Angkor Wat and Good-bye Cambodia (May 5th - May 15th)

(Kampong Channg - Pursat - Battambang - Siam Reap)

Distance biked so far:  (11, 468 km)

I cycled the long way around the southern edge of Tonle Sap Lake, the largest in South East Asia, to the City of Battambang. The roads were under construction for part of the way which made the route hot and dusty.
I had to cover up to be able to breathe and for some reason, ended up with more than my typical share of strange looks.
Later in the day I was biking down the road with my mask removed and a little girl was playing with her mother on the side of the road. She started laughing and pointing excitedly as I rode by so had to stop and say hello. As I got closer she became shy and quiet and hid behind her mother so I bought something to drink and sat down, while she cautiously peeked around the corner. She slowly gained her confidence back and with her mother's encouragement, started laughing loudly again, to the amusement of all those nearby. Here she is just as she stepped out from behind her Mom, not looking quite as brave.
I took a highly recommended boat ride from Battambang to Siam Reap. The boat wound across a winding river with trees on both sides which reminded me of a few of the scenes from the movie Apocalypse Now.
You could see a lot of the poverty in some of the remote villages along the river.
The real draw to the river cruise however is the series of floating villages. This part of Cambodia does not have road access and many people live on floating boats on the edge of the shores. The boat was used to transport people from Battambang to Siam Reap but also as a form of local transport for the locals trying to get home after their shopping in the city.  Since it was difficult for our relatively large motor boat to dock, as we approached a floating village a small boat would come out to meet us and passengers would get on or off with the goods, then we would continue.
They even had many of the buildings you would find in every other village in Cambodia including if you look closely, a pig pen, a school and something no village could do without, a Karaoke bar.
Angkor Wat is not only the largest religious building but considered one of the great wonders of the world. Its name means "temple that is a city" and this ancient Khmer City once boasted a population of 1 million, at a time that London, England had a population of 50,000. The houses, public buildings and palaces of Angkor were constructed of wood, now long decayed, because the right to dwell in the structures made of brick or stone was reserved for the gods.

The Temples of Angkor are a source of inspiration and national pride for all Cambodians as they struggle to rebuild their lives after years of terror. The image of Angkor Wat is on their flag and as you approach on the main causeway, it truly is an impressive site.
The Temple is surrounded by a 190-meter wide moat which forms a giant rectangle 1.5km long and 1.3km wide, it is a massive site. The sandstone blocks used to build Angkor Wat came from a quarry more than 50 km away and floated down the Siam Reap River on rafts. According to the inscriptions the construction of Angkor Wat involved 300,000 workers and 6,000 elephants, yet was never fully completed. Once again I have a hard time believing that this structure could be built today. The amount of labour and costs involved would make it prohibitive. I also compared the idea of so many men working with a sight in Phnom Penh of a group of men waiting for passengers to come by and rouse them for a ride. For some reason I just can't imagine them building a monument like Angkor Wat.
There are two first impressions you get while walking around the Temple and that is the sheer size of the grounds and the detail of the carvings. Stretching around the outside of the central temple complex is an 800 meter long series of intricate bas reliefs depicting battles and day to day life.
The Central complex has 3 stories and here is a view of the Central Tower from the third floor.
Here is a view of one of the Libraries.
We motored right by people's homes and the kids still waved hello from their front doors and windows.
Most of the families were involved in farming and fishing. With the farms currently out of season there was a lot of activity on the water with everyone seemingly out trying to catch fish with their nets. With so many nets in place the entire length of the river, I wondered how those at the very last portion downstream would ever catch any fish. Without roads many would just cruise up and down running errands or visiting with friends. Here is a village and a family out on the water.
The City of Siam Reap is the most visited in Cambodia because of its proximity to Angkor Wat. It is a very attractive tree-lined town on the edge of a river.

Angkor Wat is the largest and most famous of the Temples but there are hundreds in the area. A few kilometers up the road is the fortified City of Angkor Thom, which also supported a population of 1 million people. As you approach the City you have to go through an old gate that was part of the outer perimeter wall.
The City was centered on the Temple of Bayon, a collection of 54 Gothic-style towers decorated with 216 coldly smiling faces. As I walked around I had the sneaky suspicion of being watched.
Another highlight was the atmospheric ruins of Ta Prohm. It is a temple of towers, closed courtyards, narrow corridors and large trees tower overhead. The temple is cloaked in shadows with its towers and walls locked in the embrace of vast root systems.
I have not seen it but the movie Lara Croft Tomb Raider was partially filmed here and at Angkor Wat and I believe that this was a tree used in the movie.
I spent a large part of the day cycling around the grounds. I ended up biking about 40 km which gives an indication of the size of the site. It was the best way to get around with tree lines roads and old Temples covering the entire route.
At one point there were a few cars stopped with people taking pictures and the main attraction was this cute guy.
I am two cycling days from the border with Thailand and will make my way west shortly. I met a couple from Ireland who are on a 9 month tour of the world. We went out on Friday night for a few beers and all agreed that during the hot parts of the day visiting Angkor Wat, it was hard not to think about what was waiting. Here is a view of My Home Guesthouse in Siam Reap.