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Visiting Angkor Wat by Bike Last Part

On the last day of my Angkor Pass and my bike rental I decided to follow the big circuit ("Le grand circuit") and visit some of the temples that I haven't had the chance to see in the previous days. Based on the experience from the day before I decided to bring a lot of water and to take it easy, biking slowly and stopping as many times as possible to make short breaks.

It turned out to be a good idea, because I had the opportunity to see small temples that I missed, even in the places I had visited already and I had the chance to see also new amazing spots. In this short post I will share with you a set of "no comments" random pictures from that last day biking in the Angkor Wat Temple complex. Overall biking here was a really cool experience and an amazing way to visit this place.

This was the end of the Cambodian part of my break. The next step was to catch a flight to Bangkok to visit again Thailand.

Visiting Angkor Wat by Bike – Part II

On my second day in Siem Reap I woke up early, got a nice croissant, orange juice, bread and coffee for breakfast and I prepared to start my second visit to the Angkor Wat temple complex by bike. I studied the free map I got in the hotel and Google Maps to pick up a route to follow. I selected the small circuit, planning to visit the main Angkor Wat temple, spend a good time in Angkor Thom, explore the famous Ta Phrohm with its bayan trees and Banteay Kdei.

Arriving to Angkor Wat

Based on the exploration from my previous day I knew the best road to get directly to the temple was to go through the Charles de Gaulle road. I left the hotel took the again the Son Sak road, but this time around when I arrived to Sivatha road I headed to the central market getting to the Pokambor avenue, next to the Siem Reap river, leading directly to Charles de Gaulle.

The road was quite busy with cars, tuk tuks and minivans but there was enough room for the ours bikers heading in the same direction. When we arrived to the main entrance point there was a huge bottleneck of people trying to buy the pass, so I was glad I had bought mine the day before, so I was able to beat the queue and continue my trip. The advice of getting the pass the day before was a time saver.

I stopped briefly in the main Angkor Wat temple to take a couple of pictures but I decided to come back later and spend some good time exploring again this temple. I should mention it was around 10am and it was already extremely crowded. Nevertheless with a little bit of patience I was able to find a nice spot to get a nice view of this marvelous place:

Next stop: Angkor Thom

I left the crowds back in Angkor Wat and I continued my bike trip heading north in order to see my next stop: Angkor Thom. I was curious to see this place, because I read it was here that the last capital of the Khmer empire was located and at the center it contained the Bayon, a city state temple, featuring multiple stone faces on the towers composing the structure.

After biking for a couple of kilometers I arrived to the south gate and I started to see the stone faces since they are present in the gates as well. I stopped and I took a picture of this massive face crowning the south entrance:

I discovered later on that one of the features of Angkor Thom is those gates located in the 4 cardinal points. I was able to visit the east gate (picking a fortunate wrong turn) and the north gate when I was leaving the complex. The construction and features are very similar,

Once I flanked the gate I continued biking north and shortly I arrived to Bayon. From the distance the structure didn't look as majestic as the Angkor Wat temple, but still it was quite impressive:

I parked my bike, showed my pass to the employee and the entrance and I started to visit Bayon temple looking around and staring at the different stone face towers. There are more than plenty faces to see.

It was striking that almost all the faces looked like each other and later on that night I learned this fact was not a coincidence: many experts believe those faces are representations of the king Jayavarman VII, who established the city in the 12th century. Looking at the images of the available sculptures depicting this king, there is definitively a resemblance.

At this stage I had to find a shadowy spot and rest for half an hour, while drinking and pouring water on my head because it was extremely hot.

Once I cooled down and I regained my strength I jumped back in the bike and started to going north but before leaving the Angkor Thom area I visited a couple of structures more: Phimeanakas, a hindu temple, the terrace of the leper king and the elephants terrace.

Once I finished these visits I continued pedaling and once I flanked the North Gate a car pulled over next to my bike. The person in the backseat lower his window and I saw a smiley guy who asked me in english "Excuse me sir, but may I borrow your bike for a couple of minutes?". I guess the expression of my face asked right away a suspicious "Why?", because he continued: "You see we just got married and we are taking pictures and a picture on a bike would be nice.". I agree and the picture looked more or less like this:

After I got my bike back and left the happy couple behind, I continued my itinerary to Ta Prohm.

