BootsnAll Travel Network

Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor

I woke at 4:15 am on New Year’s Eve so that I could catch my train to Cambodia and finally got to bed 24 hours later…….

Leaving Robert’s apartment at 4:45 am, I took a prearranged taxi to the the Hualamphong Train Station. I arrived about 20 minutes later and went to find the ticket window. Despite all the windows saying rapid or express trains (mine was neither), I was still able to buy a ticket to Aranyaprathet which is on the Cambodian border. After buying the ticket (48 baht) I went to the platform and found the train was already waiting. As it was only about 5:20 at this point, most of the cars were empty. I just picked one at random as there is no assigned seating in third class (the only class available on this train) and got in. After a while the cars started filling up. Finally a mother and three children sat down across from me. The seats are benches that face each other. Her husband chose to sit elsewhere even though I was the only one on my bench. I believe his intention was to let the little boy sit next to me, but he appeared to not want to sit next to the scary looking foreigner. At 5:55 am, the train pulled out of the station. It took 6.5 hours (the train was one hour late) to reach the border. During the train trip, the mother finally got tired of being piled up in the seat with her kids and sat next to me. She didn’t sit all the way in the seat until I motioned for her to do so. The children and mother eventually warmed up to me after I pulled out my camera and let the little boy use it to take a picture. After this smiles and movement finally replaced the “is he going to eat me” stares that I was getting earlier. The train windows were open so the car remained comfortable despite the heat. The countryside outside again, to my surprise, appeared to be quite prosperous with lots of substantial houses. I had a lunch of duck eggs (as indicated by the orange yolk) sausage, and rice that a lady came through the train selling. The children and I spent most of the ride with our heads out of the window. It was fascinating to watch the fields, communities, and porn fly by outside of the window. (Yes, at one stop a lone TV was set up in a field with a group of people sleeping around it. Playing on the screen was a very adult film.) The train made many (many, many) stops on the way to the border. At the station, I got out and a man on a motorcycle offered me a ride to the border for 50 baht which I accepted. This was cheaper than the tuk tuk. At the border, I found the immigration office easily enough and was soon in Poipet, Cambodia.

While waiting in line at immigration, I found a German couple to share a car with to Siem Reap. The car is supposed to be $60. As tourism has increased so has corruption. A local monopoly supported by the paid off police has taken over all transport to Siem Reap. They charge these very high prices. They run around in yellow shirts pretending to be official government representatives. The only other option besides the car is a not so good bus that is $10 (was $3 until the gang formed). The bus leaves at unreliable times and often involves scams with trying to force you to stay in a certain place. While in line, a man approached us and offered the three of us a taxi for $45. As we didn’t have a fourth person to fit in the car, we accepted. We were told to meet him at the hotel across the street. If the monopoly people (as identified by yellow shirts) tried to stop us, he said to tell them that we were staying in Poipet to gamble. Sure enough, we were followed by a yellow shirt guy when we didn’t join the rest of the foreigners. Despite basically having to tell him to go away he still followed us into the hotel. He must have been paid off by our taxi driver because after some exchanges between the two we were on our way. The ride to Siem Reap took 3.5 hours along a rough road with some severe potholes and occasional asphalt surface. The countryside was full of farms. Many of the houses had political signs out front supporting one party or another. On arrival in Siem Reap, I finally found a hotel on the third try as the other two were full. Siem Reap is popular for New Years.

Siem Reap is overun with tourists as it is the base city for exploring the Angkor temples. It is full of hotels, markets selling the usual items, and restaurants/bars catering to foreigners. During my walk around the city, I noticed a sign advertising a street party on the main bar street (named Pub Street). It was put on by two bars cleverly named the Temple bar and my favorite name Angkor What?. As I had got up early and didn’t have any friends around to celebrate with, I didn’t really have any plans to stay up until midnight. I was curious to see what the party would be like so I ordered a beer at a restaurant nearby. I don’t normally drink beer, but the price was right and it allowed me to occupy a table. While I was sitting, I was joined by a Cambodian couple (about my age) as the restuarant was full.

