Thailand and Cambodia Part 4: Angkor Temples by Bike

I finished the last post with Lindsay and I drinking a beer on our hotel rooftop at sunset after making it to Siem Reap, Cambodia. You can read all about our biking adventures in Thailand and in the countryside of Cambodia in my previous posts.

After our beers, Pia and Wade picked us up to take us to dinner. It was another date night, and this restaurant really seemed like a place for a date, super nice and beautiful food (we even got a menu of our prefixed meal!)

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After dinner Pia filled us in on our next day, we had to have a registered temple guide for touring the Angkor complex so he would not be our guide for the next two days, he would introduce us to our temple guide the following morning. With the night still young and us feeling slightly refreshed after a low mileage day, they dropped us off at the Night Market so that we could get some souvenir/ gift shopping done. It was so crowded with tourists!

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We bought a couple of 50 cent beers and walked around different pats of the market streets. A few bowls, shirts and pairs of elephant pants later, we started making our way back to the hotel. Except since we’d been dropped off, we didn’t quite know where the hotel was… Pia gave us some direction to the river, since we were on the other side, so I led us there (Lindsay doesn’t have the best sense of direction, and I say that in the nicest possible way!) Once we crossed the bridge we got to a temple that I thought I recognized, but then got to a street that dead-ended. Whoops. There was a different hotel right there so we went in and asked for directions. The guy at the desk called someone and then found a map and plotted our hotel on it for us and gave us vague directions. We retraced our steps back to the last main road, and it turns out that I shouldn’t have given Lindsay the map because we missed a turn. Might I add that the beer I drank on the street meant I really really had to pee! Finally I got us on the right street and we saw the Soria Moria in front of us! It probably wasn’t even 10pm but we were wiped out like we’d ridden a lot that day.

The next morning we had a later start time and we didn’t have to pack up our stuff, so much time we didn’t know what to do with ourselves except linger over an English language newspaper in the breakfast room with our muesli (I did mention it was a boutique Scandinavian hotel.) After getting dressed we walked out to the bikes where our new guide, Okae, and Pia, were changing tires on Lindsay’s bike after her flat tire. Okae introduced himself to us, wearing his khaki Angkor tour guide uniform and official badge. His English vocabulary was excellent but he spoke very softly, meaning we kind of had to lean in towards him to understand everything he was telling us, which was a lot of history and information about the Angkor complex.

It turns out Okae is a relatively new bike tour guide, but he is in law school and was recruited to be a bike guide when friends saw him biking to and from school in Siem Reap. He has actually done some mountain bike races and done quite well in them from the sound of it! After a short outline of our day, goodbyes and hugs to Pia (who was off to guide another trip,) we merged into Siem Reap traffic. Weaving in and out of traffic, often traveling faster on our bikes than tuk tuks and cars, we got to the entrance gate to purchase our passes, good for 3 days in the Angkor temple complex. Our first stop was Ta Prohm, which might look familiar to Angelina Jolie or video game fans who saw Tomb Raider.

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The trees were incredible, having grown into, on top of, and around the temple for centuries. Okae pointed out the Sanskrit inscriptions that tell a little bit of the history of the temple (which means Grandfather Temple) as it started out as a Hindu temple then a Buddhist one. From there we took off into the jungle on single track mountain bike trails, avoiding the main roads and the tourist traffic, to get to our next destination. We emerged from the trees and onto the main road, startling some tourists in Tuk Tuks and stopped for some photos at Victory Gate.

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From Victory Gate we approached the Smiling Buddha temple, Bayon.

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We made sure to get pictures “kissing” one of the many Buddha faces on the towers! This temple was the only temple in the complex originally built as a Buddhist temple, for the Buddhist King Jawarvarmon VII in the 12th century! It is said that the Buddha’s faces resemble the King – each face is slightly different.

From Bayon we got back on some trails, some of it so technical I had to get off my bike to get over some roots, this is the jungle after all. Our destination was really cool though, an outlook over the King’s bathing pond, Sras Srang.

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Followed by a trip to a lesser used gate to the Royal City. Both of these you can’t access unless hiking or biking!

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Finally it was time to head to Angkor Wat, but lunch first! This was honestly our most disappointing lunch – very westernized food for the tourist crowd. But our disappointment was short-lived once we headed towards the best known temple of the complex. Angkor Wat’s beauty was incredible, there is no other way to really put it, and for one of the few times in my life I think I captured some of that beauty in my photos.

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After taking in all we could of Angkor Wat, we cycled back through the crowded streets of Siem Reap and to our hotel. Tonight we were on our own for dinner so we picked up our hotel binder full of recommendations and a couple of tour guide books to choose a place. It had been a pretty hot day, the off-road riding had been surprisingly hard, and we didn’t want to expend too much energy that evening so we made a plan to go to dinner, grab some dessert from the street carts, and then buy a couple beers and head back to our hotel and watch a movie. We were hungry at like 6pm (I’ll point out our disappointing lunch…) so we headed out to a Japanese/Cambodian restaurant that was only a couple blocks from our hotel. We ordered spring rolls, pumpkin fritters, and green curry, plus two draft beers, for $10. After our satisfying meal we walked across the river to the touristy Pub Street area where the vendors making pancakes and smoothies were. Lindsay got a smoothie and I got a chocolate banana pancake – really a crepe. Then we searched for some Beer Chang, the beer Chris got me to really like, but couldn’t find it. We settled on a new kind we hadn’t tried and successfully trekked back to our hotel, no getting lost this time!

