Sunday, September 13, 2015

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Part 3: Saving The Best For Last

Last day in Siem Reap (and the last day of my solo SE Asia adventure) - and we had saved the best for last.  Which was Angkor Wat (and Angkor Thom, but no one else seems to know what that one is)!  Angkor Wat is likely the most famous temple complex of all the Angkor temples because it is huge, and it is the best-maintained given it's been in continuous use since it was built (aka it's still an active temple today).  

Such pretty sunrise colors

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Woke up at 4AM to go see the sunrise over Angkor Wat - our tuk-tuk driver shuttled us out there in the pitch black morning.  There were so many tourists because it's a really popular thing to do (though it's still super low season so I imagine there are usually more), and it's funny how enterprising locals have risen to the occasion, as there are coffee and breakfast stands galore.  I was a little nervous about missing the sunrise: since it's rainy season, you never know if there will even be a sunrise.  I'd heard multiple stories already of people who'd woken up and hauled themselves out there, just to not be able to see a sunrise at all due to all the cloud cover.
5:30AM; and it's looking promising
Here it comes! 
And here's the sunrise!  A little cloudy, but seriously one of the prettiest things ever 
Sunrise, check. Elephant shirts, check.
  • We then headed into Angkor Wat itself for some exploring.  Most tour groups head to breakfast after sunrise, so it's surprisingly pretty empty in the mornings right after the sunrise. My favorite.  Angkor Wat really is in incredible condition given its age - even after seeing 203981203918203 temples, I was pleasantly surprised.

And so well-preserved. It was so amazing getting a small glimpse into what all these other temples must have looked like back in the day

Trolling the perimeter of the grounds
This is the main middle tallest tower (there are four smaller ones on each corner of Angkor Wat), which used to be off-limits but now allows tourists in at select times and in limited quantities.
  • We had to wait an hour to be allowed into the main middle tallest tower (there is a better name for it, I swear - I just can't remember it) - and then they gave us a badge and let us climb on up.
Climbing the stairs into the main tower
  • The tower was huuuuge - it's crazy thinking about the number of these, and all the detail involved!  There was so, so much detail everywhere you looked.  People are kind of amazing. 

Look at all these carvings! The temple was originally Hindu, but later converted to Buddhist
Carvings that covered all the inner walls of the doorways. Can you see all the mini-Gods hidden in the flowers and swirls?
This is me, standing on the second floor of Angkor Wat (i.e. there's a whole other level below me), in front of the main tower. The size of this temple defies belief. 
And just in case that wasn't enough work, around the huge perimeter walls of the entire temple are carvings depicting historical events and battles. And these walls extend forever. Who has this kind of commitment.
  • Next, we found our tuk-tuk driver, and he shuttled us over to arguably the second most-famous Angkor temple, Angkor Thom. This was basically a Khmer capital city (the last one) that is enclosed inside walls - inside are a series of incredible buildings, temples, and ruins. 
But first we stopped by the side of the road and watched this monkey eat this coconut. There were monkeys everywhere 
  • The most incredible temple inside Angkor Thom is called Bayon - this temple is known for having giant faces all over (216 of them, to be exact!).  There is something kind of menacing yet peaceful in the faces - according to my LP, the look in these faces is supposed to be firm yet gentle enough to keep all the subjects in line. In addition, apparently the faces all kind of look like the face of the king who had the temple built in the first place.
Big temple face!
Towers and faces (and tourists! Guess they all finished eating breakfast) everywhere
Seriously, the number of faces. Crazy.
216 faces. This man was seriously into himself.
Also, many of the carvings were changed slightly over time as the temple was originally Hindu, then turned Buddhist, then turned back Hindu again

I like this temple. I like faces. But not kidding when I tell you it was completely overrun with tourists
And since apparently old-school Khmer people were gluttons for punishment, this temple also had scenes carved around the entire perimeter... 
.....which I tried to pano
  • We did try to tour some of the other temples in the Angkor Thom complex other than Bayon, but the heat was oppressive at this point.
This is another gigantor temple in Angkor Thom - but I can't remember any of the facts I read about it 
The only thing I do remember is that the entire Western Wall of this temple is constructed in the shape of a Buddha lying down. A lot of him is missing, but you can vaguely see his giant face lying down pointing left here 
  • And there are a couple walls with elephants and lepers and such carved on them that are famous and where the people used to have processionals and parades, but I was beyond caring about photos at this point.  Luckily, we had only saved the two most famous temples for this day, and we were done!  And all before noon. Mainly because we had been at it since 5AM, and also because I had a flight to catch at 2, but it's amazing how much you can get done when you get up freakishly early.
One last parting shot of Bayon
  • Back at the hostel, Connie and I said our good-byes - she was planning on staying in Siem Reap for another day, while I had a flight to Taiwan to catch to meet up with my family for my grandma's 90th birthday.  I hate saying good-bye to traveling buddies.
Not that you can totally see my hand and phone in the reflection or anything, but flying over the clouds! 
Getting on the plane, I was beyond excited to go see my family and get a chance to hang with them and visit Taiwan again.  Familiar things are so rare when you backpack, so getting to have them once in awhile is seriously the best.

And at the same time, it marked the end of my solo SE leg - which has truly been one of the most incredible, life-changing experiences ever.  I love Southeast Asia!  There's something about its inherent grittiness, and the fact that things are kind of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants and touches of complete lawlessness, that excite me and make me totally love it.  You don't feel as safe or coddled, and you feel like you are completely at the mercy of your surroundings. Not to mention the breathtaking scenery, wilderness, sweet people, and unparalleled experiences it offers.  It's so constantly developing that you feel like if you visit in another 5 years, or another 10 years, things will likely be completely different.  It's exciting. I don't know how else to put it.

SE Asia, I will absolutely be back because I adore you.

Until then, Taiwan family time!

Fun Facts of the Day:
  • I have a million mosquito bites. I seriously got like 100 on the last day - it's like SE Asia knew I was leaving it.
  • Angkor temple tickets are sold in 1-day, 3-day, and 7-day increments. 
  • You have to go. Really.


  1. Yasssss!!!! We ended up getting up at 4 am two days in a row because the first day it was monsoon-down pouring and never let up. But so worth it! The faces temple was my favorite of all of the . So neat!

    1. So neat yes?!?? Also sad news, fruit shakes have appreciated to $1!