bit days in Siem Reap, we boarded a 'hotel bus' with beds in it and travelled through the night, arriving at the coast in Sihanoukville twelve and a half hour later. We then went on a short boat journey to the beautiful island of Koh Rong, which I'll write about in my next blog post.