Want to miss the maddening crowds at Cambodia's premier tourist attraction? Our featured blogger, Anna Krahn, suggested getting on your bike
Angkor Wat is one of those must-sees on many a travelling list. It’s Cambodia’s most famous tourism destination and as such, receives well over a million visits a year. It therefore seems a far cry from the backpacker dream of discovering somewhere undiscovered, and experiencing something different from the millions of tourists. But it can be done.
As soon as you arrive in Siem Reap, and throughout your time wandering through the town, people will be shouting ‘Tuk-tuk. Angkor Wat. I take you.’ And sure, a tuk-tuk is a pretty good way to do it. But, it’s not the best. There is only one that will leave you feeling like you may have just accidentally stumbled upon an undiscovered secret.
Despite its fame, it is still possible to find yourself alone looking at a tree, breaking through the ruins of an incredible temple, its roots and its history intertwined with the building, and only a curious monkey for company. All you need to do is take a mountain bike and head off road.
Now, pre-Asia, I wasn’t what you’d call ‘a bike person’. My biking experience involved doing figures of 8 up to the age of 10, an unfortunate incident with a pole in Scotland at 14, and an even more unfortunate incident with a bush and a canal at 29 in London. Bikes played a little hard to get with me but I wore them down. Once I’d accepted the fact that I may end up in a ditch or get all snuggly with a tree sometimes we were all hunky dory.
According to most of the people we’d met in Vietnam who’d already been to Angkor Wat and got the T-Shirt (or at least the oh-so-popular Angkor What?! T-Shirt), one day walking around in the sweltering heat was quite enough to see the main sites and I imagine, with a tuk tuk driver getting you there and around, it would be. But a friend back in London disagreed and recommended the best way to do it was by bike.
So, after spending some of the best time we’d had in Vietnam on bikes, we decided biking was absolutely the only way we’d be doing it and we were going to take three days. One day is really not enough.
A one day pass to the archaeological park costs $20, while a three days pass costs $40 so, as we figured we wanted to do two days there at least, we bought option two.
Bearing in mind we’d been travelling for four months already and were quite wowed-out by temples and scenery, Angkor Wat still turned out to be a massive highlight. We spent three days exploring what has to be one of the most incredible places in the world on two wheels.
So we’d established we wanted to go by bike but had no idea how to go about it and what to see and how to even get to Angkor from Siem Reap. So, we did a little research and found a tour called The Offroad Angkor bicycle tour, run by an NGO supporting schooling and training of Khmer children, which sounded perfect.
Our guide met us and the three of us rode to the archaeological park. After entering through the gates and riding along the main road with the tuk-tuks we suddenly took a turn and were riding through forest, arriving on a path alongside an ancient wall where it was just us. For most of the day we were pretty much alone until we passed by one of the villages that still exist in Angkor park today.
On day one we didn’t even see Angkor Wat itself, but instead got a feel for the park, learned some history and Khmer culture from our guide, and got to see some some lesser seen temples.
At the end of the first day we’d ridden 40km. An ice cold beer in Siem Reap followed by a Khmer massage were very welcome.
Day two. After getting our bearings and seeing some of the more hidden temples the day before, we were ready to face the big ones and make the journey ourselves. Heading out onto the main roads we weaved through tuk-tuks and taxis to make the journey away from Siem Reap and towards Anchor Park. This time we started with the crown jewel. Angkor Wat itself was an impressive beast and while crowded in parts, we still managed to find a quiet spot to have a bit of a rest and eat a sandwich.
Next we explored and found more secret spots plus veered onto the main roads where the bulk of people were. It was here that I saw the crowds of people, taking a bunch of pictures before getting on their bus and heading to the next temple. I felt sad that they would go home thinking that Angkor Wat was alright, but once you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all. I know, because I’ve felt the same when I’ve done tours in other parts of Asia. The temples are great but it’s the park, the ride through an ancient city which is truly magical.
On the way back we met some more monkeys sitting by the lake. Stopping by the side of the road to take some pics, a baby monkey took quite a liking to my bike. That was pretty cute, until he decided to start eating my bike.
Over the three days we spent in Angkor Wat, we racked up close to 100km of riding. It was quite a feat. But I would take the aching bum and the exhaustion any time for the experience of Angkor. There’s so much more than many people realise and more being discovered all the time.
My blog is about an ex-Londoner (me) moving to France and travelling around the world with my Kiwi (man - not fruit).