Angkor Wat and a well needed reminder of why I choose to travel

One of the main reasons people visit Cambodia is to visit the infamous Angkor Wat – we were no different and this was the thing I was looking forward to most about the country (the 4am start however, I was not!). When you get picked up from the bus station your tuk tuk driver will try and sell you his services as a guide for the day around Angkor – ours (‘Robbie’) had brilliant English and seemed sweet and genuine compared to most of the people we’d met already, and so we thought why not. He explained that when you bought a one day ticket it would be valid from the evening you bought it until 5pm the following day – this meant that you could watch the sunset and the sunrise. To hire him for the evening and the whole of the next day set us back around $25 between the two of us.

He picked us up at 4pm and took us to the gates. It was there that we realised they didn’t open for selling tickets until 5, but as the queues got pretty big we were grateful that he took us there early. A day ticket set us back $20 each which we had no problem with – we knew it would be worth it. You can also get 3 day or 1 week passes but we knew a day would be enough. To be honest I’ve seen a lot of temples throughout my time in South East Asia and they have started to bore me a little, so although I knew these ones would be well worth seeing and be on a way more epic scale, I was well aware that a day would be enough time before I was all templed out.

That evening we were shown to a mountain with a temple at the top. It took around 20 minutes to climb and wasn’t too strenuous in the cooling temperatures, but we hoped there would be something well worth seeing at the end of it. We were aware that we may need to cover up and so both wore clothes below the knees and bought scarves to wear over our shoulders (something that has been fine for every other temple we’ve visited). We didn’t want to climb the mountain in T Shirts and assumed this wouldn’t be an issue. Apparently it was and we were informed that a scarf that looked like a top wasn’t good enough. We couldn’t understand why they were happily letting people through with low cut and even see through tops and yet we couldn’t go through with a thick vest and scarf over it. We attempted to put our case forward but they weren’t having any of it. So we ended up watching the sunset at a pretty pointless viewing point covered in branches and trees. This was our first mistake while exploring the temples and at this stage we were not feeling too impressed with Cambodia and the way they were treating us. However, looking at the pictures I realised the sunset wasn’t as bad as we thought, and that maybe we should have been a bit more appreciative!

Sunset

Sunset

We had an early night that night in preparation to get up at 4am, my earliest start for a long time. Although getting up was painful we knew that we would only be there once and it’d be stupid for us to miss the sunrise. So we joined the masses at the lake in front of Angkor Wat at around 5.30am waiting for the sun to appear. As it got light we realised how cloudy it was and that our chances of a decent sunrise weren’t looking good. We waited until it was daylight, cut our losses and decided to head to Angkor Wat quickly to try and avoid the crowds.

The start of the sunrise before we decided it was over and left to explore

The start of the sunrise before we decided it was over and left to explore

Angkor Wat was as epic as I had imagined. I’ve seen pictures but obviously they don’t do it justice. I’m not usually that impressed or interested in temples but this was beautiful. We were lucky to get several pictures with no tourists in the background including one of just the two of us from the back. This was the advantage of going, as we soon realised, before the sun had even risen.

Jess has a habit of taking photographs on a slant!

Jess has a habit of taking photographs on a slant!

A rare photograph of Angkor Wat with no one else in it

A rare photograph of Angkor Wat with no one else in it

I’m not sure how we didn’t realise that before you’ve actually seen the sun, you haven’t seen it rise. This was our second stupid mistake of the day! However, we did manage to quickly run around the front again and catch the sun coming just above the towers, so it wasn’t a total loss. It was pretty amazing to see the sunrise photo of the towers reflecting in the water that I had seen so many times before in photos. It was a well needed reminder of why I chose to travel. The past few days had been good but I had had some low points (the border crossing) and I think I was losing sight of why I had chosen to leave the UK in the first place. This was just what I needed. At this point we were already exhausted but ready to use our remaining energy to explore the rest of the temples.

Sunrise take 2

Sunrise take 2

Our driver, however, had told us to meet him back at the drop off point at 9 as he had to take someone to the airport (a bit of a joke considering we’d paid $20 to have him for the day). We finished by around 7.15 and had to sit in a cafe and wait for almost 2 hours, cursing him for not being there and thinking about how we could be using this time to explore the other temples. At around 9.20 he still wasn’t there and by this point we were fuming. We kept being asked by other drivers if we wanted another tuk tuk but refused out of loyalty. By this point we were getting really sick of being conned and treated badly by the Cambodians. We soon stood corrected as I walked around the corner and realised he had been there waiting for us all along. We were so used to being conned that we just assumed the worst of him when he had actually stuck to his word. That was mistake number three.

As it turned out, waiting around for our driver had been a blessing in disguise as every temple from then on was relatively quiet. I imagine if we had left earlier, and at the same time as the majority of the crowd then we would have never managed to get any pictures without other tourists in them (it was still difficult and meant waiting around quite a bit for empty shots, but we managed it a few times). Our first stop after Angkor Wat was (I don’t know any of the names so I’ll make them up) the temple of faces. It looked like this:

'The temple of faces' as I liked to call it

‘The temple of faces’ as I liked to call it

One of many face carvings

One of many face carvings

At this point Jess’ camera batteries ran out. Mistake number 4: not bringing spare batteries – it wasn’t going well! I gave her my iphone for a few shots but it wasn’t quite the same. Luckily my new Olympus Pen camera lasted me all day.

Next was a tiered temple where we had to put on t shirts (which this time we had bought with us) to enter. This was pretty amazing but probably my least favourite of the temples we saw that day. We climbed to the first level but decided against climbing to the top (it was already sweltering).

temple

A long wall of elephant carvings sat alongside that so we stopped for a few photo opportunities.

Elephant carvings

Elephant carvings

At this point I was struggling a bit. As a red head I’m really not great in the heat and we’d already been wandering around for hours, so we stopped for lunch and to down about 2 bottles of water before moving onto our next temple. This one was my favourite and was full of beautiful trees like this:

Beautiful tree

Beautiful tree

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s also where Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones were filmed. I just loved how the trees intertwined with the bricks. In some places it almost looked like a fake film set, it really was stunning. At that point we we sweating and exhausted, but knew we had to power through to our last temple of the day. To be honest this one looked very similar to temple two, but was impressive nonetheless. However, I was more impressed to see a lovely view over the lake nearby.

temple

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We called it a day at around 2pm – by that stage I was feeling weak from the sun and my legs were aching, but it was so worth it. We felt all templed out by then but if temples are your thing then you can also get a three day or a week pass. I was happy to leave having seen something so impressive in Cambodia, and excited for what was to come, which was a big change from the day before. It was a day where I was reminded just how lucky I was to be there, and felt really excited for what was to come.

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