Thursday, November 6, 2014

Siem Reap, Cambodia (Day 2)

Awaking from the startling 4:30 a.m. alarm the morning of October 10th, Bob and I prepared for our sunrise bicycle tour of Angkor.  Angkor is a region in Cambodia that served as the capital of the Khmer Empire from the 9th-15th centuries.  Within this region can be found the remains of more than 100 temples.  The city of Angkor was the largest pre-industrial city in the whole world. A friend had recommended Grasshopper Adventures (click here) as a great way to see the small circuit of temples in the Angkor region.  And after doing it, we agree!  Bicycling was a great way to experience a more intimate view of the temples, and the early morning start helped minimize the crowds.  We were picked up at the hotel by our guide, and met one other couple who would be on this tour with us.  The bicycles were in great condition and the 30 kilometer (18 mile) route which took us through small villages, upon the top of city walls, and along dirt trails through jungles was an amazing experience.  My only complaint was having to wear a helmet on my constantly hot and sweaty head.  The small circuit of temples we visited included Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Ta Prohm, and our tour included breakfast and lunch.  We were returned to our hotel around 3:30 that afternoon.

With our guide leading the way, we hopped on our bikes and rode approximately three miles to the Angkor Wat complex where we were provided with croissants and drinks as we watched the sunrise over the temple from across the moat.  Angkor Wat is a 12th century Buddhist temple and is the largest religious monument in the world.  The outer gate encompasses 203 acres, although much of it is now covered in jungles. The bullet holes which can be seen in the columns to an entrance to the temple are a sad reminder of Cambodia's tumultuous history.

After visiting Angkor Wat, we rode our bikes to a park and relaxed under the shade of a pavilion where we were served a homemade breakfast consisting of eggs or omelettes, breads, fruits, and juices.  Our bicycle tour then continued on to Prasat Bayon, located in the last capital city of the Khmer Empire - Angkor Thom.  Bayon was the state temple constructed about 100 years after Angkor Wat.  Over the years, it served as both a Buddhist and a Hindu Temple as is evidenced by the some of the carvings which have been etched over the top to change the figures Buddhist monks to long-bearded Hindu monks - each seated differently.  Bayon's distinct style features more than 2000 faces carved upon 54 towers.  We were greeted on our approach to Angkor Thom by rows of faces lining the bridge crossing the moat surrounding the city.  Passing through one of the city gates with it's four-sided head tower, we pedaled our way along the top of the city wall admiring small temples and additional city gates along the way.  Then, cutting through the jungle and "mountain" biking our way toward Bayon, the excitement continued.  The jungle trails provided just enough challenging terrain to keep my adrenaline high without defeating my biking confidence.  We really enjoyed this tour!


Lunch was served to us at a traditional Cambodian restaurant where we enjoyed some favorite dishes such as fish amok, lok lak, stir-fried veggies, curry and rice.  The delicious food was similar to Thai cuisine.  Another temple within Angkor Thom is Ta Prohm - commonly referred to as the "Tomb Raider Temple" made famous by the 2001 movie featuring Angelina Jolie.  This site is known for the extensive tree growth which sites atop the ruins with enormous roots that spill over walls and enclosures throughout the complex.  It really does make for some impressive photos.  Can you find the face of a dancing girl peeking out from the ruins in the last photo?

It is no wonder we love to see ruins!  Upon returning to our hotel, Bob headed down to the pool for a nap in the sun and I headed to the spa to enjoy a full-body muscle stretching massage.  Dinner and shopping at the night market ended another perfect day in Cambodia.


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