After having breakfast will be starting to visit the intricately carved Khmer stone structures at Angkor Wat Temple, one of the world’s most impressive ruins. If the time permit, we will visit Bayon temple. After lunch time, you are free time at your leisure until your transfer to Siem Reap International Airport for departure flight.
We went out for a final evening meal and as it was going to be the last one of the tour, fancied some something nice and satisfying so asked at hotel reception for a good steak restaurant. Their suggestion was only a few minutes walk away and it was superb. We all agreed it was one of the best steaks we had eaten and I can’t recall one better. The medium rare was cooked exactly how I like it and each mouthful melted. A “dark” local beer and glass of red wine completed the meal very nicely indeed.
Then we went back into the buzzing night life of the town and walked over a bridge to another market. It was the same old stuff in a different place. But we had a look and browsed around. The festival was still going on and so it was still very busy in the streets. The area around Pub Street was throbbing. People, music, stall holders trying to get you to look and buy, tuk tuk drivers wanting to take you somewhere, scooters, more people, street food stalls, even more people, noise, smells, heat and humidity! It was a crazy, exhausting place and were tired out so went back to sleep.
As I had written up the days blog before we went out, it was nice to feel “free” for the evening without having to do it later on. Instead I packed, not that I had really unpacked for the whole time, and got organised for the last day and checking out before leaving early. As we’ve done a few of these trips now I have a system. I keep my cycling stuff separate from other and dirty clothes and this seems to work well. Mind you it is difficult to crease up lycra!
This morning we went to the Angkor Wat Complex of 200 Hindu temples. It was an early start, leaving the hotel at 7 after breakfast at 6.15.
The day’s plan worked like clockwork for once. After a 30 minute bus ride and a little snooze we started walking round in the comparative cool and were thankfully ahead of the crowds.
I’m preparing today’s blog on the flight home and they’ve just announced the flight length, 13 hours 10 minutes, wow that’s a long time! I knew it already, but it is a very long time and the longest flight I’ve ever been on. The time is 1am Saigon time and I hope to get quite a bit of sleep on the journey.
Anyway back to this morning, which is now yesterday.
There is so much written about the complex at Angkor Wat and I shall not go into lots of detail here. Google will enlighten you if you want to know more. But , in a nutshell, it is the magnificent remains of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to 15th century when various kings constructed temples, using massive amounts of their subjects labour to build them. Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom (visited yesterday) were the biggest.
It is a UNESCO world heritage site, one of the most important in south east Asia, covering some 400 km2, including forests areas.
Angkor Wat is very impressive indeed, a huge 3 level main building with 4 other turrets.
- Intricate carvings in most of the buildings of picture scenes
- palatial proportions
- large Buddha heads
- religious symbolism and meanings
- stonework unfortunately mostly looks dirty and black, which it would do after all that time.
We queued up for 15 minutes or so to climb the very steep stairs up to the 3rd level.
Only after I questioned our guide about the complex did we discover:-
Only the high priest and king could go up to the 3rd level,
Monks and priests could use the 2nd and normal people only the 1st and went where the high priest directed.
The temples were only used for praying, not living.
Everyone lived in wooden houses and the king lived in a wooden palace – all outside the temple complex. I found it quite amazing that all the effort and money went into building a brick temple but there were no brick built residences anywhere.
There are now only a few hours left of the flight and I’m determined to finish this before we land. I’ve slept a bit, watched a few films, listened to some music, eaten some meals and generally got a bit bored but the time has passed, even though I’ve not been as comfortable on this journey as I recall on the way out.
We walked through the temple and the Angkor Wat grounds including a beautiful still reflective lake which mirrored the temple trees and sky. It was now almost to 9am and the temperature was getting a lot hotter. Thankfully there was a shady tree-lined walkway to keep us cooler as we walked through the grounds back to the van.
There were also loads of kids trying to sell postcards for $1 and they were annoyingly persistent. “Only one dollar – only one dollar” said in a slightly pitiful voice. It was the same as at yesterday’s temple and although they were quite annoying we did feel some pity for them and purchased. But there are only so many cards one can purchase or times to politely tell them to go away. After a while I was just ignoring them but feeling slightly guilty about it. Near the exit they were selling hand drums and other musical instruments for a dollar. Everything for a dollar!
As we were dripping with perspiration it was good to get back to the air conditioned van and top up with water. At our next stop I purchased a hat (about time too really) as the heat was getting intense to walk around in (this was $5)! Obviously on a bike we have the breeze to cool us down although the sun is still as intense and we just don’t feel it quite so much until we stop. But even walking around sipping water as we go, it’s easy to appreciate just how much we needed to drink when we were cycling – and it was still early in the day. I reckon that when cycling I was drinking on average 750ml an hour and as much again when we stopped for a breather each hour or so, plus lunch. Almost all of it would disappear as sweat, if you get my gist!
We next visited the Bayan temple with 52 distinct rooves/spires. Each having 4 huge carved faces on. It seemed larger as a temple than Angkor Wat in volume, but the overall footprint was less due to smaller grounds and no cloisters. The symbolism was that there are 4 faces of compassion in Hinduism and at the time 52 provinces in the kingdom. So it was a sign to everyone that they were all acknowledged and should be peaceful to each other. I thought this was very impressive architecture, more so, in fact, than Angkor Wat.
