Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor

Vietnam was the first country where I had come very close to the limits of my visa - I was due to leave on day 29 of the allowed 30. Saigon hadn't really grabbed me, so it felt about time to head off anyway, and Cambodia was beckoning across the border. I jumped on a direct bus to Siem Reap early in the morning, and while heading out of the city the bus conductor called for everyone's passports in preparation for the border crossing - this was when I discovered that I'd left it at my hostel in Saigon! Leaping off the bus, bags in hand, I hailed a taxi and hurtled back into the city to correct this stupid oversight. Fortunately there was another bus leaving for Phnom Penh a scant few minutes after I'd retrieved my passport, and I really had to scurry to get on board before it left. Eventually, I was heading for Cambodia again. After that initial excitement, the journey into Phnom Penh was pretty relaxed - the border crossing went smoothly, a very quick ferry across the Mekong, and I soon arrived in Phnom Penh. The connecting bus arrived a few hours later to head up to Siem Reap, and headed up through the most intense electrical storm I've ever seen. Lightning flashes across the clouds every few seconds, torrential rain, buffeting winds - I really wished I'd been able to take some photos of the incredible sky. I spent several hours with my face pressed against the bus window looking for the next stunning light display to occur. Arriving in Siem Reap at 1am, exhausted, I quickly found my hostel and collapsed into a welcome sleep.
Lightning in Siem Reap

Lightning in Siem Reap

Bas Relief at Angkor

Bas Relief at Angkor

One of the temples

Temple in the Royal Enclosure

After arriving at the hostel very late the previous night, my intended early start turned out to be around 11am. I hailed the nearest tuktuk and was soon chugging out of Siem Reap towards the temples. I'd found out about some nice but distant temples, and headed northwards towards them. Words often seem inadequate to describe some places in the world, and the temples of Angkor definitely fit into that category. Awe inspiring, stunning, eye-popping, jaw-dropping... Those words fit, and yet don't fit. The various temples that I saw in my two days of touring around were all of the above, and yet there was always something a little off. Whether it was the sheer volume of tourists gathering for sunrise at Angkor Wat itself, the 'friendly' people who then demand cash, the wide-eyed kids selling tat at every location, or just the general feeling that a once glorious site was slowly descending towards a Cambodian version of Warwick Castle... But I didn't dwell on the downsides - if nothing else, I was one of those hundreds of tourists at Angkor Wat for sunrise. The site covers a wide area, with the furthest temple I visited being about 20km from Siem Reap, but the majority of the 'big ticket' temples are within an easy day tour distance from town. There are also a huge variety of styles, despite the obvious 'they're all temples', from half-finished pyramids to flatter structures partly consumed by the jungle.I could go on to list the different places that I visited, but to be totally honest this has been done better by other people who have a better memory for names and details. I'll just leave it with a few pictures 😉 After a long couple of days walking round the temples, I was looking forward to having a few drinks in the hostel bar, and possibly chatting to some of the other backpackers. The bar was on the top floor of the hostel, and was called a beach bar because it was floored with a deep layer of sand. Sadly, the majority of the people in the bar were loud racist English people, who had been clearly drinking for hours and were shouting abuse at the staff (who appeared to just accept it) and making jokes that the EDL would probably blush at. I left quickly and, feeling tremendously embarrassed to be from the same country as them, booked a flight out of Cambodia. I think I'd been in mainland Asia for too long, and needed to get away from the standard backpacker trail. I did leave myself a few days to explore a bit more of Cambodia, but this evening made me ready to leave for pastures new.
View from Banteay Kdei

View from Banteay Kdei

A stone face at Bayon

A stone face at Bayon

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Temple-eating tree at Ta Prohm

Temple-eating tree at Ta Prohm

My final day in Siem Reap was spent relaxing, writing blog entries, and generally getting ready to move on. I was definitely 'templed out', and despite having a few major temples still to visit, I couldn't face any more ancient buildings. My guidebook mentioned that Battambang was an interesting city to visit, and a boat could take you there - I booked a ticket, had a few quiet beers on Pub Street, and packed for an early morning departure.
More temple-eating trees

More temple-eating trees

Bas Relief at Baphuon

Bas Relief at Baphuon

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