After a satisfying breakfast at a local restaurant, I went back to my hotel where Sana, my tuktuk driver, was already waiting. We've agreed on a $20 fee for this whole ride that shall take me around the main Angkor Temples as well as Banteay Srey some 35 kilometers from Angkor. I got the same ride for just $12 before, but I really didn't mind the hike. I hate haggling.
Sana first took me to the Angkor Baray Movie House, near the spanking new Angkor National Museum. I've planned on watching a movie after my tour so I needed to check the time, the film being shown, and the rate: it was a Korean ghost film; film screenings at 9AM, 12N, 4PM and 7PM; admission is 5,000 riel per person. Angkor Baray is the municipality's one and only movie house. If there are less than 8 people, they cancel the showing altogether, which is understandable.
BEST AND WORST TIMES
This was a relatively easier tour since the sun wasn't as harsh as during my first visit (March). Visits are advised anytime but March to May to avoid the harsh sun - gets really unhealthy, and no amount of "hydrating", sun block, 3 change of shirts will make it a pleasant tour.
8:30AM - Finally arrived in front of Angkor Wat, a visit that took me an hour to finish. Despite expectations, I was still drenched with sweat as I made my way around it. From there, we plied the bridge full of "nagas"(one of my favorite places actually, since it overlooked the river, and photographs make romantic views) and through the "gate"that would constitute the complex of the Angkor Thom.
FACES LOOKING DOWN ON YOU
From there, I was taken straight to one of my 2 favorite places - the Bayon, with haunting gigantic faces, 54 of them, looking everywhere, and down the temple grounds. From Bayon's exit, I walked towards the grounds of the Baphoun which has been sealed from visitors. The view from the pond is nevertheless arresting. There's supposedly a waiting area here for tuktuks, but the causeway from Baphoun leads further ahead not knowing that my driver was actually waiting there. I found him back at the Bayon much, much later. Miscommunication blues. But not much harm done really.
Sana stopped at 2 minor temples that are being re-constructed. this was new to me so i was pleased - Chau Say Tevoda, and the Thommanon right across each other. These were relatively smaller temples and easy to navigate.
ANGELINA JOLIE AND TA PROMH
Finally, it was time to head back to Ta Promh. Angelina Jolie once ventured this complex as Lara Croft and this association has amusingly stuck. But there are 2 other temple sights where "Tomb Raider"was filmed - the Bayon and Beng Mealea. Ta Promh is easily the most beautiful, with giant fig trees jutting out of temple stones, some of these vegetations even cropping out from the roofs of these temples. These sites never fail to amaze me many times over.
After Ta Promh, I was equally amazed with the prices at the Tapromh Restaurant where Sana took me. They were just ridiculously expensive - at $7 per order. I tried to contain a tantrum. Must have been the pangs of hunger, but this too shall pass.
Banteay Srey is located 35 kilometers from Angkor Wat, almost an hour of travel. This is famous for its small-scale architectural dimensions and pinkish hue. Some would even refer to it as the girlie temple, like it was made for girls. I've always loved the ride through the countryside. Rice paddies, deep well signs of donors from Norway to the US and everywhere else. Wooden houses that rise on stilts. Roadside shops selling palm tree produce (palm sugars, etc.) Cambodia is such a naturally beautiful country, I do hope its nationals would realize that, and I am not even talking about the Angkor temples.
Even the area surrounding Banteay Srey has been re-planned. Before, I had to walk right in front of the temple, saunter around for 15 minutes, then get out the same way I got in. Today, the compound ground already has a gleaming ticket office, signs that show a "miracle rice that grows in 110 days", and well appointed toilets and restaurants. Though I am in favor of such organized tourism, what have they done with the exit?
Instead of taking a 10 minute walk back in front, you have to navigate around the back of the temple, take the dirt road that circles all the way through rice paddies equipped with view decks. It must have been 1.5 kilometers more than the whole tour of the temple. I am telling you, if are pooped from all the temple hops, expect more feet strain from this protracted!
Funny, but my feet weren't laughing.