Preah Vihear & Koh Ker – day 359

An early start to the day to live the life of royalty – picked up in a private air conditioned taxi and driven around for the day! Heading down the road I had driven down on the motorbike was less painful and significantly quicker, especially as we both had a little nap as the green fields flew past. Woke up briefly to see the rain pounding down so hard that, even with the wind screen wipers going at full speed, I had trouble seeing the road properly… Clearly wasn’t an issue for our driver who continued driving and just beeped the horn occasionally. 
After about 2 and a half hours, we arrived at a random ticket office in the middle of nowhere. Prasat Preah Vihear is perched high atop an escarpment in the Dengkrek Mountains and is our 57th UNESCO World Heritage Site on our travels. Relieved of $10 each for the entrance fee, we paid another $5 each for the motorbike taxi to the top of the mountain. 
With the rain still falling, we climbed aboard our bikes and started making our way up the mountain. The first 5km of the access road was smooth and gradual enough, although it was extremely windy. Not sure if it was my imagination but it felt like the back wheel was slipping on the wet road around the corners. Didn’t fill me with confidence as my driver seemed convinced he should have been born a motor cross racer and insisted on leaning so far into every corner! The final 1.5 km was extremely steep – in fact, evil Kanivjl even asked me to sit closer to him as he charged up the hill as fast as he could in first gear… Think I would have preferred to have walked!!! Especially as the final section was over rocks and a mine field of potholes – think I might have dislodged some vital organs. Jayne, having arrived before me, clearly enjoyed the sight of my bits jiggering around and the look of pure terror on my face!
We walked up the hill to the crumbling Gopura V (entrance pavilion). As is was raining, the boulders were incredibly slippery – even Jayne in her hiking trainers was slipping, so me in my flip flops was like a baby deer attempting to walk for the first time – so much so, that I removed my shoes and spent the rest of the visit around the temple barefooted. 

Built by a succession of seven Khmer monarchs, beginning with Yasovarman I (r 889-910) and ending with Suryavarman II (r 1112-1152), the builder of Angkor Wat. Like other temple-mountains from this period, it was designed to represent Mt Meru and was dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva. 

Looking around the Gopura, we saw the sandstone monumental stairway that leads down to the Thai border. There’s a long history of conflict between the two nations about who the temple belongs too. After years of fighting and planting of land mines from both sides, the temple belongs to Cambodia and the monumental stairway belongs to Thailand (although it is an emphatic statement that Cambodia disagrees with!). The view from Gopura V was stunning, although it did feel slightly like it was dropping off into the abyss. 

Walking south up the slope, the next pavilion we reached was Gopura IV. On the pediment about the southern door is an early rendition of the Churning of the Ocean Milk. 

The galleries around Gopura I, with their inward-looking windows, are in a remarkably good state of repair, but the Central Sanctuary is just a pile of rubble. I went into the temple since I was barefooted already whilst Jayne sheltered from the rain in one of the doorways. Nearby, the cliff had stupendous views of Cambodia’s northern plains although the people taking jumping photos on the cliff top made us both feel a bit uneasy, especially since the stones were still so slippery. Wandering back through the 800m-long temple, we slipped back over the stones towards the car park to get our motorbike taxis back down the mountain. Slightly strange moment as mine admitted that he had been sick for the last 20 minutes (great!) and then proceeded to just release the breaks and let gravity do its job! Fortunately, we both arrived at the bottom in one piece but it was certainly one of the most horrific motorbike journeys we’ve had in a while!

Back in the car, we drove for about an hour and a half to our next temple complex, munching on Oreo biscuits as we drove along, chatting to the driver. Abandoned for centuries to the forests of the north, Koh Ker was the capital of the Angkorian empire from AD928 to AD944. Had to borrow $20 off the driver since we had been told that our Angkor Wat temple passes would get us into both temple complexes, which is not true! Fortunately, he didn’t mind – I have a feeling we aren’t the first tourists that have come out with money for lunch and not much else…

We started at Prasat Krahom (red temple) which is the second largest structure at Koh Ker, named for the red bricks from which it was constructed. Stone archways and galleries lean hither and thither and impressive stone carvings grace lintels and doorposts. Followed round by a young man who had clearly got a new phone and selfie stick for his birthday, he was trying to take photos of the two of us from a distance (and not very subtly). Laughing, we called him over and posed properly for him so he could have a non blurry photo and then made him take a selfie on his phone of all three of us. He was delighted and had the biggest smile on his face!

