The biggest decision when visiting Siem Reap, Cambodia is choosing how you will visit the temples of Angkor Wat. There are many options for all types of travelers, including bus tours, bike rentals and tuk tuk drivers, who can be hired for less than $20 a day. I, of course, wanted to do something a bit different 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. If you’re going to Angkor Wat, you have to see the sunrise!
The website shows spandex-clad cyclists breezing by the 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 really 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 come to worship. Tucked away in several corners were Buddha statues, freshly decorated with offerings.
At 5am, our guide Lot met me in the hotel lobby. 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 efficient. You get your photo taken, hand over cash and in a few minutes are given your Angkor Pass. (Note that Cambodia uses US Dollars, but they must be crisp! I had one bill rejected here because it was wrinkled) We then drove to an area where we watched the sun rise.
Most of you have seen the classic “sunrise at Angkor” shot, but may not realize there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people gathered at this reflecting pool. We went to a less crowded spot which also offered a sunrise view of the temples, albeit a bit further away than 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 eventually made a stop at the famous reflecting pool once the crowds had dissipated.
The Angkor complex is huge, 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.
I had the impression that 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 wish we’d had a chance to slow down and visit.
After a bit of riding, we entered the Angkor Thom complex.
Within Angkor Thom is Prasat Bayon, the “faces” temple, where again, the detail in the sandstone is really impressive!
After a break for cold washcloths and fruit, we hopped on the bikes again, and immediately saw 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 another short bike ride to a nearby restaurant where lunch (and our van) was waiting. After lunch, we were dropped back at the hotel, 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!