They call the Angkor Temples outside Siem Reap in Cambodia the Eighth Wonder of the World. The seven that are better than this place must be unbelievable because a visit here will blow your mind.
We decided to hire some bicycles and explore the temples by pedal power, but there are plenty of other ways to experience the 400 sq. km’s of incredible Khmer history. There’s tour groups, or you can hire a tuk tuk driver, and you can hire a guide to accompany you for about $US20 for the day. You also need to purchase a one ($US20), three ($US40) or seven day ($US60) pass which you can do at the ticket office on your way to the temples.
Start as early as possible
We hired a tuk tuk to take us into town after breakfast at around 7.30am, but in hindsight we should have started our day earlier. Many people actually go out to watch the sunrise at around 5.00am which is meant to be quite spectacular, but when you’ve got a two-year-old who isn’t exactly a morning person, that kind of experience may have to wait a while for us. By the time we got into town, rented a couple of bikes and rode out to Angkor Wat, it was 10.00am and the crowd at Cambodia’s number one tourist attraction was already huge. We’d organised for the tuk tuk driver to pick us up in town at 6.00pm, which we thought we’d make easily. We were wrong.
First a hissy fit, then sleep!
Given the early start, the bike ride and the crazy heat, Jack was at his grumpy best when we arrived at Angkor Wat. He’s getting pretty good at throwing tantrums and he put on one of his best shows almost as soon as we locked up our bikes and made our way towards the huge bridge that crosses the moat. His severe lack of cooperation and the huge, pushy crowds created two very frustrated parents. We tried to have a rest under a tree, hoping Jack might have a sleep for an hour, but those hopes were dashed when we realised we’d laid our blanket on an ant’s nest. Those little red buggers have a nasty bite to them!
We raced around Angkor Wat and got back on our bikes within about 45 minutes, which was a real shame because there is so much to see and learn. But Jack was making life difficult so we thought we’d get on the bikes and ride to the next Temple a few kilometres down the road, Bayon within the walls of Angkor Thom. As we arrived Jack was falling asleep in his seat so we stopped at the open air information centre right outside the entrance. We set up a spot for Jack to sleep on a bench and Sarah and I enjoyed some lunch in peace. We then took it in turns to go and have a look around and I must say I was really impressed. Bayon is obviously much, much smaller than Angkor Wat, but that was part of it’s charm. There were hardly any people there and as I was walking through the ruins there were many moments when I couldn’t see anyone else, as though I had Bayon all to myself. It was an amazing feeling to be at a place of such historical importance virtually alone. Once I’d had a good look around I tagged Sarah in while I kept an eye on Jack sleeping. He woke up not long after Sarah left, so I fed him lunch and changed his nappy. It’s amazing the change in a little person once they’ve had a good sleep, it’s almost as if he’s a different person. He was happy, playful and like me couldn’t wait to get back on the bike again. Once Sarah returned we were on our way to the next stop on our adventure, Preah Khan Temple.
Riding around the Temples of Angkor was a privilege
The best part of the day was actually the ride itself. Sarah and I love riding pushbikes through rural or country areas and they don’t come much more impressive and historically significant than the Angkor Temples. Apart from when we rode past various ruins and temples, most of the time we had the roads to ourselves. It was an altogether very pleasurable experience riding around the Temples of Angkor, especially considering the horrible way our visit had begun.
Our plan was to visit five sites we’d researched before arriving at the Angkor Temples – Angkor Wat, Bayon, Preah Khan, Ta Som and Ta Prohm. But we didn’t quite comprehend how vast the area was, and the distances we’d be riding between each of the attractions. In all honesty we probably bit off more than we could chew. The site we were most looking forward to, Ta Prohm with its incredible huge trees and exposed root systems enveloping large portions of the ruins, was the site where we spent the least amount of time. We were in a race against the clock to get back to Siem Reap to meet our tuk tuk driver, and while you could easily spend an hour or two exploring the area, we could only stay for 20 minutes.
We left Ta Prohm and double timed it back into town, making the 6-7 kilometre trip in about 20 minutes. Not bad going really considering our town cruisers were not exactly built for speed and we’d already clocked up around 50km for the day in hot conditions. We eventually made it back to our driver 15 minutes late, exhausted but satisfied with the brilliant day we’d had.
- If you only have a one day pass like we did, start early. There’s so much to see and so little time to do it in.
- Take water with you, it’s hot and you’ll need it. If you run out there’s plenty of people selling water wherever you are.
- If you buy a one day ticket after 5pm, it is valid for the following day as well. This means you can be there for sunset, and if you’re up for it, sunrise the next day.
- If you just want to see the ruins without actually going into any of them, you don’t need a ticket. Anyone can drive out there and just drive from site to site.
- There is a lot of food and drink options to buy out there, but it’s probably a touch more expensive than in town. We’re only talking a dollar here and there so you need to decide whether to take food with you or buy what you want as you need it.
- There’s actually some really nice restaurants as well if you wanted to sit down for a delicious meal after a full day of exploration.
Check out our photogallery below to see what we got up to…