Left the hotel at 7 am to avoid the worst of the crowds. The world heritage site is so popular there is never a quiet time to go. We have to register at the entrance and have our photo taken. An ID Ticket is produced so it cannot be used by anyone else. Never come across this before. We get a lucky break and beat a coach load of Japanese tourists to the ticket office which was very fortunate as there are twice as many of them. Once we all have our tickets we enter the site. It is vast.
The coach drives us to the first stop at Angkor Wat as it would take us half an hour to walk there. Angkor Wat means the city which is a temple and was built in the 12th century. This spectacular building was originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. The 5 towered temple is shaped like a lotus bud. It is 699 feet high. Wow! The first sight of the temple is impressive, despite the many images we have seen in brochures and guide books, nothing prepares you for the majesty of the intricately carved sandstone towers. We skirt around the perimeter of the first level which includes a long gallery decorated with demons on one side and gods on the other, many of them in amazing condition.
On entering the main complex area we then have to decide whether to ascend further as although there are steps, it is very very steep. I think someone counted 104! We had to queue for 20 minutes but it was worth it. We saw the 4 Buddhas and the carved bas reliefs up close ..... The decent was more hazardous than the climb and some of us chose to do so backwards to avoid looking down. We are glad we were early as the queue is now twice as long 😀
Our next stop is the ancient city of Angkor Thom which is surrounded by a beautiful moat. The complex also dates from the 12th century. The central towers are carved on 4 sides with mysterious faces which gaze down from their lofty heights. The carvings inside are more representative of everyday life such as cock fighting! I almost break my ankle here and have to be rescued by two of the men from the group... I got it stuck in a crevice!
Outside the main building we leave passing the terrace of the leper king and terrace of the elephants, both with more beautiful sandstone carvings. Our last stop of the morning is the temple of Bayon. We do a lot of climbing up and down in an attempt to see as much as possible. The crowds are growing and not everyone is patient and polite. Our photos are frequently photo-bombed by those more impatient than us. It is almost impossible to get a shot without someone in it! Part of the temple is undergoing restoration by a joint Cambodian and Japanese venture.
Off to the famous Jungle Temple next which you may have seen in the Lara Croft film 'Tomb Raider'. Real name is Ta Prohm. Our guide has been fantastic, at each temple he has taken a different entrance to every one else avoiding the crowds and seemingly gliding us through the throng of visitors. This visit is no different as we enter via the jungle trails past termite nests and calling birds high in the trees, and huge spiders... We then come out into the ruins of the temple with the amazing tree roots clinging to the walls, it's all quite spooky in a way.
After nearly 6 hours of soaking up culture in the baking sun we are ready for a rest. Lunch is taken at a local village cooperative restaurant which provides employment for many locals. The food is good and reasonably priced. The cold beer is particularly welcome!
On the way to our final temple there is an almighty bang. Our driver leaps out to discover the rear suspension has gone. As we are only 10 minutes away from our destination we limp on slowly. A replacement bus is hastily requested for the return journey. The temple of Banteay Srei, also known as the ladies temple is much smaller than the previous ones. It dates from the 10th century and is well preserved. Surrounded by a moat it's quite stunning! A slow walk back to our poor old coach we decide to limp home and after 20 minutes are relieved to see the replacement bus ahead.
Back at hotel many of us just crash out for afternoon as we have a theatre and meal arranged (talk about always being on the go!!) But I'll leave that for the next blog....