I took something like 500 photos over the past 10 days, and getting through the download/edit/upload process has taken a while. It was a great trip, and a rare one in that there were no mishaps or delays or inconveniences of any kind. Stress-free all around. No bungled room reservations, no bus breakdowns or delayed flights, no bad meals or lost luggage or scams at the border. I kept waiting for something to inevitably happen, but when I stepped on the plane in Phnom Penh and took a moto into town it dawned on me that the worst thing that happened was getting lost and walking an extra two miles in Chiang Mai. Not bad.
Enough gloating. The temples of Angkor was easily the highlight of the trip. I had a little over two days to pack them in, so I had to be efficient. Here’s how I tackled them:
Day 1: Angkor Wat
The bus pulled in to Siem Reap a little after 1:30, so after getting settled I hired a young motodop named Chiri (or maybe it was Jiri) to drive me around for the next couple days. I seemed only natural to check out the namesake temple first.
Around 3pm it was swarming with tourists, making it nearly impossible to take a classic picture without tiny figures scrambling around the base of the temple. Didn’t matter much though as it is still an undeniably impressive sight despite all the people and the unfortunate flat light from an overcast sky. In fact, for the two-plus days I was there the sun broke through the haze for maybe a total of 20 minutes. A little disappointing considering I planned my days around ideal sunrise/sunset spots.
Southwest tower inside the second set of walls
A couple friendly monks hanging out watching the tourists
Inside Angkor Wat
Detailed apsara divinity carving. Rest of the set here.
Day 2: Srah Srang, Banteay Kdei, Ta Prohm, Ta Keo, Preah Khan, Bayon, Angkor Thom
Such an ambitious schedule meant getting up at 4:45 and hitting the road by 5:30 to catch the sunrise and beat the heat (and crowds).
5:50-6:00 Srah Srang
Srah Srang was the former royal bathing pool and supposedly a good spot to catch sunrise. But there was no sunrise that morning, and the second I stepped off the moto I was accosted by kids selling all kinds things I didn’t need. Being the only tourist there meant they could focus all their early-morning hawking energy on me.
You want bracelet six for one dolla?
No thanks. I don’t need six bracelets.
Sir! You buy my coffee!
No thanks, I’m just here for some pictures.
No sunrise today!
I can see that.
Where you from?
Uhh, United States. California.
California! Capital Sacramento!
Yes! But can you tell me the capital of Minnesota?
I don’t know Minnesota.
St. Paul. Don’t forget
You buy my coffee!
Hello sir you want buy t-shirt?
Why? Because I already have one.
If you already have one then you need two!
And so on. After running the gauntlet of kids I tried to set up the tripod and make something out of nothing, but I slipped on a slick lichen-encrusted rock and nearly tumbled in the water, much to the delight of the little salesmen. Time to leave.
6:00-6:25 Banteay Kdei
Banteay Kdei was the nearest temple and the closest sanctuary from the kids. It was entirely deserted and not especially interesting. The best was this huge face guarding the main gate:
6:30-9:00 Ta Prohm
This was far and away the coolest temple at Angkor. And I had the place to myself (besides one friendly old guard who showed me the best angles).
The famous silk cotton tree choking the ruins
Looted apsara carving
More of this outrageously photogenic temple here.
9:05-9:20 Ta Keo
By 8:45 the first tour groups showed up at Ta Prohm, so it was time to move on. Next up was Preah Khan temple, but Ta Keo looked interesting as we drove by so I stopped for a quick look.
9:30-11:30 Preah Khan
Like Ta Prohm, this was another winner. Lots of places to explore, dark passages and collapsing walls. Could’ve spent more time here but it was getting hot and my granola bar breakfast just wasn’t cutting it.
Ruins of Preah Khan near the entrance
One of those fascinating trees again
Divinity carving somewhere inside the temple compound
More Preah Khan here.
After lunch and a much-needed siesta I was ready for more. The Bayon temple is famous for its massive face carvings, 216 in all. From what I’d read one of the better times to visit the Bayon temple was in the later afternoon when the light was decent and the crowds not as thick. Despite looking like a haphazard pile of rocks from afar, once you get inside it’s really one of the more impressive temples at Angkor.
Entrance to Bayon as seen from the library
Intricate, well-restored dancing apsaras carved in sandstone
Impressive sandstone carvings adorning the library
Traditional Khmer dancer doing her thing inside the temple complex
So many faces
Dark corridor beneath the temple
Bayon set here.
After Bayon I checked out some minor temples and ruins nearby, but I’d seen enough for the day. Day 3 recap tomorrow.