Upon planning our trip, something was prominently missing: bicycles. Our time in Vietnam included some of the most rugged, hostile terrain we have ever seen, cycling just wasn’t a realistic option. Cambodia, however, is flat. Bicycle rentals are also seriously cheap (a high-end mountain bike will cost $5 or $6 per day, while entry level bicycles start at $2), so we threw out the idea of having a private driver for our first day in Angkor Wat.
The thing to do at Angkor Wat is to arrive at the most well known of the Hindu temples (coincidentally named Angkor Wat) for sunrise. We woke up early, and figured that while in Siem Reap, we may as well go see the temples at sunrise. The morning, while thick with humidity, was surprisingly not hot, and we made good time as we mashed our Giant mountain bikes toward the temples along thick forest-lined roads. The architecture is starkly different from Vietnamese style, looking much more “Indian”.
We arrived at a ticket checkpoint just around sunrise, only to find that one could not purchase tickets there. We thought it was a complete communication breakdown, but eventually realized that we really had somehow missed the ticket purchasing location and accepted that we would have to go back into town and take a different road to the main drag. It was already getting warm, and we missed the sunrise, but made the conscious decision not to be annoyed. Back to town we went!
Once on the main drag, navigation was easy and we made slightly slower time in the damp heat that was encroaching about 5 hours too early. Not particularly interested in fighting crowds, we started the day by heading toward Ta Prohm, which typically gets busy an hour or two after sunrise once the sunrise-seekers are done with Angkor Wat.
As we pedaled toward Tah Prohm, we passed our first temple, and decided to have a look inside. After a short walk down the path through the forest and past the gigantic snails, we entered the completely deserted ruins. The decorations in the crumbling walls were quite impressive – they put many of the castles we ran across in Europe to shame.
After passing one of the many Buddhist shrines that litter the alcoves of nearly every temple in the complex, we made our way back out toward the bikes and onto Ta Prohm.
After stopping at a local market to grab some baguettes, we came across the complex. Ta Prohm has to be one of the coolest places I have ever been. While it was not empty, there was definitely not a lot going on and we made our entrance in relative solitude. The fig trees have completely overtaken the temple, spreading their roots across the walls. The Cambodians have done a pretty remarkable job of keeping the maze of corridors and walls standing with giant braces, though not much could be done about the massive walls that have crumbled, leaving expanses of moss-covered boulders.
At one point we found this spider. After spending a few minutes trying to get a good photo of him, Bree walked straight into his web. After a warranted freak-out and double check that the spider was still in the remaining web, we decided to walk a little more cautiously. That was a wise decision, because the dark, narrow corridors in Ta Prohm are a haven for very large spiders.
The temple got more and more busy as time went on. At one point we were on the same route as a Chinese tour bus. The key, we found, was to hold tight for about 10 minutes and let them pass, as can be seen by these photos. One second we were in the middle of a huge mob, the next, we found ourselves practically all alone.
Walking out of the temple and back to our bikes, the heat had become oppressive enough that I decided to cross the street and buy a drink for Bree and I. As we made our way toward the vendors, we were completely swarmed by hawkers. “You want to buy cold drink?” “t-shirt only 2 dollar – very cheap” It went on and on. As I would say no there would be three others to replace the failed pitch. There were so many that I couldn’t even walk, so I spun right back around and got on my bike. I feel bad for these people, but seriously – a little room, please.
It was amazing to see how intense the hawkers were right outside the most popular temples, but after riding 15 seconds in any direction we were back on quiet, wooded roads and easily found some cold water to purchase without being bombarded with sales pitches.