Sunday 17 November

We get up around 8, after a good night of sleep. We go by bike to Angkor Wat, that is 10km in the North of where we sleep. Of course, we first have our rice for breakfast. From Siem Reap to Angkor, we take the main road, which is called Charles de Gaulle avenue. The Angkor Archeological Park couts dozens of temples, some of them currently being restaured. There are three options to visit the park: in one day (for 20$), in 3 days (for 40$) or in one week (for 60$). We take the three days ticket. You need to present the ticket to enter the park and nearly all the temples.

To our surprise, in Cambodia, the most used currency (at least for tourists) is the dollars, and not the local Riel. One dollar equals 4000 riel more or less (4000 in small shops, 4100 in the supermarket for tourists). It’s quite funny when they have to give you money back, let’s say 1,5$. In that case, they give you one dollar and 2000 riel.

As we enter the park on the avenue Charles de Gaulle, we arrive to the first temple: Angkor Wat. While Angkor designs this region, and the archeological park with many temples, Angkor Wat is the name of one temple, the most famous. This temple was built in the 12th century, and was dedicated to Vishnu. It is the largest religious monument in the world, and surrounded by a moat hundreds meters wide. Since then, it has become a Buddhist monument. It is a symbol of Cambodia, and appears on the national flag. Today is a rainy day, so it’s difficult to see any of the temple reflections in the so-called Reflection Pool. There are numerous reliefs on the galleries. The site is packed with tourists, so we make our visit shorter.

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We pass next Bayon, but do not stop, because it is also full of tourists. We soon get out of the road, to escape in the jungle! well in some smaller paths. We arrive at the back of the Ba Phuon temple!It’s totally surreal to see the grey stones, used for building many centuries ago, now scattered on floor, among the high herbs, with moss growing. We have a quick lunch in this magic environment. Afterwards, we continue our visit to the famous Ta Prohm. This temple has been left unrestored till very recently, so there is this magical scenery of tree growing on the ruins. There is now a restauration projets, but it intends to keep this special atmosphere of invading nature. Ta Prohm is like a maze in ruins, with many rooms. Sometimes you see a Buddha statue, or a tree emerging from the wall, or a stack of construction stones!

One surprising thing in Angkor is that tourists can go everywhere (or nearly) in the temples. So you easily go to places with less tourists, only by stepping a few stones. I don’t know how long this can last, because the sandstone most of the temples are made of is very easily eroded by the tourists.

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It’s getting dark, and with our poor lights we prefer to go back to the hostel as fast as possible. We go to wander a bit in the night market shops of Siem Reap, to find better lights for the bikes, but with no result. We eat our usual fried rice for dinner, next to a charming Argentinian couple: the mother Elsa and her daughter Natalia. We speak a bit in English, in French and in Spanish, about travels, France, Argentina. Very nice!

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Monday 18 November

First thing we do this morning is to look for lights for the bikes. We go to a shop nearby that rents, sells and repairs bikes: lien Angkor pro cycling tour. The salesman, Mr Bo Bo is very competent and very nice. We find decent lamps, and he fixes for us the steering bar paniers fixation, that used to move.

After a well-deserved fried rice for breakfast, we go to Angkor. Today, we want to start the tour where we left it yesterday in Ta Prohm. We follow the GPS indications to go there. I don’t know where it got its information, but it makes us cross the forest on dust trails, and also some local villages. It’s super slow. But so beautiful. And with no car and no tourists. Perfect conditions for mountain biking.

