The biggest decision when visiting Siem Reap, Cambodia is choosing how you will visit the temples. There are many options for all types of travelers – plenty of tour choices, bike rentals and tuk tuk drivers can be hired for less than $20 for a full day. I, of course, wanted to do something different (crazy?!) and chose a bike tour offered by Viator. I knew there was no way I’d get my butt out of bed before sunrise unless someone was waiting for me, so I chose the Angkor Sunrise Discovery Bike Tour.
The website shows spandex-clad bikers breezing by temples. Choosing what to wear this day was perplexing – shoulders and knees must be covered when visiting the temples, but you would be biking through 100+ degree temperatures. Ultimately, I went with linen capris and a wicking t-shirt with Chaco sandals. You could wear nothing and still be ridiculously hot, so you can’t win on this one. The modesty is required due to the fact that these are still active temples, and we saw several areas where monks and others had come to worship. Tucked away in several corners were Buddha statues, freshly decorated with offerings.
Around 5am, I was met in my hotel lobby by Lot, our guide for the day. I joined the rest of the group in the van, and we headed off to get our Angkor Wat passes. The crowds at the ticket booth were large, but they were quite efficient. You get your photo taken, hand over cash and in a few minutes are given your Angkor Pass. We then drove on to an area where we would watch the sun rise. Most people have seen the classic “sunrise at Angkor” shot, but don’t realize there are hundreds, if not thousands of people gathered at this reflecting pool. Instead, we went to a less crowded place which also offered a view of the temples with the sun rising behind, albeit a bit further away then I was expecting. It wasn’t quiet or off the beaten path, by any means, but a bit less crowded.
We spent about an hour watching the sun rise behind the temples and then moved on to begin our tour of Angkor Wat.
We did eventually make a stop at the famous reflecting pool once the crowds had dissipated.
The Angkor complex is quite large, and the details that remain after 9 centuries is quite impressive!
After leaving Angkor Wat, we arrived at a hut in the woods, where a full breakfast awaited us. Then it was time to begin our bike tour.
For whatever reason, I thought this was a “van supported” tour – it was, in the sense that the van carried our belongings and met us at various points, but it was not the kind where you can jump in the van at any time if you are tired of riding! (Or if you feel like throwing up from the heat…hypothetically speaking!) We rode on sandy paths through the woods, occasionally passing small communities where the children would run out and yell “Hello!” – they were so cute, and I wanted to slow down and visit, but we didn’t.
After a bit of riding, we entered the Angkor Thom complex.
Within Angkor Thom is Prasat Bayon, the “faces” temple, where again, the detail remaining in the sandstone is quite impressive!
After a break for cold washcloths and fruit, we hopped on the bikes again, and immediately ran into this family of monkeys hanging out and robbing tourists of their water bottles.
Our last temple stop for the day was Ta Prohm, famously known as the filming site for Tomb Raider (which I haven’t seen) Ta Prohm is covered in trees, which appear to be oozing down over the temples rather than growing up from the ground.
By now, it was well over 100 degrees, and I hoped our van would be waiting outside, but there was a bit more riding to a nearby restaurant where lunch (and our van) was waiting. After lunch, we were returned to our hotels, where I showered and went to bed at 3pm. I woke up later for room service dinner, but didn’t even venture down to the pool that day!
The temples were gorgeous and there were so many more that I did not see – I would love the opportunity to return, for a longer visit, perhaps in a slightly cooler season and take my time to explore them all.
For all of my Cambodia pictures, click here!