Angkor by Bike

Welcome to Angkor
Angkor was the ancient capital of Cambodia and now is an archaeological park. It hosts so many historical ruins, some of which are much more popular than the others. The most visited ancient remains is absolutely the Angkor Wat whose name often ambiguously referred to the whole area of the park. No wonder Angkor Wat has become the national symbol of Cambodia and appears on its flag.

It would have been too much time and energy demanded to visit all sites scattered around the 400 square kilometers area, especially because we biked. Consequently, we gotta set up our priorities of which to visit and which to skip. Other than Angkor Wat, we had got two sites listed on our itinerary; Angkor Thom and Ta Phrohm. I'll show you the places one by one later. But before that, some readers might wonder if we could sneak into the archeological park area without paying fees. Once I was also thinking to avoid paying the $20 pass (yeah, i was one of those jerks), but the answer was NO. Every time we were about to enter a site, there was a ticket checkpoint. So, forget about cheating!
Map of Angkor Archeological Park
Straight way toward the entrance
Surrounded by a moat, Angkor Wat was the main temple of the ancient city. Considered as the world's largest religious monument still today, this place was initially meant to worship Vishnu but then changed into Buddhist's place of worship as the king converted. Interestingly, the building is facing west while normally in Southeast Asia temples are facing east and graves are facing west. Some historians then suggest that it was ever used for a kings' mausoleum. No one knows for certain. For the visitors, Angkor Wat is now a very popular spot to see sunrise and sunset alike. We didn't do either one, however.

Like at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, here also some people aggressively sell their goods to tourists. A man offered an English guide book of Angkor. When I said no, he kept lowering the price (from $7 to $2). I somewhat regretted not buying it. It was so dirt cheap for an English book! Many little children were there selling items too. Surprisingly, they were so fluent in English. Some even offered as an unofficial guide to the site.
Long way to go for the main temple
Best spot to take picture with the Angkor Wat

Me, the guide book seller, and a gopuram (left). Steep stairs at the temple (right)
Wonder why there's a hole right there on the statue.
From the royal temple, we proceed to the royal city called Angkor Thom through its south gate. This 9-meter-square area enclosed by moats and walls was the last capital city of the Khmer Empire before being sacked by the Thai's army. The most notable sites inside were the Elephant Terraces (a viewing platform of returning army) and Bayon Temple, well-known for its hundreds of faces. So far so good, though it was quite hot but we still had good time walking around the ruins and taking pictures.

Problem came when we mistakenly ended up at Angkor Thom's north gate. Our next destination Ta Prohm was easily reached from the east gate. So, we took an off-beaten track, trying to find a shortcut to the east gate. The path was through the forested part. Our trip ran smoothly until we found an elevated land which became a barrier for our bicycles to get through. Fortunately, we met some local workers who kindly helped lifting up the bicycles. We then continued biking until some buffaloes appeared and blocked the track. We had to wait until they stepped aside. I was afraid if they felt threatened and attacked us. We had encountered snakes in this country several times before and we didn't expect to meet another here in the forest. We once lost the direction, but thanks again to the locals who showed us the way to the east gate.
The south gate of Angkor Thom
Surrounded by faces at Bayon
How marvelous the ancient buildings were as every corner of them carved.
But now some were recent carvings of restoration.

Resting bicycles
Elephant Terraces
An off-road shortcut to the east gate
Finally we made our way to Ta Prohm. To reach the site, we were required to park the vehicles quite far outside then walked through a jungle. Very well associated to the Hollywood movie Tomb Raider,  Ta Prohm presents spectacular combination of the greens and the ancient ruins. It appears to the eye that the trees are eating the temples! Indeed a fascinating view to capture. Consequently, taking pictures of its best spots would take some time as other visitors are doing that as well. Sadly, we had been so tired already after what happened earlier. Plus, the temperature was getting hotter now. It had been cloudy but the clouds now started to move away.

Many others worth visiting at Angkor but only a little of our energy was left. Our guesthouse in Siem Reap miles apart from Ta Prohm was the only destination we were thinking of. Say no more to shortcuts. We pedaled home through the main road, often passed by cars and motorcycles - wished that they could have given us a pull-. We were not used to cycling, so today's bike trip (more than 25 kilometers) was very exhausting.
So many doors and windows

A big tree is taking over the old temple

The ongoing restoration projects at every site we visited in the archaeological park surely detracted the taste of returning to the past. Still I could imagine the greatness of the old Khmer Empire. As the restoration teams put together the broken parts, Cambodia as a country is now striving to regain its former glory. It would be a long way to go, though. Rumors say that the money of Angkor ticket sales going to a foreign company. Even if it isn't true and the millions of dollars really go to the government, corruption most likely occurs. Only the officials get richer but the people of Cambodia won't receive any benefit of the sales. Does Cambodia have its turn already or will there be a second chance to shine? Empires of the world rise and fall. No one knows.

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