Ta Prohm

The Angkor Wat temple is majestic and the Bayon temple is quite particular with its multiple stone faces towers, but Ta Prohm was my favorite one because of the impressive scene of beautiful ancient ruins been devoured by massive Bayan trees:

When I visited Tainan in Taiwan, I went to an old house taken over by this type of vegetation, but after visiting Ta Prohm, that tree house looks like a doll house in comparison.

The history of the current state of this temple is interesting. The Khmer Empire waned in the 17th century and Ta Prohm was abandoned and forgotten for many centuries. When the French started to restore it, they decided to leave the bayan jungle that had taken over the ruins.

They invested resources in stabilizing the structure and keeping it safe, while maintaining the picturesque scenario and it looks amazing:

After visiting this temple I stopped briefly at Banteay Kdei and I bought a bottle of water from Sreykun, a Cambodian girl, with a small stall near the temple. After I finished this last stop, I started to cycle back to Siem Reap.

Visiting Angkor Wat by Bike - Part I

The morning after I arrived to Siem Reap, I was eating a nice breakfast in the hotel and suddenly the owner approached to talk to me: "Last night we didn't have time to talk about the city and the temples. If you are interested I can give you a short introduction". Of course I was interested and after our useful chat and a brief reading on the Angkor Wat wikitravel page, this is what I learnt:

  • Siem reap as a city is relatively compact and there were four roads one should be aware: Sivatha road one of the "main streets" of the town, Pokambor avenue, next to the Siem River, where there is a nice walk, Charles de Gaulle avenue that leads all the way to the anchor temple and street 8 or "pub street" where the night life happens.
  • The Angkor Wat temple complex is big. The main entrance is located half way through in the Charles de Gaulle avenue. The main temple is about 8 km away from the city.
  • In order to visit the complex is necessary to purchase an "Angkor Pass". The APSARA authority sells the pass for either one day (20 USD), 3 days (40 USD) or 7 days (60 USD) (Please note those were the prices on November 2014).

    A useful trick is to buy the ticket after 5pm, since then is valid from that moment (you get an extra afternoon "for free")

  • The most known temple is Angkor Wat but there are multiple temples and monuments in the Siem Reap area. The pass covers the entrance to all those places and its validity is checked at the entrance of almost every temple.
  • There are two main circuits to visit the temple complex. Those circuits were outlined during the french colonial times and they are still in use. The owner told me the small circuit normally costs around 15 USD by Tuk Tuk and the big circuit should cost around 30 USD.

    The following map summarizes the circuits (blue: small circuit. red: big circuit). You can see the scale of the temple complex compared to the size of the city and the airport.

  • There is also the possibility of renting a city bike for 1 USD per day or a mountain bike for 3 USD per day. The advantage of this option is that you can explore the complex at your own pace and stop whenever you want.

I thanked the owner for all this information, I finished my breakfast and I left the hotel in order to walk around the city. I wanted to understand its layout and to get a bike to start exploring the Angkor Wat complex. As soon as I hit the street I was bombarded with offers for massages, tuk tuks, motorbikes, trips, offers, etc, but in most of the cases a smile "no, thank you" was good enough.

As I was mentioning before Siem Reap is relatively compact so I was able to stroll through the main roads fairly quickly and I got a good idea about how get to the main places. One of the nicest places a visited during this morning promenade was the Pokambor avenue, next to the Siem Reap river, starting in the old market and finishing in the Royal Gardens.

This area of Siem Reap is more quiet and it has less traffic that the main Sivatha road. There was an open air exposition with very nice photographs of Cambodia, Laos, China and the Mekong River. When I finished the walk I started to head back and I found a small store in Son Sak road, relatively close to the hotel.

They had bikes to rent and I really liked they didn't ask for a deposit or the passport. Just giving the address of the hotel was good enough for them. I got a bike for next 4 days.

It was quite hot at that moment so I went back to the hotel took a shower and once the sun was more bearable I started to bike to the Angkor Wat complex to get the pass I was going to use in the following days.

I started my trip at the hotel Son Sak road, when I arrived to Sivatha road I turned left and I went north all the way. I passed next to different buildings and after 3 or 4 kilometers, the constructions were gone and there were only trees and small stands selling petrol and food.

