Biking to the Angkor Temples and Getting Lost
The road to Angkor Thom
Right. So, a mere 25 km bicycle ride in a day is probably nothing compared to people who biked long distances all over the world. But for me, biking to the Angkor temples from Siem Reap was quite an adventure in itself.
I left the guesthouse early that morning, since I knew it would get hotter the later I leave. I went straight to the bike rental lady to choose my bike for the day, and lo and behold there’s a mountain bike with a basket attached to its front. Perfect, I thought. Now there’s more chance of me to survive the day; I could put my heavy backpack in the basket instead of wearing it all day, and the bike would help me if there’s any ‘hard terrain’.
Well there was no hard terrain, and the whole trip was pretty flat on paved roads. But at times, the gentle slopes felt so difficult to bike that I congratulated myself many many times that day for choosing a mountain bike. Such is the fate for people who don’t bike regularly. Or exercise regularly, for that matter. They get tired easily.
After I biked for about 6 km, I started thinking that biking to Angkor was not such a good idea after all. I was already so tired I could not imagine doing it for the rest of the day, let alone have energy to sightsee the temples! But I continued on, because I had planned it, and that meant I must finish it.
But soon after it became easier. As I entered the park, I was greeted with the view of large trees on both sides of the road, and with the breeze blowing softly, things were looking up!
Minutes later I caught the first glimpse of Angkor Wat's South gate, barricaded by the moat, and it took my breath away, just like it always did. But this time it was even better, because I stopped and just enjoyed the view instead of zipping on right by.
Biking In Angkor Is Fun!
After I was satisfied looking at the gate and the moat, it was time to continue biking. I decided to go straight to Angkor Thom since I already spent so many hours at Angkor Wat just the other day. The road to the Angkor Thom temple complex was also pleasing; it was easy, flat, smooth, and lined with mature trees. By this time it was becoming a joy to have the freedom of going around the circuit on bicycle.
Having seen most of the temples already, I decided to go to places I’ve never been. My first stop was the Prasat Bei temples, just outside the South Gate. It was a novelty indeed to be able to bike so close to the temple. If I wanted to stop right on the steps, I could! I started to like biking more and more.
My next stop was Angkor Thom’s West Gate. Since this gate practically leads to nowhere, nobody really goes here. I, on the other hand, thought the "abandoned" dirt road lined with trees and forest behind them look like such a soothing ride, and it was!
By that time biking around didn’t feel so tiring anymore. My body was getting used to all that exertion, and things became easier.
The Biking Adventure
Then I decided to bike to Ta Nei temple. The other day my tuktuk driver and I couldn’t find it, because apparently it’s hidden in the middle of the Angkor park jungle. Plus, the normal road was not accessible by vehicles, and visitors had to walk about 3 km in.
I knew there’s another route to Ta Nei, and I thought it would be perfect to bike there. There’s a small road leading to the French Dam, and all I needed to do was cross the river using the dam’s bridge, and walk about 200 meters to the temple. Sounds like a perfect plan! So simple and easy. This route is even listed on the Lonely Planet guidebook, so I thought it must’ve been a good route.
So after I got out of Angkor Thom, I biked around 3 km to the dam with no problem at all (with the exception of losing my way once). I saw lots of butterflies on the way, and several local people logging trees (which they probably would use as wood fire). When I reached the dam, I got off my bike, locked it, and crossed the bridge.
On the other side of the bridge, I was greeted with a wild jungle; wild undisturbed jungle with thick green bushes and spider webs everywhere. But then I recalled that Lonely Planet listed this is an alternate route, so the wild look could be deceiving. I thought maybe if I venture in carefully I’d be okay. And what’s 200 meters anyway? I’d find the temple in no time, take some pictures, and get out of there before I was eaten by wild jungle beasts.
It turned out that that was a very foolish decision. Soon after I followed what seemed to be a trail, it branched out and just seem to disappear into oblivion. I kept on going, thinking that the temple was just around the corner, and how could I possible miss something so big? No, I decided to go on and just used my instinct.
Well, about 20 minutes later, there was still no temple. I’ve ruined so many spider webs, broke so many tree branches, passed by several anthills, and undoubtedly stepped on so many ants and creatures below. I started to worry, and decided to admit defeat and call it quit.
Then I started my way back.
Surprise surprise, I was lost. Nothing looked familiar, the trees looked the same everywhere, and instead of finding my old ‘trail’, I seem to have gone deeper into the jungle, ruining even more spider webs and breaking more branches. It was then the official time to panic and start fearing for my life. I instantly thought I was going to die there, because nobody knew where I was (I didn’t leave any messages or directions).
In my most desperate moments, I started to mark several trees with my initial so that I could see if I was going around in circle. I also started eyeing wild berries just as a backup plan so should I happen to stay the night in the jungle, I’d have something to eat. For about half an hour I was trapped in the Angkor jungle, both hoping and giving up at the same time.
It's Good To Be Alive
Then the miracle of all miracles happened. I heard the sound of the river. It was faint, but it was there. I slowly followed the sound, and in a few minutes I was deposited right there on the bridge! Thank heavens; it was not my time yet!
I had the crazy notion of going back in to try finding the temple again, but decided that I had pushed my luck more than enough for the day. I quickly crossed the river and found my bike greeting me in silence. I was never so happy to see a bike in my life before, but having just escaped death, any reminder of a ‘normal life’ was very welcoming.
On my ride back to the main complex, everything seemed more beautiful. The tree loggers smiled and greeted me, the colorful butterflies were flying all around me. Life was beautiful!
The rest of the day I biked cheerfully. Everything seemed easier, brighter, and nicer compared to the dark dense jungle.
I would never forget that biking experience. When I started that morning I did not know what adventure was waiting for me. Thanks to the bicycle I had the time of my life getting lost at the Angkor park!
Rahmi is the author of www.holiday-in-angkor-wat.com
website. Click here if you’re like to read her tips for biking to the Angkor temples
. Don’t worry, it doesn’t contain any tips on how to get lost in Angkor park.