After four years living in Asia, I finally made it to Cambodia. And Angkor Wat, no surprise, was amazing.
A bit of background, “Angkor Wat” consists of many temples within a moat and was built in the 12th century. The most famous of the temples is the main temple and the best restored. However, it is not the only one.
A one-day ticket is $37 US but good for pretty much all the temples. These temples are spread out across the complex and connected by modern paved roads.
Day I: Angkor by Tour
A note, I really hate tours but I kept hearing that Angkor is one of those places “you’ve gotta do a tour.” Tours are quite cheap so I figured what the hell and booked a shuttle tour with some people staying at the same place as me.
Most tours are “sunrise tours” so I needed to be up and ready by 4 am. Like any tour to Angkor Wat, the driver took us to the three most famous temples:
The main Ankor Wat Temple at sunrise
Ta Prahm (the temple where they filmed Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie)
Bayon (my favorite)
I completely understand why these are the main temples tourists visit because they are each impressive in their own way and quite large.
Because Cambodia has recently reopened after Covid (just within the last two months), Angkor Wat was pretty empty. Even though I’m pretty sure every single tour went to the main Angkor Wat temple at sunrise, there were still maybe only 30-40 people there at the opening.
As amazing as these temples were, the tour route wasn’t right for me. I wanted to wander off and experience the place on my own terms.
The guide did have some good information. He also let us know our one-day tickets were actually good for two days (a promotion Angkor Wat is issuing for 2022 as a pandemic reopening perk).
He took some amazing photos. Like, seriously, this guy should just sell his photography services.
By noon, I was pretty templed out and spent the rest of the afternoon by the pool and figuring out what to do the next day. I was pretty eager to use my free extra day on the pass but desperately did not want to go on another tour.
I spent some time looking up some of the smaller temples trying to figure out how far away they were and how to get to them when I noticed most of the temples were located along a perfect square route along a road.
The more I looked at the map the more I realized, “Oh, I could totally bike that!”
Day II: Angkor Wat by Bike
I got up the next morning at 7 am and went to a little bicycle shop down the street, rented a bike for $5 for the day, and took off.
The first 30 minutes or so just involved biking through Siem Reap. Then I crossed a single bridge and crossed from a city into a village: little huts, dirt roads, chickens running around. The road got tinier and tinier and more and more remote. Eventually, I was just in the Cambodian jungle on a tiny dirt bike path and had to literally squoosh up next to a tree to let a motorbike go by.
Finally, I popped out of the woods on the “main road” and the guards stationed there to do a ticket check looked shocked to see me. I don’t think a lot of tourists take that route.
After that, the day was quite easy. I just followed the main road and stopped at temples as I saw them.
Most of these little temples are ruins and had nearly no one there. I met three other people who had also decided to bicycle between the temples (a couple and a solo Canadian guy who I kept bumping into) and met two Austrian guys who had rented a tuk-tuk for the day.
This was much more my style. I felt so accomplished doing it myself and got to see the temples at my own pace. Plus, I loved that they all were virtually empty. It felt like my own little exploration and I got to clear my head and just enjoy the day.
Also, the road was virtually devoid of cars and quite shady. So it was a lovely ride.
At one point, I took a wrong turn and accidentally left the temple road and ended up in a village where I decided to buy a little fruit cake from a roadside vendor and ate it on top of a temple.
One of the most unique was Neak Pean which is built in the moat. You have to cross this rickety bridge, hike a little, and the temple is in the middle of a pond. This one seemed to still be in use as a lot of Cambodians were coming out dressed up and burning incense.
But my favorite from the second day was Ta Som.
I was the only one there and it was overgrown by the jungle. There was even a bat flapping around inside one part. I loved the tree that covered one of the doorways.
I also loved that so many of the temples had faces carved into them.
To get back to Siem Reap, I got to ride back through Bayan and to Angkor Wat. I considered staying for the sunset but after 35km of riding in the heat, I decided to call it a day. Plus, I didn’t want to have to bike through the city in the dark.
In short, cycling Angkor Wat is one of my favorite ways I’ve ever explored a historical site.