I’m not much of a bicycle rider in fact you can count on one hand how many times I’ve been on a bicycle in the last ten years. So I don’t know what possessed me that it would be a good idea to hire a bicycle and ride around Angkor in May, I was already struggling with the heat and hummidity of South East Asia arriving back at my hostel each day drenched in sweat from walking around in the days heat and my first call of duty was always turning the air con on full ball. There were other options available from tours, to motorbikes with a driver to a tuk tuk and driver but alas I woke up in the morning and asked the front desk of my hostel for one bicycle please and handed over a soggy one dollar US bill. It was an old clanger of a bike a bit rough around the edges and the three gears didn’t seem to make any difference but off I went with my bag and a one litre bottle of water in the basket.
I cycled out of Siem Reap and along the long bitumen road to Angkor, it was still early in the morning and fairly cool when I headed off and I thought to myself this is going to be a great way to see Angkor. Roll forward about an hour I had cycled along the road, through the ticket check to the end of the road and turned right and cycled half the loop of the small circuit where I limped into the parking area of Ta Prohm (aka Tomb raider temple). I slowly got off my bike with wobbly legs, chained my back tyre and attempted to walk to the temple entrance, nope wasn’t going to happen, I needed to rest my bones first, I bought a can of coke off one of the sellers and sat in the shade for about twenty minutes trying to cool myself down it was only early but already I was covered head to toe in sweat and already suffering saddle soreness, it was going to be a long day in the saddle.
Once cooled down I headed for Ta Prohm Temple, it was a nice walk up to the temple in the shade of the trees growing over the path and a band playing traditional music lightened the load. Like most temples Ta Prohm was a mass of stone doorways and halls to visit over crumbling stone but this one is a bit different in the fact that massive trees grow into, around and over the stone work, standing next to the branches it is not hard to imagine this has been going on for hundreds of years. I walked around for ages taking many pictures and soaking it in before it was time to hop on that bike again.
Back at the parking lot I rolled up my pants above the knee and my t shirt over my shoulders took a big swig of my water and headed off on the road again. The roads are quiet flat its not a hard ride its just that its so hot with the sun beating down on you and no breeze at all and the fact that I’m not very fit probably comes into it as well.
I road past a few small temples before making my way to Victory Gate (east gate) of Angkor Thom where I stopped to take some photos of me looking pretty buggered on the bike but with a nice view of the gate behind me. Through the gate there were some nice trees covering parts of the road to take the sun off my back but before long it was bam back into the scorching sun. I had reached the Temple of the Elephants but the glaring midday sun turned me off exploring this one, I’ll save it for another day.
The road took me onto Bayon the famous temple with all the stone faces staring at you but it also had a nice clump of trees at the edge of the road where again I took another breather before heading over to explore the Temple. Up the stair case and into Bayon I went exploring all the faces and taking many photos from different angles before taking refuge in the centre of the temple in the shade. It didn’t make me feel so bad being drenched in sweat as all the other tourists had the same red faced and puffed out look like me!
It was getting harder to get back on the bike as saddle soreness was well and truly setting in and the searing heat and sun was just pouring down. On the other side of Bayon tourists were stopped in their comfy air conditioned mini vans feeding and taking photos of monkeys, the gathered crowd had also drew the attention of a soft drinker seller and it didn’t take me much persuading to buy can of coke and sit down for a few minutes to watch the monkeys.
I road out of the South Gate of Angkor Thom and looked over my shoulder a big storm was starting to brew and the sky starting to darken in the distance, it might storm tonight and cool the place down I thought to myself as I headed on the road towards Angkor Wat. It was early afternoon and I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast I came across a eating area with table and chairs and sat down. Firstly I ordered a big bottle of cold water and gulped most of it down while waiting for my noodles. Again feeling refreshed I headed off and slowly made my way to Angkor Wat and sat down on the edge of the moat to take in the awesomeness of this Temple. While trying to strum up the energy to explore the Temple a big crack of thunder erupted overhead followed by a bliding lightning strike.
I had a decision to make do I explore Angkor Wat and risk getting drenched in the process or head on back to Siem Reap, rest my aching body and save Angkor Wat for another day. The continuous cracking of thunder made my mind up I was going to head back I was hot, sweaty and aching. I hopped on the bike and through gritted teeth forced my legs to push on down the road, not before long the heavens opened up and the rain poured down, I scampered under a tree still getting dripped on through the branches whilst all the bus drivers sitting in their rain free buses looked at me (I could tell they were laughing). Once the rain slowed to a drizzle I headed back to Siam Reap which seemed to take twice as long as it did when I rode in. A few tourists zooming past on the chauffer driven tuk tuks gave me a thumbs up on the way, but I bet they were saying you poor person why did you ride a bike for!
Finally I made it back to the hostel and was glad to hand back the bike, have a cold shower and lay on my double sized bed in the air con and rest. My backside was so sore I wasn’t going to walk anywhere that night! For the next two days I explored Angkor from the comfort of a tuk tuk. I worked out cycling from the hostel to Angkor around the small circuit and back to the hostel I had cycled 34km! Even though it was tiring and it hurt looking back on the experience I’m glad I did it, there were so many nice stops along the way to take photos that you just wouldn’t get on any other transport and also to take in the vastness of Angkor, it truly is an amazing place.
Rode bicycle around Angkor 20 May 2013