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We come back to the touristic world in the Pre Rup temple. As many other temples in Angkor, it was originally an Hindu temple, for the God Shiva, that became a Buddhist sacred place later on. By talking with the employees of the park, we learn several things about the financial side of the Angkor National Park. The park is managed by the private company Sokimex (which also does petrol import, airline, hotel management!). There are millions of foreign tourists every year visiting the park (it’s free for locals, and Cambodian people of the diaspora). This resource is shared between the company (25%) and the government (75%). The latter uses small part money to pay the salary of the employees, but keeps the rest as a rent. Although 28% of the global money is reinvested to restore the temples, these restorations generally depend on the generosity of a foreign country. For example, Angkor Wat’s renovation is in partnership with Germany, Bayon with Japan, Ta Prohm with India, ! The park also brings a lot of employement to the region, with jobs more or less well paid. The ticket controller are paid 150$ a month, the janitors 60$ a month, and some guards looking after the statues only 20$ a month. Generally, they come from poor families of farmers, not able to produce any surpluses, and so any other entry of money is profitable. However, 20$ a month is totally insignificant when you have to buy your food at 2$ the dish, with the inflation due to tourists.

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After these very instructive discussions about work conditions in Angkor, we go to the Bayon temple. This time, it was originally built as a Buddhist monument. The temple is famous for its hundreds of gigantic faces, with enigmatic expression. According to scholars, these faces may represent Buddha, or the khmer king who built this temple, Jayavarman VII, or other bodhisattva, like Avalokitesvara. Here too, there is a magical atmosphere, with these faces, the sunset lights, and smoke coming from some wood burning in the vicinity.

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Now that we have good lights, we do not fear so much to come back at night. Tonight we go to eat delicious fried meat with ginger.

Tuesday 19 November

We get up at 4 am, to go to see the sunrise on Angkor Wat. There is a continuous line of tuktuk on the way to the temple. And when we arrive, there are people everywhere. It’s particularly impressive, in front of the reflection pool, to see hundreds of tourists waiting calmly. In fact today, it is a deception: the sky is cloudy, and we see the Sun only when it is already quite high. So nothing of beautiful colours! After another quick tour of Angkor Wat, we go to visit more temples. We go to the temple of Preah Kahn to eat breakfast. This temple was originally Buddhist, and received some Hindu additions later. It has been left mainly unrestored, and so is another surrealist example of the tree invading the ruins.

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We then go to the Neak Pean temple, a water temple on an artificial island in an artificial pond. This temple is composed by a central pool, dedicated to a bodhisattva, and four pools, one on each side. Each pool is linked to one of the four elements: Earth, Fire, Water, Air, and bathing into the correct pools was supposed to cure the illness.

The Ta Som temple we visit next is also among the little restored temples. The East entrance door, with its superb ficus religiosa on it is the symbol of this temple, very much exploited by all kinds of merchants. They sell mainly clothes (colourful trousers, blouses, T-shirts), and paintings. Also, there are many little girls selling smaller things, like postcards, bracelets, keyrings, flutes, ! They are really impressive: to sell the postcards, 10 for 1$, they count in the language of the tourist: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese, Thai! and also they know many catch phrases in those languages.

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Next temple is East Mebon. It has impressive sculptures of elephants, on each side, 2m high. All the morning, we have been invaded by Chinese tourists. On the contrary of Western tourists, who like to travel by themselves, the Chinese always arrive in groups of at least 30. I don’t know what happened today, but 90% of the tourists we met were Chinese. But suddenly, at 12h, they all go to eat lunch. We have our lunch outside East Mebon, then head back to Siem Reap.

We wanted to visit a school, invited by one of the professors, but when we arrive, in the middle of the afternoon, the school is closed. We will go tomorrow morning then. The rest of the afternoon is spent by doing small shopping, eating, cleaning and repairing the bikes (after the sand and dust of yesterday) and working on the computer. Juju’s panier is geniusly repaired, withhomemade composite made of glue and sand. We have a small fried rice as afternoon snack, in the restaurant we like. There, a Danish guy, Klaus, comes to talk with us about bicycle trips around here. He works as travel agent in this region. So he advises us many things, for the route to Phnom Penh, and also for our future route in Vietnam. Juju’s panier is repaired by the bicycle shop we discovered here: with glue and sand, the reparation seems to be even stronger than the original. We go for dinner at the same restaurant. We take typical Khmer food: Amok and Lok-Lak. Amok is a bit spicy, but the taste is good, and Lok-Lak is wonderful.

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And the usual video with bits of everything: