Siem Reap, Cambodia

Not quite a sunrise at Angkor Wat

So here I am in Siem Reap and the first order of the day was to visit Angkor Wat, the reason most people visit. Most people apparently do some research beforehand and visit in the dry season. However after I booked my tickets in what is considered the wettest month of the year I optimistically thought it wouldn’t really matter because it would be low season for tourists, and the previous times I’d experienced rainy seasons it rained ferociously but only in the afternoon and only for about an hour.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Everything I thought I knew about monsoons turns out to be wrong. I had booked a “Sunrise Discovery” bike tour which was to start at Angkor Wat for the sunrise, then bike through the jungle to Angkor Thom (or Bayon), and then onwards to Ta Prohm, which embarrassingly I know as the “Tomb Raider” temple. (It was made famous after Angelina Jolie filmed that movie here and is particularly popular with tourists for that reason.) It started raining in the minibus on the way to Angkor Wat at about 5.30 am and didn’t stop until nearly 10.00 am. There was certainly no sunrise to photograph, and instead of jostling for position with a camera it was umbrellas at dawn.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Our little tour group consisted of Sambo, the tour leader, our van driver Mr Dead (I’m sure this is not his name but honestly, that’s what it sounded like), one Aussie, two Singaporeans and me. We were of varying experiences on a bike – the Aussie was on his way to China to compete in a triathlon, off the back of the Iron Man competition earlier this year; while the two girls from Singapore had obviously never left tarmac before. I asked Sambo if he took bike riding tours every day and he confirmed he did, “every day I ride 30 km, sometimes more, sometimes 75 km. My bum like monkey!”

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia

My favourite temple by far was the Tomb Raider one. Lost in the jungle for years until rediscovered by Angelina Jolie / Lara Croft (or something like that) Ta Prohm is falling down, covered in moss and plants, overtaken by tree roots and if it weren’t for the hundreds of tourists crawling all over it, it would be a truly magical place in the jungle. As we were cycling towards it you could hear beating drums so we knew we were getting closer. It was only when we got there that I discovered that the “drums” were created by the hundreds of tourists.

 

The temple grounds include a number of towers, and inside one of these  towers people would go inside and beat their chests to pray. It reverberates and echoes, and the noise transforms to a rhythmic drumlike beating. Quite incredible.  A pretty good start to my Cambodian adventures.

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