A Travellerspoint blog

A Temple Run in Angkor

HOW TO AVOID THE CROWDS AND HELP THE LOCAL ECONOMY

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Faces at Angkor Thom (Bayon)

Faces at Angkor Thom (Bayon)

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A Warped and Twisted Tale

A light from the dawning sky,
Forms three shadows on the ground,
Solitary cyclists,
Pursuing the secrets in the forest.

A gallery of ancient souls,
A group of banyan trees,
The dark and mangled old branches,
Guide the path to simplicity.

The shadows loom over their wheels,
Rattling ears, perspiring necks,
The third shadow lost in a hole -
A pit -
The two acknowledge that it's fallen down,
A leaf lifts up the shadow’s head,
It has not given up yet.

A mountain -
Not a mole hill,
Is this temple on the ground.
Where the grass is greener,
And the trees are taller,
And the sky is bluer than the sea.

With all its nooks and crannies,
You will never be tired of this place,
All the gates and all the gardens,
Led a warped and twisted fate.

Grand will not describe this place,
We are not worthy to tell you of such grace,
I can only grant you this -
For a photographer,
It is BLISS!

- by Suni Ho

At Angkor Wat

At Angkor Wat

A lizard photographed through binoculars

A lizard photographed through binoculars

At Angkor Thom (Bayon)

At Angkor Thom (Bayon)

"A warped and twisted fate" is indeed an apt description of Angkor. But as Suni also writes, "we are not worthy to tell you of such grace”! Anyone interested can read about Angkor here. This post is only glimpses of our experiences there in photos accompanied by hopefully useful travel tips.

TRAVEL TIP 1: Do your research well! We didn’t! We knew that it would be busy during Christmas and New Year with visitors from Europe. But we assumed that, as our trip to Angkor was very close to the Lunar New Year, most people from South-East Asia would stay home to prepare for the new year. They didn’t! It seems that Lunar New Year is the only annual holiday they have so they came to Angkor in droves with big buses everywhere, which is too depressing to describe further. Which takes us to Travel Tip 2 below.

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Stone carving at Angkor Wat

Stone carving at Angkor Wat

FLASHBACK: Yes, surrounded by crowds everywhere, we couldn’t help thinking about our first trip to Angkor in 1994 when we had the temples mostly to ourselves. In the morning, the owner of the guest house (who also washed our clothes) would tell us which areas to avoid visiting as the Khmer Rouge had been there the night before. If we started early enough, we could easily slip through the yet unmanned guard post at the main gate without tickets - we didn’t - which only had a bamboo post to stop traffic. We rented a 50cc moped to explore the more remote temples and found ourselves really alone on dirt roads and when we met some person in military uniform with a gun we didn’t know which faction he belonged to and felt lucky that he smiled back at us. Much later after a long trip, we arrived home in Australia safely only to discover that around the time we were in Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge kidnapped some foreign tourists and, after failed attempts at ransom, killed them.

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At Banteay Srei

At Banteay Srei

Carvings along the creek at Kbal Spean from the 11th and 12th centuries

Carvings along the creek at Kbal Spean from the 11th and 12th centuries

At Ta Prohm

At Ta Prohm

TRAVEL TIP 2: Avoid travelling in a tour group! Mass tourism is a plague! Full stop. For one thing: it does nothing for the local people (except harms!). Our taxi driver in Phnom Penh told us that tourists would arrive to get into around 10 big buses per day or more. And he got nothing out of this. So all the money in tours: transport, food , accommodation, etc., will go to big businesses. Which takes us to Travel Tip 3 below.

Stone carving at Angkor Thom

Stone carving at Angkor Thom

How sandstones used to be smoothened

How sandstones used to be smoothened

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With gigantic tree roots at Ta Prohm

With gigantic tree roots at Ta Prohm

TRAVEL TIP 3: Use local companies! The crowds at Angkor were horrific, but luckily we were smart enough to have organised beforehand two day trips for only our little family with local groups. They are both non-profit non-government organisations which have local knowledge, employed local people, and most important of all, provide services to their local communities. The Khmer for Khmer Organization, which we had the bicycle tour with, relies on donations to provide free education/training to children and young adults in need. The Sam Veasna Center works in wildlife conservation and provides bird-watching tours. We highly recommend them!

Watching birds and other forest creatures at Kbal Spean

Watching birds and other forest creatures at Kbal Spean

Our young local guide called Young and us at the back of Pre Khan enjoying our quiet ride among the ruins

Our young local guide called Young and us at the back of Pre Khan enjoying our quiet ride among the ruins

A break during our bicycle tour atop the wall which surrounds Angkor Wat, well away from the crowd, and along a ride which some of us kept falling over as Suni laments in her poem above.

A break during our bicycle tour atop the wall which surrounds Angkor Wat, well away from the crowd, and along a ride which some of us kept falling over as Suni laments in her poem above.

What can be seen on the back road: a classroom around Angkor Wat where some of the original people still live.

What can be seen on the back road: a classroom around Angkor Wat where some of the original people still live.

TRAVEL TIP 4: Last but not least, vary your activities when you travel, especially if you have children! We couldn’t just visit temples days after long days, so in between we had tremendous fun with Flight of the Gibbon. This is not a local company but we had a blast zipping above the top of beautiful teak trees around Angkor Wat feeling safe with European technology which takes great care not to harm the trees in any way.

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A mysterious smile

A mysterious smile

At Banteay Srei, a Hindu temple built in the 10th century with red sandstone

At Banteay Srei, a Hindu temple built in the 10th century with red sandstone

At Banteay Srei

At Banteay Srei

Flight of the smallest gibbon: at the longest section of the zip line, Suni was stuck at the middle because she was not heavy enough to reach the other end and had to be ”rescued”.

Flight of the smallest gibbon: at the longest section of the zip line, Suni was stuck at the middle because she was not heavy enough to reach the other end and had to be ”rescued”.

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That's all for now. Thank you for reading!
The Wind Riders

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