Cambodia: temples and massages

I caught the night train from Chiang Mai down to Bangkok, which like the train in Vietnam was thoroughly enjoyable.  The train consisted of normal sit-down seats which were converted to beds at about 11pm after they’d brought out a scrumptious Thai meal.  As I was to find out transport times are massively unreliable in Thailand and the train rolled into Bangkok two hours later than forecast but I wasn’t too concerned as it just meant a bit more time chilling on the air-conditioned train.

The panels above the passengers came down to convert into upper bunk beds and the seats below were collapsed into lower bunks:

As I planned to catch an early train to Cambodia I shacked up as near to the Bangkok train station as possible but unfortunately I could only find a fan room which meant a thoroughly uncomfortable sleep.  As there was no pool I was showering every hour or so just to cool down.

There is only one train to Cambodia a day leaving at 5.55am, and after my alarm went off at 5am I decided another day in Bangkok wouldn’t hurt so much; so I had a lie-in and then spent the day checking out some of the big malls.

That night it was the Manchester derby at 2am and so I didn’t really get much sleep beforehand as I was too excited, not to mention the 40 degree heat keeping me good and sweaty.  And after the disappointment of the loss I was too upset to sleep so didn’t really get any rest at all that night before I was boarding the train at 5.55am!

The train only had 3rd class carriages meaning no AC and bench type hard seats which was awfully uncomfortable and didn’t afford me much sleep.  On the plus side the 6 hour journey cost me just under a pound:

Arriving at the border I made my way into Cambodia, avoiding all the scams that include the immigration officials saying you need to pay an ‘administration fee’ of about £2 which goes straight in their pockets.  On the other side of the border I jumped into a shared taxi and within a couple of hours was in the temple capital of the world, Siem Reap.

Welcome to Cambodia.  The border has a miniature version of the national symbol, Angkor Wat:

Siem Reap is home to nearby world wonder Angkor Wat and the Angkor archaeological park which is home to hundreds of ancient temples dating back a thousand or so years.

After the heat in Bangkok I’d learnt my lesson so booked into a hostel with air-conditioning and a pool; the imaginatively named, Siem Reap Hostel.  After sampling some street food I discovered one of the best things about Siem Reap, $3 hour-long Khmer (meaning Cambodian) massages.  I was so taken by my first one that I walked down the street and got a second!

Seeing Angkor Wat is notoriously best seen at sunrise and after my tiring day of travelling I didn’t fancy that so spent my first-day-proper chilling around the pool and getting another massage 🙂

The next day I was up at 4.30am and negotiating with a tuk-tuk driver to take me around the ruins for the day.   I arrived at Angkor Wat with several hundred other tourists hoping for a spectacular sunrise, and after a short wait mother nature delivered.

Day pass to the archaeological park, cost $20 (or as I unhappily realised, 7 massages):

Crack of dawn with my tuk-tuk driver:

Arriving at the huge walkway over the moat/lake surrounding Angkor Wat:

Inside the walls of Angkor Wat:

Just before the sun showed its face at the main temple:

There he is!

With the help of my Lonely Planet I self-guided my way around the main temple and the bas-reliefs (wall carvings) which depict ancient Hindu/Buddhist stories (Cambodians adopted Indian religious ideas early on which were later taken over by Buddhism).  After working my way around the impressive temple I caught some monkeys clowning around.

The bas-reliefs surrounding the main temple depicting ancient stories of gods, kings and wars:

Nuns in white and monks in orange in the grounds of Angkor Wat:

Angkor Wat main temple:

An ancient library at Angkor Wat:

Monkeys having a scrap:

My next stop was Angkor Thom which is a huge walled ancient city that is believed to have once held a million people.  The centre-piece is the awesome Bayon temple with loads of smiling faces of the King who had the place made for him.

Angkor Thom, Bayon temple, with its 54 towers:

216 smiling faces adorn the 54 towers.  Supposedly a mix between Buddha and King Jayavarman VII by whom the temple was built:

More faces:

Some cool carvings:

A tourist takes in Bayon temple atop an elephant:

Just next door to Bayon in Angkor Thom is the grand Baphuon temple, built to represent Mount Meru. They wouldn’t let me in here because I was wearing a vest, spoil sports:

Sat on some ancient steps in Angkor Thom.  This was about 8am and it was sweltering hot, already high 30s:

And my last stop was Indiana-Jones-like jungle temple Ta Phrom which was my personal favourite.

Much of the temple is entwined in jungle to give the place a really cool atmosphere:

This was the location chosen for some scenes from the Tomb Raider film:

There was way more of the archaeological park I could have explored but by 10am I was so hot and dusty that I was what a lot of travellers called being templed-out so I returned to the sanctity of the air-con and pool!

The Angkor temples were really interesting and what fascinated me was the transition (which could be seen in the architecture) from Hinduism to Buddhism,  with the latter becoming prevalent in modern-day Cambodia.

After another couple of days of chilling by the pool and massages I caught the bus out of Siem Reap to Cambodia capital Phnom Penh but not before meeting five of the most splendid travel buddies ever, Filipinos: Shiela, Dingkay, Kuki, Jo-Ann and JR and celebrating Shiela’s birthday with 35 cent glasses of beer!

Cheap beer:

Celebrating Shiela’s birthday.  Anti-clockwise from the top: Seth, Jo-Ann, Dingkay, Shiela, Kuki, JR, Me:

Siem Reap town:

A local guy takes a bath in the river (bottom right):

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