04/03/2013 - 06/03/2013 33 °C
I arrived in the city of Siem Reap at 6am after taking a sleeper bus from Sihanoukville. I couldn't waste a whole day travelling as I was planning to overstay my visa, which incurs a fine of $5 a day and a possibly difficult border crossing (perhaps the most stressful part of travelling SE Asia). After a bit of down time on a real bed I was eagerly anticipating my absolute 'I have to see this during my trip' destination - the temple complex of Angkor including the world famous Angkor Wat.
The biggest challenge facing you while planning a visit to the temples is how to negotiate the huge size of the complex. At roughly 1,200 square miles it is comparable to modern day Los Angeles but thankfully the main sites of interest lie within a more manageable area. All the better for trying to understand what a great city this might have once been - another challenge comparable to Los Angeles.
I chose to have a tuktuk driver over a bicycle so that I could see as many temples per day as possible as well as not die from heat exhaustion. The purchase of a guidebook made a cheap alternative to a personal guide and as a solo traveller I could read about and wander the temples at my own pace.
The first day was spent seeing many of the smaller temples and I was hoping to finish it with a picturesque sunset but clouds got in the way and the temples closed at 5:30pm, before the sun got really low.
My second day began at Angkor Wat at 5:30am as I joined the crowds to see sun rise above the historic temple. Once again weather spoiled my plans as a thick layer of cloud obscured the sun from view. It turned out not to be a complete waste of effort due to the majority of sunrise watchers subsequently heading back to their hotels leaving Angkor Wat as empty as your ever likely to find it. It's almost hard to appreciate the scale of such a building when skyscapers are such a common occurance but nothing of the grandeur is lost when spending the time to observe the detailed carvings that cover nearly every square inch of wall.
Ta Prohm (or the 'jungle temple') was a highlight of my second day and it's obvious to see why it's a tourist favourite. With relatively less restoration work there are still trees perched on many walls, huge roots cutting through the stonework. In other places the stones lie across the ground, long since abandoning their duty as gallery, gopura or balustrade.
It was brilliant exploring the temples on my own, free to linger at anything that caught my interest and enjoying the temples in a period of pure observance and self-reflection. In my view, how they should be experienced.