I'm 30 years old and wat is this
My visit to Siem Reap, Cambodia
As a part of my extremely cool trip to Asia in early 2016 I also visited Siem Reap in Cambodia. The place is best known for the Angkor Wat temple complex, and obviously that was why I went there. I had already seen plenty of Christian relics and buildings, but not that much Hindu and Buddhist stuff, except for the temples in Thailand.
Arriving in Cambodia takes some time, as there's lots of people and everyone needs a visa. The procedure is pretty straightforward, though. Just bring with you a couple of ready-cut passport-compliant photos. You will also need some United States dollars, which also function as the main type of currency in the area. The local Cambodian riel (៛) is also used, but as $1 is worth approximately 4000៛, you will mostly be handling dollars.
I had booked a couple of nights in the Pool Party Hostel. It has got to be the best hostel I've ever been to, and I wholeheartedly recommend it, even if you are only used to staying in hotels. It is that good. What else was great about the place is they rent mountain bikes. Obviously they aren't of that great quality, but the staff is happy to spend a minute or two to set things up for you and eventually you'll have a ride good enough for what's to come.
The Angkor region
The first thing one should realize is that Angkor is more than just the famous, seemingly three-towered main temple. There are five towers, actually, and there are several temples and points of interest in the area. The most popular thing to do is to hire yourself a tuk-tuk driver for a full day. Then early in the morning start from the main temple, ride the main roads around the temple area, and finish your day again at the main temple. This is what everybody seems to be doing, and you would guess that's a good way to do it - after all, there are several square kilometers to explore and the sun is mercilessly hot. But there's another way. I think the best way to explore the area is with a mountain bike.
You can buy the ticket to the complex area the previous evening. You can make this trip with a tuk-tuk. It won't cost you a lot as it's not a full day trip, but it lets you skip the ticket queue next morning and you may gaze the main temple in the sunset outside the moat without any exhaustion. Then, the following day, you can start your bicycle trip. Renting a bicycle for a full day is super cheap.
The best thing about going on your own is obviously that you can go with your own pace. This you can mostly do with a hired tuk-tuk also, but what people might not realize is that the temple area is full of small paths and jungle trails which are accessible with a bicycle but not with a tuk-tuk. After the day I traced my path in Google Maps and found out I had cycled approximately 40 kilometers in total.
While on the bike, at some point I realized I hadn't seen any other people in two hours. I think there was over three hours with no other tourists in sight, just a few locals. Riding a bike along the jungle trails is super exciting and fun, and the trees actually give you pretty good shade from the sun, so it's not as tough even if it might be a bit hot.
What's also nice about the trails is that they lead you to entrances which aren't exactly used normally. Most of the temples have four entrances - one in each cardinal direction. For example, in the case of Preah Khan the southern entrance looked like it was about to crumble. You can check out the old ruins and there's nobody to bother you. I even saw this piece of wall, which I photographed. After my trip I bumped into an article about a LIDAR scan from the area and how it had revealed a lot of stuff, including walls buried in the jungle. That wall was also highlighted in the article, even though it was clearly visible from the jungle trail. Everything just feels more authentic with this approach, so do yourself a favor and skip the tuk-tuk and use your muscles.
As I mentioned earlier, you can check out the Angkor Wat outside its moat in the evening the day before the day you have bought the ticket for. With the ticket, I also visited the temple during sunset, just before closing time. There is one negative side: you can't climb any of the towers if you come late. However, there are plenty of stuff to climb in other temples. And the positive sides outweight the negatives again. The best reason to go in late is, again, that not too many people seemed to be doing it. Another reason is that the buildings look amazingly beautiful during sunset. And, obviously, you get the chance to enjoy the sunset itself inside the temple area.
All I can say is there's a reason why Angkor Wat has become so popular. The area is simply astonishing, and it's such an easy place to visit that there's only one reason not to go. The reason is, as with all the other cool places, to not be part of the ever-growing number of tourists. But if you act responsibly - protect the nature, respect the locals, and never buy stuff from children - seeing cultural heritage is never a bad thing.
If you are in a neighbouring country, paying for the flights, the visa, the entrance ticket and rides, and spending hours in the airport might seem like a lot of effort just to see one temple area. But that's exactly what I did, and I totally recommend it even if you don't have the time or interest yet to spend more time in Cambodia.