Wandering through the ruins, we ended up at the principle monument at Koh Ker, which is Prasat Thom – a 55m-wide, 40m-high sandstone faced pyramid with seven tiers. This striking structure looks like it could almost be a Mayan site somewhere on the Yucatán Peninsula. 

Climbing to the top of this massive pyramid via a wooden stairway with super high steps was worth it as we got views as far as the eye could see and the carvings at the top were spectacular. A couple of requests for photos with tourists and locals and we were making our way back down towards the car. The final temple of the day was Prasat Bram. It consists of a collection of brick towers with two of them completely smothered by voracious strangler figs; the probing roots cut through the brickwork like liquid mercury. Possibly one of the nicest temples we have been to mainly because it was completely deserted. Back in the car, we made our way back to Siem Reap, stopping via an ATM so we could pay back the taxi driver. Got dropped off into the centre of town to buy our bus tickets for Phnom Penh for Monday and to have an early dinner. We choose the restaurant we went to on our first day here but the food wasn’t as good as it was back then (or maybe we have had better food in Cambodia since then?!?). Walking back to the hotel, we watched some TV before going to bed. 

Friday 30th September 2016

Siem Reap – day 358

The early morning yesterday clearly affected us more than we had thought… Neither of use surfaced from deep slumber until after 9am! The perils of travelling long term are that neither of us are used to getting up early anymore, let alone on a regular basis – goodness knows how we are going to survive when we return to work!
Pottering around the room, slowly getting ready, clearly was for a reason! Just as we were discussing what to do for the day, I got an email alert from TES jobs… There is a brand new SEN school looking for teachers for January 2017, not far from where we live. A few emails back and forth between me and the school about the role and school meant that any plans for today were out the window as I was going to apply for this job instead! Sorry Jayne.
Knowing that applying for this job on the iPad was not going to be easy and was going to be incredibly frustrating, we headed into town to find an internet cafe. We walked through the gardens just outside of town, enjoying the peace, quiet and beautiful space before we arrived in the manic Main Street. Stopping at our new favourite Pho restaurant, we slurped away on noodle soup – Jayne adding enough chilli in hers to feed an army! – before we found an internet cafe so I could get started. Jayne popped out into town to sort out booking a taxi for tomorrow so that we can visit the second UNESCO site in Cambodia – Preah Vihear – meaning that we have visited the only two sites in Cambodia and it will possibly the last one that we will be able to visit before our one-year travelling anniversary. 

Tucked in a little cubical in a darkened room with Cambodian men, I had vivid memories of the man watching porn all the way back in India so I was delighted when Jayne came back! Three hours later, I was done and Jayne was bored! There is only so much research and Facebook you can do in a room that stinks of cigarette smoke, despite the no smoking (and no guns!) signs everywhere! Leaving the cafe, I was surprised to see that it was getting dark – apologetic for ruining our day, I treated Jayne to a drink as we walked back to our hotel. I had a ginger bear and Jayne continued her trial of new drinks. This time she chose a weird drink that was a mix between cherry coke and cough medicine!
Got back to the hotel and got a message from Hoai asking us out for dinner. Had about an hour at the hotel before we needed to head back into town. Went to a traditional Khmer restaurant in The Lane. I had a really nice spicy curry whilst Jayne had beef with ginger. Hoai had a soup which he let us try – the overpowering smell and taste of stinky fish was unforgettable. So glad that he had ordered it! Finished our meal at the Blue Pumpkin cafe for some ice cream before catching a tuktuk back to our hotel. Thursday 29th September 2016

Angkor Wat – day 357

Every for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction force – Newtons Third Law of Physics. So, I believe I can go ahead and blame Mr. Newton for this… you eat too much the night before and you have to roll out of bed; if you go to bed late, then getting up early is painful. I have used physics law to complain about how everything about the early alarm clock at 04:00 was just wrong. But, we did manage to get on the road and with the lights on the phone showing where to walk, we entered the Angkor Wat temple complex in pitch darkness. Taking up position by the pool by the North library we had arrived with almost a full hour to watch the sunrise. The Asian tour groups arrived and a small group of ladies gradually walked in front of us, blocking our view of the temple and the reflection in the pool. It wasn’t the end of the world, they weren’t a noisy group and we were able to see above them and take some photos. We didn’t get the iconic photo, but I wouldn’t have blamed them. A number of tourists were creeping further and further around the pool, so I’m sure there are now thousands of photos with a gentleman in a bright green top, a woman in a skimpy white top, ruining the view for hundreds of photographers. The German girl ‘looking for her friends’ right in front of us, taking photos and not searching for anyone, needed a few sharp words (and we have them to her!!). The sunrise was nice, but I don’t think it was worth the hassle. We had some crackers on the steps of the library. The kids of the jungle had a better breakfast than us, begging from everyone with a hotel breakfast pack. A group of youths were sitting on the balustrade (right next to the signs that said not to sit on them). I wonder how many of them understood the sculptures at the end of the rails or what they represented. I feel a bit more organisation and security could be taken from other sites to be used in Angkor Wat during sunrise. We entered the temple early and with the season affording us quieter crowds we were able to explore the empty corridors and ascend to the top sanctums without any queueing. With more than 3,000 apsaras (heavenly nymphs) and 37 different hairstyles, the wall carvings are remarkable. Many of these exquisite carvings were damaged in the 80s by using harsh cleaning chemicals. A German team are now in charge of the restoration and their impact is kept to a minimum, as this building has been in constant use (almost) since it was built. 

We noticed ourselves that the bas reliefs along the lower levels were better viewed in an anti-clockwise fashion. But, as is our fashion when visiting a temple, we oft stroll around before reading about the site. The layout of Angkor Wat is orientated to the west. A long spiel which I won’t bore even myself with, the temple, the heart and soul of Cambodia, is most likely to have served as both as a temple and as a mausoleum for Suryavarman II. An unusual layout didn’t take away from the size, scale and symmetry of the place, believed to be the world’s largest religious building. The views from the Bakan afforded an appreciation of the 1.5×1.3km layout with the spatial representation of the universe. We could hear some people flabbergast by the temple and while we enjoyed it immensely, I think we both still preferred Bayon. But, it was definitely worth visiting and leaving loads of time to explore it. 

High on the hit list for every tourist, popular by Angelina Jolie as Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft… we were off to none other than Ta Prohm. A well sign posted layout of the temple was probably the most pointless of all the notice boards we came across in the Angkor region, as there was a natural one-way flow to the tourists at the temple. Set in the jungle (no surprise there), the guide book has described it beautifully: ‘there is a poetic cycle to this venerable ruin, with humanity first conquering nature to rapidly create, and nature once again conquering humanity to slowly destroy’. The behemoth trees cling to the rocks like a toddler with a toy or a dog with a bone. Their muscular embrace is slowly squeezing life from their chiselled victims. Efforts from the India Archaeological Survey is repairing the site, but upsetting many people at this site by destroying the trees in the process. A compromise solution, from one not experienced in the field would be to preserve or conserve other areas first and only begin work on these small pockets later on. We enjoyed some incredible scenery, both natural and man made and even queued to take photos at one spot inside the temple. The place is a must see before the trees and atmosphere are gone. 

Heading in to town, I vetoed any further plans of temples for a bowl of Pho. There is no way that we can enjoy every single temple in equal appreciation and having been up for over 6 hours already and just eating a few crackers, we needed something substantial before fatigue and heat cut us down to size. 
After a brief nap (ahem) we kinda run out of time to do anything else. Oops! So, we drove in to town, picked up a takeaway. Brought it home and enjoyed a lazy evening with loads and loads of to programs. It was fabulous. Wednesday 28th September 2016

Kbal Spean, Banteay Srei – day 356

The motorbike was delivered on time. We however, were running a bit late and jumped on the bikes slightly later than planned. But, we had the suncream on, helmets fastened tightly and motored down the road, finding the right turn off on the roundabout. We must have been only half way there when the bums started to go numb. MapsMe said the journey was just a 46km trip. The road markers would suggest we did 53. Either way, the last 20km was slow going as neither of us wanted to pause and ease the muscles and the traffic coming round the roundabout in the wrong direction suggested that we needed to stay alert. 

Arriving at the car park for Kbal Spean, we looked a bit like Jeff Daniels and Jim Carey getting off the scooter in Dumb&Dumber. We looked like a set of upside-down letter ‘Y’s’, as we gradually loosened up on the 2km trail uphill. We overtook several other tourists and a tour group of Indians. It only took us 25mins to reach the ‘Bridgehead’. This is the actual meaning of Kbal Spean, but many only refer to as ‘The River of a Thousand Lingas’. A spectacularly carved riverbed, set deep in the jungle, it was ‘discovered’ in 1969 by an ethnologist, shown the area by a local hermit. We didn’t need any hermits to direct us along the jungle paths, clearly marked every 100m with a countdown to the top of the trail. I was admiring the cascading water and trying to capture a photo of the water movement, while Katherine was taking photos of rocks. I had to snap out of it and realise that the entire rock surface was carved in to beautiful figures and mini lingas. It was not at all what I was expecting. We walked a bit upriver finding the impressive boulder of Vishnu in the shallows. Downstream of the bridge head there were further series of carvings with carvings of deities, animals and scripture chiselled in to the rock. The entire riverbed was designed in a beautiful mosaic of lingas with several large sculptures carved in to wide sections of the river. We spent some time at the base of the waterfall. The amount of water was spectacular – of course we had been caught out in several of the downpours that contributed to the flow of the fall. Local families were having picnics, splashing about in the riverbed and introducing their young ones to the water (much to the displeasure of some). We passed some of the same Indians on the way back down and were worried about their progress. In the hour we had passed them, they had progressed a total of 400m. With no water with them and no sign of their guide, I’m not sure they were going to make it to the waterfall, let alone to riverbed of lingas. We did try and discourage them going any further, but we were probably back at the car park before they made a decision. 

Back down the road, we visited Banteay Srei. Included in the Angkor ticket pass we were visiting the jewel in the crown of Angkorian artisanship. This Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva is cut from a stone of pinkish hues and includes some of the finest stone carving seen anywhere in Earth. Banteay Srei means ‘Citadel of the Women’ and it is said that it must have been built by a woman, as the elaborate carvings are supposedly too fine for the hand of a man. We wouldn’t dare comment on who built the city or carved the designs, but the stones in a lovely mixture of pinks, yellows and greys, with intricate and several varied scenes of craftsmanship, meant the temple was incredible. The site was the first major temple restoration undertaken by the EFEO in 1930 using the anastylosis method. The success of the project, very evident in situ, soon led to the restoration of Bayon (our favourite). Originally thought to be from the 13th or 14th century, it was later dated to 967AD from inscriptions found at the site. The manicured lawns around the moat, the buildings almost fully restored to former glory and the landmine victims playing music in the distance, the atmosphere gave the feeling of being back in time. We bypassed the kids (with their prepared speeches) trying to sell postcards and beg candies, managed to find a street side restaurant down in the town and chowed down on some exquisite food. The whole side trip to Banteay Srei, not a million miles from Siem Reap, was memorable and enjoyable. Only a small jaunt down the road (bums still not forgiving us for earlier journeys) we visited the landmine museum. We initially felt cheated by the $10 price tag, but once you visited the place and learned what they did with the money we were content with the cost. We convinced the lady at thedesk to let us have an audio guide in exchange for leaving a credit card – normally wanting a photo ID card. The recent, up-to-date audio commentary was informative, with short bursts of info and letting you enjoy the displays while listening. A well put together museum, the story of Aki Ra – kidnapped child, turned soldier, deserter of the Khmer Rouge, etc and now dismantling land mines that he had placed there himself – was portrayed along with info on global progress to de-mining, costs, manufacturers, how to trigger a mine, its mechanisms and effectiveness and so forth. I would highly  recommend anyone, even if not interested or clued up to the conflicts in history of SE Asia to visit this establishment. It is a short history lesson, without the chalk dust and bells. 

Being able to easily get into town with the bike we went to the Korean BBQ. Even more importantly with our easy ride back home, we were able to stuff ourselves silly with extras of nearly everything. The food probably did’t help with my poorly tummy, but did I care… not an ounce. I was just about able to prop myself up enough to watch some Dexter before bed.  Tuesday 27th September 2016

Siem Reap – day 355

Jayne seems to have caught my stinking cold so today was declared as another bed and bathrobe day! I popped out and got some bread from the staff outside the hotel and we crawled back into bed and had breakfast with fruit tea whilst chilling out. TV and film watching was interspersed with nose blowing and snoozing! I did some planning and research about other things we could do in Cambodia and flicked through emails and Facebook before having a scan on the TES jobs website for teaching jobs for when we get back to the UK, signing up for specific alerts for any SEN jobs. 

Having had instant noodles for lunch, we forced ourselves to get dressed and walked into town to have some dinner. As much as we both wanted another bowl of Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) we decided that we should probably put something more substantial in our bellies – especially as we were now both fighting colds. Headed to a nearby restaurant that served Khmer food. I clearly had the better food choice with my spicy curry as Jayne’s sweet and sour soup was just a little bit weird… Walked back to the hotel via the Blue Pumpkin bakery to treat ourselves to some chocolate cake (it was divine!!) before getting back into our pyjamas and watching some more TV. 

Monday 26th September 2016

Angkor Thom – day 354

We didn’t get up at the crack of dawn, nor did we rush about the place like headless chickens when we did get up. As a result we were leaving the hotel at 11:00, much to our own surprise. The free bikes from the hotel were painful. Katherine’s saddle was so low as to have her knees hitting her chin and my bike was stuck on a high gear with a flat front tyre. But, we carried on. Should we have turned back to rent better bikes somewhere? Perhaps! Katherine managed to adjust the saddle to an acceptable height while I gave directions to three Chinese tourists whom had gone a) completely up the wrong road in search of the ticket office or b) were taking this quiet road in an attempt to sneak in. We enjoyed the shade from the trees en route but collapsed once we got to Bayon inside the Angkor Thom complex. We bartered with the Golden Monkey snack trailer that if they looked after our bikes, we would buy a drink. A honey & coconut and honey & lime slushie later, we were cooled down enough to explore the area. We decided to do a clockwise loop of the more prominent sites, finishing back at the megalithic icon that is Bayon. 

Starting at the worlds largest jigsaw puzzle, Baphuon was infamous in its heyday as well as recent times. The temple was taken apart as part of restoration works, but the civil war erupted. The records kept to piece it back together were destroyed during the Khmer Rouge, leaving 300,000 stones to put back into place… without the instructions. This pyramidal representation of the mythical Mt. Meru is almost fully restored. The walk to the temple is across a raised walkway surrounded by pools with a few pink waterlilies. The staircase up to the top is steep and the views were quite stunning. The western side of the temple was later fashioned into a reclining Buddha, but had it not been for the guidebook and information boards one might have walked right past it. The structure has fallen apart with neglect but the shape is distinguishable and the head still noticeable. A walk through the 700-year-old jungle, we stopped to admire the Phimeanakas temple and royal enclosures before exiting through a gate in the walls to visit Preah Palilay. The former ‘Celestial Palace’ was apparently once topped with a golden spire and the latter housed a Buddha, long since vanished. The charm of both has been lost somewhat with the manicured trees cut back from the base and cut down if too high. I’m not too sure how I feel about the whole situation – on one hand you are trying to preserve archaeological sites and restore them to former glory, but on the other hand, these sites have been neglected or abandoned and nature is slowing reclaiming the area. Travelling eastbound past Tep Pranam, across Northern Avenue and through the throng of hawkers we casually walked around the ruins of Preah Pithu and the Northern Kleang. They didn’t scream ‘explore me’ so we admired the different angles through the massive trees before heading back through the nightmare market and across the street to Terrace of the Leper King. We didn’t notice the nude statue on top of the 7m-high platform (maybe it has been removed), but we sure as hell found the way down to the secret passage easy enough. The front retaining walls of the terrace are decorated with at least five tiers of meticulously executed carvings of seated apsaras with other figures of kings, courtiers and princesses. The terrace is beautiful as you drive past it, but you don’t really notice the detail unless up close as we were inside the retaining wall. Four tiers of apsaras, including nagas, look as fresh as if they had been carved yesterday. There were no other tourists in the walkway and we helped one of the kids cheat at hide & go seek by standing at the corners and rushing the pursuers quickly past, down round a bend and allowing her to hide once again. The 350m-long Terrace of Elephants was used as a giant viewing stand for public ceremonies and served as a base for the king’s grand audience hall. It is possible to imagine the processions coming up the avenue, with infantry, cavalry and elephants. Perhaps they too were able to appreciate the terrace with its five piers extending towards the central square. They wouldn’t have seen the life-size garudas and lions carved behind the retaining wall of the middle section, but they would have seen the elaborate carvings of elephants and guardians along be terrace with exquisitely carved elephants and their Khmer mahouts at either end. Returning to Bayon the guide book does not do it any justice. I’m sorry Lonely Planet, but you are wrong. ‘Rather like a pile of rubble from a distance. It’s only when you enter the temple and make your way up to the third level that its magic becomes apparent.’ B*****ks! 

Emerging more and more from the trees as you approach, and slowly revealing the grandeur of the site, the towers are adorned with faces on each side. The sheer number of carvings at such a height is impressive and it must be good when we have silently entered the first level and barely said a word to each other. Different angles, exposures, settings and orientations from several windows, door frames, archways and tunnels. The mid afternoon sun was putting half of the towers in bright sunshine, the others in shade. The mixture of the two, with lichens growing over the rock surface and weathering giving a misshapen trait to some, the whole area was a goldmine for photography. There were those that complained about how they had taken 500 photos of rock. We were guilty of possibly taking 500 photos of the same rock. The history of Bayon temple was irrelevant to us as we wondered at this feat of engineering. The tunnels of the middle section and the bas-reliefs on the lower level were but fleeting glances as we descended from the temple heights to cross the moat back to our bikes. Of course, there was the free drink from earlier to reclaim and we bought another to thank the team for keeping a watch on the bikes. 

The painful cycle back in to town was exasperated by the front wheel completely locking about 1km away from the hotel. I dragged, carried and cursed the bike past the hospital, annoying tuktuk drivers and in to reception. She tried to see if she could fix it and I think I might have broken down crying if it was something obvious that I missed – thankfully not. I loathe bicycles, almost as much as tuktuks. But, we got one in to town and grabbed a Pho, walked to Blue Pumpkin for cake and chilled out in the room with some tv.  Sunday 25th September 2016

Siem Reap – day 353

The Big Circuit of Angkor yesterday was brilliant. We had a taste of the riches of the area and kept some of the best for another day. But, even with the motorbike and taking the day nice and easy, we were a bit tired. The heat was more draining than you realised at the time. So, we gradually crawled out of bed and got ready for the day and washed some clothes. It was perfect timing that we were ready just at the same time as Hoai. We had a chilled out day in town planned. 

First on the agenda was a spot of lunch. Down a side street, there appeared to be nothing visible of the Vietnamese community that lived in the area. Then we were passing houses, where the garage forecourts had tables and chairs laid out in a restaurant fashion. We plonked ourselves down in a ‘restaurant’ on flimsy blue and red plastic chairs and simply ordered 3. The only thing on the menu was Pho and this place specialised in just beef (the broth is designed to complement the meat). Ripping a few leaves from the basket of herbs and a sprinkle of chilli flakes for more flavour, we had one of the nicest bowl of noodles ever. Still not as good as Pho in Vietnam, the flavours were intense and lingered long between mouthfuls and loads of chatting. 

Only a few houses down, the long yard had been converted in to two sheltered dining areas and it served as a very popular cafe. Not sure they see many foreigners in there, this secret gem of a place served us amazing filter coffees with condensed milk. The hours flew by and we had to make some other plans for the day. We couldn’t/shouldn’t spend the rest of the day on our ass enjoying condensed milk (and coffee). Hoai made a few calls and eventually the tuk tuk driver found us. We could have walked by the time he arrived, but we would have been on the street for 10mins and then would have got soaked. The heavens opened and a downpour of rain made the all of the potholes look the same depth. 
Thus, we bumped down the road on the way to Les Bambous hotel. In the ground floor of one of their buildings they had set up Escape Rooms. We were going to try a game and see what they were like. Katherine and Hoai had never really heard of them before and I was itching to have a go. An hour locked in a room to try and solve the puzzles and escape – it was genius. 

We opted to try City of Temples room. The object of this room was to find the treasure lost in one of the temples of Angkor. But, we had to find the clues to which temple it was in. The first section of the room had us turning up the stools to find colours and numbers under the seat, pebbles in the flowers pot of different colours, pieces of plastic with green shaded pieces. The clues were all in hidden places of the room and together they formed the combination for the locks to the chests on the ground and the lock on the door. The next room had stuff hidden amongst the skeleton of the last explorer whom couldn’t solve the puzzle and died. This clue helped unlock his backpack for more clues and a diary. We got a bit stuck at this point as we had all the clues worked out and couldn’t figure out the next combination lock. Colours on the chart depicted what combination to use, except we didn’t know the significance of the colours as that clue was hidden behind the decorations of the room – decorations they had told us that were not part of the game. We didn’t feel cheated in the slightest. We were given the last clue and entered the last room past the 60min time limit. The final chest was a piece of cake. So, so close!A bathroom break were we had to traverse the now flooded hotel complex and overflowing swimming pool meant we were all soaking. So, in no rush out to the elements we did another room. We did ‘Kowloon Captive’ where we had to solve the mystery and rescue the captive politicians daughter from her captors. We did brilliant at this more difficult room. The had to come in and help us with the briefcase as it was stuck. We thought we had the code wrong, but it was their props. The cameras constantly watching you in the room must be a bit funny for them. They get to see some people struggling, arguing or geniuses like us storming through a complicated set up. The UV torch was a cool trick as a clue. We finished the day, already on a high with a mega meal at the Korean restaurant. Another hidden treasure in the heart of Siem Reap, we got an all you can eat BBQ set up, with pancakes and kimchi and the works for a reasonable $7. Katherine and I waddled home trying to think of ways of converting the escape rooms into a board game and Hoai joined some friends in town for a drink. It took ages to fall asleep after such a chilled out and adrenaline pumped day. It was brilliant and can’t wait to do it again… ahem!