Aside: About 40% of the Cambodian population is below 14. This is due in large part to many people being killed during the Khmer Rouge time.

The man owned an import business. His wife didn’t speak English. Come to find out, the man’s uncle was the Cambodian Ambassador to the US and Canada. The couple had ordered a hotpot for supper and invited me to eat with them. I only ate a little as I was already full from eating earlier. As we visited, the party finally got going with music being played from loudspeakers on the street. The music was the usual mixture of American and British music one hears at what seems like every club in every country I have been in. The street was soon packed with people dancing and drinking. After eating the Cambodian couple left and I plunged into the crowd to see more of the party. I noticed one could buy hard liquor drinks by the bucket. They literally came in a bucket with about eight straws. I saw many people turning these drinks into communal affairs. I was offered some drinks by some people but declined as drugging of drinks is a common enough theme in Asia. Soon crowds on the balcony above starting throwing bucketfuls of water on the dancing crowd below. This initially caused the crowd to start darting (dancing) out of the way. During one of these mass movements, I ran into an English woman named Maria who was also at the party by herself. She was thoroughly soaked. We spent the next few hours talking together and watching the crowd as she didn’t like to dance very much.

The crowd mix was quite interesting. The age range ran the gamut from small children on parent’s shoulders to older couples. It was also the UN of parties with an equal mix of Asian and Western participants. The police supposedly monitoring the party weren’t above indulging in the occasional drink or joining in the dancing. As the drinks flowed, people began to care less about the water (and sometimes alcohol) being thrown around and soon everyone was wet. Also, fireworks were being shot from balconies above the crowd. (A somewhat dangerous situation. Roman candles being shot off in the middle of a town over an alcohol soaked street and crowd) At midnight there was a countdown for the New Year. At around 1:30 am, I walked Maria back to her hostel as she had to catch a 6:00 am boat to Battambang and wanted some sleep. As she was also going to Laos, we exchanged emails to see if we would be there at the same time. I returned to the party as I wasn’t sleepy yet. To my surprise, they were playing a Bollywood song as I walked back to the dancing crowd. I joined back in the dancing finding no shortage of willing partners. I managed to get two tiny Cambodian girls to come dance with me. (If I thought the Thais were small, the Cambodians are Lilliputian in size.). After the dance they ran back to the side of the street giggling. I finally left around 2:45 am wet and smelling like a Long Island Ice Tea. After I returned to my hotel and cleaned up, I managed to get to bed by about 4:00 am.

I woke up late the next morning and finally managed to roll out of bed around noon. I spent the day looking through my guidebook to try to get an idea of an itinerary for seeing the temples. I decided to hire a motorcycle driver to take me around the temples as they are spread over a wide area. I went out on the street to look for one. The first group of people I asked quoted me a ridiculous price ($50 for the three days). I could have bargained them down, but I didn’t feel like doing business or trust someone who was already trying to rip me off. My hotel owner said his friend could take me around. He called him and told him where I wanted to go. His quoted price was $38, but we settled on $35. Usually a motorcycle, driver, and fuel should only cost about $8/day. (Foreigners can’t drive a motorcycle to the temples although we can drive them everywhere else in the country.) I decided to go visit some temples much further afield on my last day which drove up the price.