Siem, with all his faults was good at photography and he played around getting shots of me facing a stone face. He also introduced some of the group to panorama photos on their iPhones (come on guys, really…!)
We were glad there was only one more to visit (even me) as it was getting too hot and to an extent the architecture is somewhat similar, although each temple has its individuality. However, I feel that as the stones are going black, for me it also takes some of the grandeur and awe away. Perhaps with a different guide and someone who could add a bit of energy to the area, it would have been different. We had such little background information and no historical stories. Almost all the information and detail we got was because I was asking questions as we went along. Shame.
None of the temples were looted in order to build the next one which can happen over so many years even to religious sites. Buddhas were desecrated and stolen during the recent wars. From about 1200 when Buddhism was introduced the main population moved away from the area. Local people who were non- Hindu’s and according to Siem, followed a type of tree worshipping religion, built their houses in the temple grounds and inhabited the buildings. It was only since 1800’s when French explorers came to see what was in the area were the temples re-discovered.
The last 15 minute drive took us to Ta Prohm, the temples famous for trees growing on and in the buildings as featured in a tomb raider film (…aahh the curvaceous Angelina Jolie in that body suit…. snap out of it Neil, 30 minutes to landing and this has to be finished).
It was as described and quite exceptional. The trees growing in and through the brickwork, some majestic many hundred years old teak trees nearby too, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Siem tried to take us on a short cut through the temple but we got called back by a guard and had to walk the long way round. At least he tried.
Back at the van at 11.30 we all agreed on an early lunch. It was a nice restaurant and we spent some time explaining that we didn’t want the same food as we had eaten more or less for the last 3 days – very samey! Then when the food came out it wasn’t as we had ordered! Noodles for all instead of soup for some and noodles for others! Never mind, we tried. The lunch was pretty nice and we were actually served different dishes to usual.
Back at the hotel about 1pm we had a few hours before checking out (at 6pm). I went for a last walk round the markets to buy some ” weasel poo” coffee, (google that also if you want to know more!) along with some of the others. (It was really hot by then – between 32 and 36 degrees to give you some idea).
Getting back at 2.45 I decided to make the most of the last few hours and organised myself so that I had time to go up to the roof pool terrace for some shade bathing and relaxing. No-one else wanted to as they thought it was too hot. Actually, as the waiter on the roof terrace told me that it cools off at about 4 and it did and I managed to have a nice snooze in the late afternoon sun. I watched the world go by in the streets below and (… they are now collecting headsets on the plane – I need to hurry!) saw a lovely sunset at around 5.30pm then showered and met the guys just before our 6 o clock transfer to the airport.
So that’s it – done. I intend to write a follow up blog with some reflections and filling in some gaps, hopefully in the next few weeks but life and work inevitably will get in the way – but it will happen. I will also have read of the blogs written by Richard P and Alan, which are normally more factually correct and certainly more funny than mine, this way I might be reminded of some things I haven’t had time to include.
We are now flying over the Isle of Wight and Southampton so I’ve just about made it.
It’s been a wonderful trip meeting my hopes and expectation despite the hiccups. I put those down to being a reflection of such developing countries, especially Cambodia-they do their best with stunning scenery and lovely people working so very hard to get by and improve their lives.
Oh yes, before I go I have to mention my admiration for my nieces and nephews who have been recently travelling the countries I have visited and many others. I mentioned Stephanie and Jason, but not you guys. You all have my deep respect and admiration for getting out and seeing such places and travelling with friends or on your own. It’s not easy for you working it all out (even though you say it isn’t difficult!), but I know you have all had wonderful experiences. Keep on doing it for as long as possible, you don’t need me to tell you that we live in a tiny part of a wonderful and diverse world. I hope you all get to see as much of it as possible and enrich yourselves with as much travelling as you can, whilst you can.
The bubble of these tours – getting away for 10 days or so from the crazy pace of normal life and the pressures it brings is over – until the next time. And there will be one, but we don’t know where yet. Touring like this on the bikes as we do is an amazing way to get away from normality. These trips are like no other time away – as we are so busy with long, physical days. Without constant e-mails coming in there is more opportunity for that extra bit of free headspace and freedom from the daily grind. This, I find invaluable even though home and work are never far from my mind. However saying all that the first question at every venue before a drinks order is “what’s the wi-fi code”? with little time to deal with them anyway!!!
With eternal thanks to everyone, you all know who you are.
……….as for 2017, our main annual tour has yet to be decided, but I shall be challenging myself with 3 x 100 mile+ rides:
- Le Grand Depart – the first stage of the Tour de France (a week before the professionals). From Dusseldorf in Germany to Liege in Belgium – 118 miles.
- Dunwich Dynamo. A 125 mile night ride from Hackney in the east end of London to Dunwich on the Suffolk coast.
- The Prudential London 100 mile ride, including much of the route used for the road race in the 2012 London Olympics.
This time I am doing these challenges to raise funds for Prostate Cancer UK and please donate via my Virgin Money Giving page.