Saturday 24th September 2016

Angkor (Big Circuit) – day 352

Having had a lazy day recuperating yesterday, we decided that (despite some sniffles) we were going to head out to the Angkor Wat temple complex and complete the 26km big circuit. Having booked a motorbike through the hotel last night, it was a little bit frustrating to find that it hadn’t been delivered at 9am and we had to wait for over half an hour for it to arrive – with no petrol! Topping up with petrol we headed down the road, had our tickets stamped and were off to our first temple of the day – Pre Rup. The temple consisted of a pyramid shaped temple mountain with the uppermost of the three tiers carrying five lotus towers. The brick sanctuaries were also once decorated with a plaster coating, fragments of which still remain on one of the towers; there are some amazing detailed lintel carvings here. Several of the outermost towers are perilously close to collapse and are propped up by an army of dodgy wooden supports. It is suggested that the temple may have served as an early Royal crematorium as Pre Rup means ‘Turning the Body’. Avoiding the crowds of ladies trying to sell us anything from their vast collection of t-shirts, trousers, souvenirs and cold beverages, we were back on the dodgy bike (I could only start it if Jayne wasn’t sitting on it) and headed down the road to Eastern Mebon. The Hindu temple is a smaller version of Pre Rup. The temple mountain form is topped off by a quintet of towers. The elaborate brick shrines are dotted with neatly arranged holes, which attached the original plasterwork. The base of the temple is guarded at its corners by perfectly carved stone figures of elephants, many of which are still in a very good state of preservation. The earthen ramps that flank the side of the temple are a clue that this temple was never finished and show how the temples were constructed. Slightly further down the road was Ta Som, a late 12th century Buddhist temple. The most impressive feature at Ta Som is the huge tree completely overwhelming the eastern gopura (entrance pavilion in traditional Hindu architecture). Back on the bike, we drove to Preah Neak Pean, another late 12th century Buddhist temple. It’s a large square pool surrounded by four smaller square pools. In the middle of the central pool is a circular ‘island’ encircled by the two nagas (mythical serpent, often multi headed) whose intertwined tails give the temple its name (Temple of the Intertwined Nagas). The temple is restricted to only the edge of the complex and is accessed by a wooden causeway. The central pool used to have four statues but only one now remains. Water once flowed from the central pool into the four peripheral pools via ornamental spouts in the form of an elephant’s head, a horse’s head, a lion’s head and a human’s head. The pool was used for ritual purification rites. The next temple we visited was Preah Khan (meaning Sacred Sword). One of the largest of the complexes at Angkor – it is a maze of vaulted corridors, fine carvings and lichen-clad stonework. Probably served as the Royal residence while Angkor Thom was being built, this temple was immense! Phreah Khan covers a large area and it took us over 90 minutes to explore it (and I’m sure we probably missed some things!). The temple itself is within a rectangular enclosing wall of around 700m by 800m. Four processional walkways approach the gates of the temple, and these are bordered by a stunning depiction of the Churning of the Ocean Milk, although most of the heads have disappeared. From the central sanctuary, four long, vaulted galleries extend in cardinal directions. Many of the interior walls of Preah Khan were once coated in plaster that was held in place by holes in the stone. Today, many delicate reliefs remain including rishi (Hindu wise man) and apsara (heavenly nymph) carvings. Passing through and stopping at the North gate for a couple of photos of the absolutely stunning gateway we continued to Phnom Bakheng, the popular sunset point. Visitor numbers have been been restricted to just 300 people at any one time which meant we had to arrive pretty early (4pm for a 5.55pm sunset). Climbing the hill up to the temple was a bit tough after spending all day in the heat and humidity but we made it to the top and were one of the last people to be allowed in. The temple mountain has five tiers, with seven levels (including the base and the summit). At the base are – or were – 44 towers. Each if the five tiers had 12 towers. The summit of the temple has four towers at the cardinal points of the compass as well as a central sanctuary. All of these numbers are of symbolic significance. The seven levels, for example, represent the seven Hindu heavens, while the total number of towers, excluding the central sanctuary, is 108, a particularly auspicious number and one that correlates to the lunar calendar. Unfortunately, there were too many clouds in the sky to experience the ‘proper’ sunset experience however the colours in the clouds over the Western Baray was beautiful and well worth the wait. Back on the bike, we made our way in the dark back to our hotel, dodging the insects that were attracted to the headlights. Dropping off our cameras and bags, we took the bike into the centre of town to get some dinner. Knowing that we needed to return the bike by 9pm, we weren’t too worried when the heavens opened at 8.10… Even when it was still raining hard at 8.30… However, at 8.45 we started to get a bit worried, had to bite the bullet and drive home in the pouring rain. It wouldn’t have been too bad except all the streets were flooded and I am truly surprised that the motorbike got us home at all, especially as in some sections we were mid calf deep in water!! 