I met Rond, my driver, at 7:30 am. I am not sure how to spell his name but this is how it sounded to me. Like all the Asian languages, khmer uses a different script. My first stop was Angkor Wat which is the premier attraction in the temple complex. All the temples were built over a 300 year period (875-1200 a.d.) by the Khmer Kingdom at the Angkor capital. At its height the kingdom spread over larger portions of Laos and Thailand and the capital housed over a million people. . The kingdom was ruled by a series of god-kings graced with tounge twisting names like Suryavarman or Jayavarman. Angkor Wat is the largest and best preserved of the temples. It is built in a style similar to many of the temples in the area. On the outside is a moat 190 meters wide. One advances up a long gateway towards the initial gate. Inside the gate there is a long causeway which leads to the main temple complex. On the side are several sandstone buidings that once served as libraries. The main temple itself consists of three levels containing many galleries with vaulted ceilings. True to its Buddhist and Hindu roots (the temple has been used for both), the temple is topped by five towers which represent Mt Meru. The towers are placed in a quincunical arrangement. This is your word for the day. You must use it at least five times in your speech today. It means four towers at the corners of a square with a fifth in the middle. There are many well preserved bas-reliefs around the temple periphery. The most famous is of the “Churning of the Ocean of Milk” The carving depicts a tug of war between demons and gods using a large snake. The snake is curled around a mountain which pivots on the back of Vishnu who has taken the form of a turtle. They are fighting over an immortality elixir which is in the ocean. Asparas (heavenly nymphs) dance overhead. They make the demons all hot and bothered so that they lose the tug of war. The temple walls are decorated with carvings of Asparas as well. The temple has three levels which are accessed by very steep stairs. The top level is now off limits until after the completion of new wooden stairs due to some tourist falling down them. Two to three years ago one could clamber all over the temple with little interference. Recently someone thought it was a good idea to put up directional arrows and barricades all over the place. The problem is as often happens all over the world, this was done with utter disregard for asthetics. Some of the towers are covered with bright green tarps due to restoration work. They could at least have used less neon colors so that they don’t show up in the pictures so much. As most of the other temples have fairly similar design layouts, I will save you the mind numbing descriptions and only point out the more interesting features.


This temple is covered with 216 huge sandstone faces in the image of Avalokiteshvara. They are arranged in groups of fours on towers and face in all directions.

Angkor Thom
The main palace complex which is full of temple and viewing stands in various stages of repair or decay. Here one can clamber up and down freely up the steep staircases of the temples. Many of the staircases are damaged from falling stone or erosion and require a brave constitution to make it up. One of the main complexes under repair is Baphoun. Repairs on the temple began in pre Khmer Rouge times. The temple was first completely taken apart using anastylosis form of renovation. After disassembly, the Khmer Rouge invaded and destroyed most records of the disassembly and killed off the scientists in the country. When the renovators returned, they had no records to work with. They basically had to figure out from scratch how to put this enormous puzzle back together again. After 12 years it is still ongoing.

Ta Keo

This temple was never completely finished as is stark compared to the other structures. The towers and main body were finished though. Unlike Angkor Wat, one can climb here all the way up to the top level. Again this requires the use of tiny step, steep, damaged staircases. It was fun (after I had inched my way up them) to stand on the ground and watch others go up. The stairs were built so steep to give the temples a sense of grand profile.

Ta Prohm

This temple is famous for the fact that it has been left unrestored and partially covered in jungle. There are many large trees growing out of the walls and covering the doorways in huge root systems. Scenes from Tomb Raider were shot here including the tree from which Angelina Jolie picked a jasmine flower and fell through the floor. Many of the passages are blocked by falling stone. The surviving passageway and carvings tilt at odd angles and are full of cracks.

All of these temples lie along a tour route called them minitour. I finished this route around 2:00 pm and headed back to my hotel after eating lunch outside of Ta Pohm with Rond. To give you a break I will write about my last two days of exploration in another entry.

Side Note: Cambodia uses an odd money system. Officially the currency is the riel, but for all purposes the economy runs equally off the US dollar (4000 riel = $1US). Instead of one dollar being equal 100 cents, its treated as if its divided in 4000 reil. A price in a store may be listed as $2.50 but one pays 2 US dollars plus 2000 reil as only US paper money is accepted.

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One Response to “Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor”

  1. Kellie Says:

    Well, your New Year is certainly off to an exciting start! Have fun, and stay safe!


  2. Posted from United States United States

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