I was expecting to find a booth to buy the temple pass but I stumbled with the first "official check point". I asked the lady: "Where I can buy the Angkor Pass?" and she told me "Oh no you forgot to turn right some 5 kilometers away, where the main entrance is". I thanked her but as soon as I was about to leave she asked me if I had plans for tomorrow because she knew a good driver and … no thanks no thanks.

I started to cycle back and a couple of kilometers after, I found a small road heading to the Charles De Gaulle road where the main entrance is located. I arrived there paid the fare and headed back my newly printed pass. It was getting late so I only paid a quick visit to the main Angkor Wat temple, but this short visit was a good apetizer to get an idea what I was going to see in the following days.

When I arrived to Angkor Wat this is the image I got for my first impression:

I knew at that point that the visit to Siem Reap was definitively worth it and I was looking forward to the following days.

Getting into Siem Reap

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Siem Reap and its amazing Angkor Wat complex in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I have plenty of good memories and pictures of every corner of this massive place, but before I start to talk about what was the actual visit to the monument I want to write about the process of getting in.

In my last post I described the interesting visit to Macau, the small chinese Special Administrative Region with a very rich Portuguese history. The next step on my itinerary was Siem Reap and I found a good flight connecting in the Don Muang airport.

Before I traveled to Cambodia I read it was possible to get the visa on arrival and the process appeared to be relatively straightforward: Fill out an application form, including a recent photograph and handover the form and the passport plus 30 USD to get the Visa stamped on it.

Just before we arrived to the country, the flight attendants distributed the visa on arrival form and a customs blue paper. I filled them out both and I thought I was ready to go. Nevertheless once we landed in Siam Reap the fun really started. Let me describe it step by step so I make sure I don't forget anything:

  1. Landing and getting to the terminal: Once they opened the doors of the plane, we descended and walked toward the door entrance.
  2. Fill quarantine form and get yellow paper: Before we were allowed to get in the building a guard stop the passengers in front of us and ask them to fill out a new "quarantine" form stating they haven't been in an African country and they were not experience any Ebola related symptoms. Ironically, the mosquitoes were having a feast while everyone was filing those forms outside.Quite a few clueless passengers were angrily stopped when they tried to flank the door without having this form completed and a yellow paper on their hands.
  3. Go to visa on arrival area:Once we finally moved to the main lobby some people try to go to the main immigration queue and were turned back. I saw some other people queuing somewhere else and paying money so I assume that was the visa on arrival desk.
  4. Get visa on arrival:I handed over there the completed form, a picture, my passport and 30 USD. I moved to another area where some tourists were waiting for their name to be called.
  5. Realise there is still another form and look for the guy distributing them: Around 15 minutes later I got the passport back with the visa issued on an empty pages of my passport and I started to queue in one of the immigration desks, but I noticed the people in front of me had an additional "Arrival / Departure Card" on their papers. I asked them "Where did you get that one?". They told me there was a short man walking around giving them away if you asked him nicely. so I started to scan around and spotted the guy on the other corner of the room.
  6. Beg for an arrival / departure form: I dashed to that area where the short officer was yelling at some tourists "Don speak ingliss! Don speek ingliss! Don speek ingliss!". I asked him nicely twice and finally he handed me over a card.
  7. Fill out arrival / departure card and mind your stuffI ran to another table to fill out this missing form and somewhere in the process I lost my passport cover (fortunately it wasn't the actual passport). I started to queue again in the immigration lines.
  8. Hand over your passport again: I handed over my passport on the immigration area, got a picture taken and got the passport stamped. I proceed to the customs area.
  9. Cross the customs area: I was expecting here another hassle, but actually there was no one checking. There was just a old wooden box where everybody was putting the customs form and moving on.

I'm wondering if this is the "normal" process to get into Siem Reap or if it were unlucky because ours was the last flight of the day. In any case it would nice to provide the arrival / departure cards on the plane before landing and to give general instructions about what are the steps to get into the country.

This was definitively the most chaotic arrivals area I have ever experienced, particularly because no one knew what to do :).

Once I left the arrivals area there was a transport from the hotel waiting for me. I boarded the TukTuk and 20 minutes later I was in Sok San Road, checking into the hotel. The owners kindly provided a map of the area so I started to get familiar with the layout of the city and the temple complex.

I finished the day getting a refreshing Anchor beer.