There are many things you can step when you go for a walk in Siem Reap. There are countless small frogs, ranging from about 7 to 25 mm in size. There are the small flat headed snakes, quite thin but about 30 cm long, who may well be out looking for the frogs. The two things that really take your breath away when you step on them are temple ruins and land mines. After completing the required risk assessment we chose to step on the temple ruins. Some people however did not had the choice. People in the town and surrounding area had lost limbs as a result of the mines. The danger is gradually being cleared but it is a slow and expensive business. It costs about three dollars to plant a mine; it takes more than a thousand dollars to remove one. The cost is high because no one knows where they are and extensive and careful exploration has to be done before an area can be cleared. Even so some, inevitably, are missed. Information about the area suggests keeping to the established footpaths and states that the area inside the various temple complexes are clear.
The temple complex is truly astonishing. All the pictures I had seen were very two dimensional compared with the reality. The scale was, well I have to use the word again, astonishing. The detail of the carving and the amount of it that remains was also a surprise. Maybe I looked at the wrong pictures and read the wrong articles. Perhaps I just could not understand the scale until I saw it for myself. Whatever the reason it was the most wonderful shock.
You do need transport to get from one temple complex to another as they are some distance from each other, (some more than 10K)and it would be absolutely exhausting to walk between them in the Cambodian heat. This is the “cool” part of the year and I still found it a bit difficult, mainly due to the humidity.
We watched the sunrise over Angkor Wat, something that sounds better that it actually was. The best place to stand is behind what is known as the reflecting pool on the left hand side in front of the temple. The sun comes up from behind the temple and the temple is reflected in the pool. If you have seen pictures of Angkor Wat then I am sure you will have seen that view. I say that the sun comes up from behind the temple, and I am sure it does at a different times of the year. For us and the other 700 of so people who crowded on the muddy edge of a 100m wide lake the sun missed the spot and came up somewhat to the right of the temple structure. I have found sun rise and sunset a bit of a spiritual experience. Like organ music or a good choir can enhance the spiritual experience of church for those who believe, so good clouds, interesting weather and a high viewpoint can enhance a sunrise or sunset for me. The sunrise at Angkor Wat had none of those and the crowd experience was not something I particularly enjoyed. This experience caused us to change our minds about watching the sunset as the best spot attracts hundreds of coaches and thousands of people.
On the plus side getting up at 4:30 and to the site by sunrise had a significant benefit. Most people who watched the sunrise went back to their coaches, were driven back to their hotels, had a little sleep and then went for breakfast before returning to the temples with the rest of the crowds later in the morning. We decided to miss breakfast and enjoy the site whilst it was comparatively deserted. We went to the Ta Prohm temple which is the one where the trees have encroached and intertwined with the buildings. Those of a certain age may know it as the Laura Croft temple. It was magnificent and I felt very privileged to be able to explore it in the comparative isolation of the breakfast hours. What a shock though when the coach parties returned. It was instant, streams of people swarming through the openings and on into the site. From empty to full in less than 5 minutes. The noise was phenomenal, and I thought insulting. These are spiritual/religious buildings. If you don’t believe in that particular faith you should still be respectful. Worst of all was a tour guide pointing to a particular tree suggesting that a bit of it looked like a penis. It didn’t. The women in the party dutifully went over and stroked it – loud laughter. He then pointed to a trunk that slit into two, suggesting that it was like a woman with her legs apart. It wasn’t. The men duly went over with a finger extended – loud laughter. This was an adult party with an age range of about 50 to 65. Young people were much better behaved. I confess to not liking crowds at the best of times. This was not the best of times. Still nothing will take away the experience of being able to wonder around in quiet solitude in one of the most amazing areas of antiquity I have ever seen.
At the end of two days we were both “templed out” and needed to stop as were were not doing ourselves or the temples justice. We found a wonderful place called the Peace Cafe in Siem Reap. It was vegetarian, which got rid of the meat accident scenario. They served food that did not, like most other places, have sugar added. There was space to relax and it was very peaceful. They did have WIFI. I only mention the WIFI because whoever choose the the password was clearly inspired. Go there and find out.
There is sense in spending more than a week in the area and going to the temples every second day. This would have given a bit of head space between visits and also explore the town. It is a good town to explore. Unfortunately we dod not have enough time to do that. It appears that the longer your trip, the less time you have.