We seem to have a penchant for scrambling around old buildings and temple sites around the world. We enjoyed it in Mexico and Hampi (India), and Angkor Wat, the biggest temple complex in the world didn’t disappoint.
We arrived in Siem Reap on 4th February on the very efficient Grand Ibis coach service from Phnom Penh. On first acquaintance Siem Reap seems to be a bit of a dusty and not very glamourous town, but we soon discovered it to be a laid back and welcoming place. It probably helped that our fabulous hotel (Tito Suites) sent a tuk-tuk out to collect us at the bus station and this was just the start of the brilliant care and service they provided during our week’s stay. It was great value and nearly the best hotel we have stayed in on our travels.
We were surprised when we spoke to other travellers who’d only spent 1 day viewing the temples at the vast Angkor Archeological Park and wondered how interesting it was likely to be. On our first day we visited the main temple which was great, and surprisingly not too busy – perhaps because there are very few Chinese tourists in Cambodia at the moment. However we really started to enjoy our explorations when we visited Ta Prohm, the “Lara Croft temple”. This has been left in quite a wild state and offered lots of clambering and exploring opportunities. We actually ended up spending 6 days visiting the different ancient and far flung sites, including a place in the hills where carvings have been cut into the bed of a river. We found the Angkor Archeological Park every bit as impressive as expected, but were disappointed that a lot of our photos just looked like piles of rocks! They definitely do not reflect the artistry and grandeur of the ruins.
Our favourites were Bakong and Ta Nai Temples, but we probably enjoyed the latter most because there was almost no one else there when we visited. We were taken around the sites by our helpful tuk-tuk driver John, who we hired for 3 whole days, but towards the end of the week we decided to rent mountain bikes to go off exploring on our own. On our last day we used a car and driver to take us the 60km out to the river carvings at Kbal Spean and to Beng Mealea temple in the jungle.
HeroRATS of Cambodia
Cambodia still has a problem with landmines left over from the recent conflicts and many thousands of people have been killed or injured through disturbing old landmines or unexploded ordinance. It was discovered in Africa that giant pouched rats can be trained to sniff out TNT and locate landmines. There are now 53 HeroRATS located in Siem Reap that are active in clearing the countryside. The rats only weigh 1.5kgs, and as 2kgs is the threshold to set off a mine they can run over the ground safely. We were happy to support the work done with the rats and went to the APOPO visitor centre to find out more.
Other things we enjoyed we enjoyed in Siem Reap were vegging out in the restaurants and bars, drinking incredibly cheap beer, an ‘eat-all-you-want’ cultural evening buffet and going to the Phare Circus.