We got right into the action soon after our arrival in Siem Reap. Our second day in town was spent on one of our most highly anticipated excursions of this trip: a visit to the Angkor temples.
Angkor Archaeological Park is a massive complex spanning over 400 square kilometres, containing magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer empire dating from the 9th to 15th centuries. Located about 6 kilometres north of Siem Reap, there are various options for visiting the park. We had originally intended to book a tuk tuk with our hotel and explore on our own, but since our group had dwindled to just the two of us, I decided to sign us up for a join in group tour instead, so we could have the opportunity to socialize a little. It also turned out to be a good idea to have a guide who could give us some context for what we were seeing.
A local company called Siem Reap Shuttle offered a package including hotel pickup in a mini bus and a tour guide for a visit through the small circuit, which includes Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, and a sunset viewing at Phnom Bakheng. We ended up with 9 other tourists, for a nicely sized group of 11 people. Our fellow travellers were mostly from the United Kingdom and United States, and were fun to hang out with for the day.
A day at Angkor
Our first stop was the beautiful and grand Angkor Wat…
…where our guide demonstrated his amusing enthusiasm for helping us take photos.
Then we conquered some seriously steep stairs…
…for sweeping views from the top of Angkor Wat.
After lunch, we moved onto Angkor Thom. This included Ta Phrom, the temple made world famous when it was featured in the movie Tomb Raider.
Next was a stop at my personal favourite, Bayon temple, with its massive and intricately carved stone faces.
Finally, our requisite uphill climb of this trip, a hike up to Phnom Bakheng for an attempted sunset viewing. We waited for over an hour in the sweltering mid afternoon heat, only to hear the guards sadly announce, “There is no hope for sunset tonight, too cloudy!”
We weren’t too disappointed, as by then we were all tired and sweaty and sticky, ready to head back for air conditioning and a shower. We had a great day overall, but I’m ready to take a little break from temples for now!
The Angkor complex is probably the most touristed destination in Cambodia and is usually packed with visitors throughout the year. With everything going on in the world now, our prediction of diminished crowds did turn out correct. The usually ubiquitous big Chinese tour groups were absent, and we were surrounded mostly by visitors from North America and Europe. Our guide informed us that there has been about a 50% reduction in the number of daily visitors to the park in recent months, which is actually on a background of gradual decline in the economy over the past couple years. The smaller crowds meant that we had an easy time navigating on our tour and there was ample opportunity to take lots of clear photos, but unfortunately it also means that the tourism industry in Cambodia is struggling, with potentially devastating consequences for the local people. We will have to see what happens and hope for the best in this beautiful country.