Totally drenched, we stripped off our clothes, had a warm shower and relaxed with some ‘Modern Family’ on the iPad before going to sleep. 
Friday 23rd September 2016

Siem Reap – day 351

I woke up with an absolutely stinking cold. In fact, I couldn’t stop the endless vicious cycle of sneezing and blowing my nose which ended up giving me a fuzzy headache. Deciding that there was no way I was going to be able to function in the real world, we decided to have a bed day. Had a shower to make ourselves feel human and then donned the silk hotel bathrobes and climbed back into bed. Spent the day watching TV, shows on the iPad and, whilst I snoozed, Jayne entertained herself with games. Feeling slightly less like I was going to snot over every single person I was going to encounter, we braved the outside world and headed to a nearby café/restaurant for dinner. We both ordered Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) and slurped away as the heavens opened and flooded the streets within minutes. Deciding that we weren’t going to walk anywhere in the rain, we ordered a drink and settled back to watch a James Bond film in Chinese with English subtitles until we could make it back to the hotel without getting soaked. Stopped via a local supermarket to grab an ice cream, we returned to bed and watched TV until I passed out. 

Thursday 22nd September 2016

Siem Reap – day 350

The sound of the air con unit was muffled by the sound of the rain outside. We had no choice but to get up at early o’clock. So with a bit of tea, bread and jam we waited patiently under the tree at the main gate with the miserable weather for the bus to arrive. 20mins later than planned we were relieved that it turned up at all… how long does one wait for a tour bus, when they weren’t sure of the address when making the booking? Needn’t have worried, eeek! 3km down the road we pulled in to an elaborate building to buy our Angkor tickets. A well organised system we queued up in the line for 7-day passes. They took photos, printed our passes and we jumped back in the mini-van. 
The outside of the ticket is rimmed with numbers 1 to 31. Much like an old-fashioned Irish parking ticket where you punch in the date and time, the officers at the check point punched a hole through number 21. We were allowed to enter the historical area. But, we skimmed through the jungle, past sandstone walls topped with decorative stonework and occasionally drove past a gateway with amazing work atop the archway. A quick stop at the bathroom and we were then at the Flight of the Gibbon. 
We all had the usual paperwork to fill out and we were given a bandana to wear. As well as being a souvenir, it’s for hygiene under the helmets. A clever idea, but they weren’t very comfortable or fashionable. Who cares, harnesses on, safety demo in the woods and we plodded up the stairs to our first platform. 
We traversed 21 stations, crossing bridges, zipping across 10 lines and rappelling down to the jungle floor. We went up into trees almost 500 years old, getting a birds eye view of the landscape from 40m up. The Kulen mountains in the distance is the where all the stone came from for the various structures hidden in the jungle below. It, apparently, arrived by elephants on zip lines. Hahaha! The whole experience ended so quickly and was both a rush of adrenaline and completely serene and beautiful. Although near Ta Nei temple, we never saw it. We saw some of the same structures on the way to Srah Srang pool for a bit of lunch. A really nice set lunch included in the price of our zip-lining, the price should have included at least one drink, as they were an extortionate price. We shared loads of stories among the group and parted ways when we were the first to be dropped off. 
Back at the hotel we had a nap. Quite a long nap. Not sure if the amount of exercise, heat and humidity warranted it, but meh, who cared. We finally woke up and walked in to town. With no time constraints or deadlines we wandered for a time in the night market stalls. Katherine found a nice new set of trousers for a bargain – although having to haggle again is a right pain in the ass. Back at the hotel we watched some Modern Family and chilled out for the remainder of the evening. 

Wednesday 21st September 2016