The movie debacle was kind of funny, we hadn’t turned on a TV the entire trip, and now we were at the front desk picking out a movie from their DVD collection. I convinced Lindsay that Death at a Funeral (the British version) is pretty funny so we brought it up to the room. Then we realized we did not even have a DVD player attached to our TV. The front desk sent up a young guy with a DVD player to hook up, he had to go find the remote for it, and what we thought was a simple plan took more time and energy than originally thought. The young man almost wouldn’t take my tip once everything was set up! Then the DVD was scratched so we got stuck half way through. Oh well.

The next morning I had another great Scandinavian inspired breakfast with a newspaper to read. We met Okae, now dressed in athletic cycling regalia instead of his stiff guide uniform, and he went over the plan for the day. The change in outfit seemed to give him an extra spark in goofiness and humor as well. He was changing the itinerary a bit so instead of just an out and back to the Banteay Srei temple on busy roads, we would take a much longer route through the countryside to get there and then take the van back. We liked this plan, but didn’t really know how much riding we would be doing that morning – quite a bit it turned out. Below are what my legs looked like after riding… the exact same color as the dirt.

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Okae is from this area so went went on all kinds of backroads – 90% dirt – where our van couldn’t follow us. We had to pull over to the side of the road to let troves of cows and oxen pass by, and really focus on the torn up roads we were riding on. I’m not quite sure how far we rode before we got to Banteay Srei, maybe 65 to 70km on those terrible roads. Lindsay and I decided that the number of kilometers we rode on these bikes and on these roads was equivalent to riding the same amount of miles on our nice road bikes at home. When we arrived at the temple we all high-fived, that was our last day of riding! We sat down at a restaurant outside of the temple and all ate together! It was our first meal with Wade despite having him as our driver for several days by then. After a hearty lunch we walked to the pink sandstone temple, sometimes called the women’s temple because of the symbols on it and the fine detail. It was really a gorgeous small temple.

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After we had our fill of this temple, we hopped in the van and headed back into town. It was a pretty busy road, and narrow, so I was happy with the way Okae made changes to the itinerary. On our way home we stopped by a market selling sugar palm and various things made from the sugar palm tree. We also stopped by another temple in the Angkor complex and climbed up for a great view. By the time we got back to our hotel it was only 2 or 3 in the afternoon and we didn’t have anything till dinner. We decided to get up early the next morning before our flight to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. So that afternoon we packed, read by the pool with our remaining snacks from Wade (pineapple, pringles and mango!) plus some beers we bought. Pretty relaxing last afternoon. That night we were going to a dinner and show with traditional Apsara dancing. The costumes and dancing were pretty, although we were once again at a date table and at the very front and center right below the stage! The food was only marginally better than the disappointing meal we had at Angkor Wat the day before, although dessert was good! After the performance we just headed to the hotel and booked a tuk tuk at the front desk to pick us up at 5am!

To say we didn’t sleep well is a bit of an understatement, Lindsay and I were both sick and up in the middle of the night, well before our 4:30am alarms. I started feeling better but Lindsay wasn’t getting any better. We caught our 5am tuk tuk and were a bit chilly in the cool air of the early morning. Lindsay forgot her pass (who could blame her with how crappy she was feeling!) so we had to stop at the gate so she could buy a new one day pass. Once we got to the temple entrance our tuk tuk driver told us where he would wait for us and I tried to remember what the vehicle looked like. We walked in and found a spot along the pond and waited with hundreds of other people for the sky to lighten.

 

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DSC01419While we didn’t get a super dramatic sunrise due to cloud cover, it was still a gorgeous site, and we made friends with two couples from California and a college kid from Carnegie Mellon as we shared picture taking spots. Lindsay was barely with me, staying in a squat and asking me when she should look up if anything had changed! She did drink some water and the college guy offered some airborne tablets for her to drink. When the sun was high enough in the sky, we walked back to our driver and entered morning traffic in town. At the hotel, I was feeling well enough to eat breakfast but Lindsay went back to bed for an hour. While it was a gorgeous morning, it wasn’t really the best morning.

Wade and Okae picked us up and took us to the Siem Reap airport, we said our goodbyes and checked our bags. Our AirAsia flight was uneventful, we landed at the smaller Bangkok airport, easily caught the bus to the larger airport, took the 45 minute ride, and then camped out there for a while. I let Lindsay sleep while I watched over our bags and got her juice. Finally after 6 hours, we went through security, and it was in line to passport control that Lindsay finally threw up. No one kicked her out of the airport and we got to our gates where I hated to leave her in that state… I boarded my flight to Dubai, and one stop and 24 hours later landed back in Dallas in time for the holidays! (Lindsay was okay, she did have to go on anti-biotics, we didn’t eat the same thing maybe twice the whole trip so I’m blaming the pork she had!)

Overall this was an incredible trip and an unbelievable way to see a part of the world I had never been to before. I can’t wait to plan my next trip!

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3 responses to “Thailand and Cambodia Part 4: Angkor Temples by Bike

  1. Pingback: Playing Outdoors in Winter: Falling in Love with Trail Running | postgradjourney·

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