After a few near death experiences cycling along treacherous roads through Siem Reap and narrowly avoiding wayward motorbikes for the 100th time that morning, our guide veered off towards a riverbank and hit the brakes. I looked up to see 54 statues lining a road that cut across the water and lead to an ancient gateway, that even after a millennia, cast a shadow over those who passed through it to enter the Angkor city complex.
I stood taking in the statues and the three faces built into the stonework at the peak of the gateway. Whenever I visit such ancient places, I find myself trying to envision them in their time. Looming over people that walked the same paths as the streams of tourists do in modern day. It’s so thought provoking and brings out the more curious side of my imagination.
We climbed back onto our bikes and set off again, following our guide along bumpy, dusty roads that lead away from the more beaten paths and into the Cambodian rainforest. As we ventured deeper into the dense forest, the ground under our wheels turned from hardened, dry soil to loose sand, causing our wheels to slip and slide. On many occasion I found myself slowing and putting my feet down to help guide my bike through more tricky terrain, made even the more difficult by the 15kg toddler clipped into the child seat attached.
After a while, several stops to regroup and a close encounter with a rouge motorbike tearing through the forest, we made it to a secluded, forgotten temple hidden away in the rainforest.
The temple sat on a hillside, overlooking a vast stretch of river. Trees had taken root in it’s abandoned stonework. Intricate carvings were etched across the outside, exposed to the elements and yet so beautifully in tact. Overhead cashew flowers adorned a tree that blew softly in the wind. It felt like we had entered a forgotten world and calm surrounded us.
We continued on our journey and found ourselves standing on a river’s edge, looking to another stretch of dense forest on the other side. Our guide cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted “HELLO” into the depths. As if awoken, the forest echoed back. “HELLO”. Although intriguing, hearing an echo as clearly as if someone else had shouted back was incredibly eerie and deepened the sense that this area is a forgotten world, full of mystery and secrets.
After cycling such a distance, we were in major need of some food to reboot and made out way to a cluster of huts, surrounded by hammocks sheltered by tall trees. While myself and Mr. C ordered our lunch and smoothies, our guide found a seed pod that local children use as part of game and threw it up into the air to show the boys how it spun as it fell back down to the floor. We then spent half an hour lazing about in hammocks, allowing our food to digest as the boys continued to play.
Once we had eaten and refuelled, we climbed back onto our bikes and set off for the final part of our tour, which took us to the famed Angkor Wat. We had mentally prepared ourselves for huge crowds of tourists, pushing past one another to get the perfect travel photo. Only by the time we arrived, it was late afternoon and the larger swarms of tourists had long departed, leaving only a few handfuls of stragglers pottering around the complex.
Our guide talked us through the history of Angkor Wat, from the hindu origins of the temple right through to the buddhist worship that takes place today. He taught us about how different kings throughout the ages reacted to the differences between religions, some welcoming diversity and acceptance, while others did no such thing and tore down rival religious artefacts.
We journeyed through Khmer history as we watched stories unfold through carvings etched into the walls. Stories of love, loss, war and invasion. It dawned on me that throughout history, war has ravaged kingdoms, taking sons from their mothers, husbands from their wives and fathers from their children. Stories of battles, blood and loss carved into stone. An entire history laid out in elaborate markings before our eyes.
It isn’t just the carvings that make this place such a wonder. Everything about the city of Angkor and Angkor Wat is completely awe inspiring. The level of engineering and architecture is just incredible. Different kings added different elements over time, with one king in particular building numerous hospitals throughout the complex, in order to offer health care to the kingdom’s people. There are so many details that seem so ahead of its time. From the symmetry and carefully crafted rooms to the gateways pointing in the exact direction of ‘North’, ‘South’, ‘East’ and ‘West’.
We ended our tour in the grounds surrounding Angkor Wat, where the boys had a chance to run around in the grass and weave through trees playing catch, all the while having one of the worlds most incredible marvels as their backdrop. When it comes to travel, there are rarely moments quite so incredible as that.
Information on cycling Angkor Wat:
We booked a private tour with Angkor Cycling Tour. Angkor Cycling Tour offer a range of different packages from countryside tours and Angkor tours to night food tours. We decided on option 1, which is the ‘Angkor Region and Rainforest tour’. As we were touring with young children, we decided to book a private tour. This gave us a lot more flexibility and meant that we could go at our own pace and miss items from the itinerary if we wanted to.
Top tips for doing an Angkor Wat cycling tour with young children:
- The tour did not include our Angkor pass, which had to be purchased separately. Our guide kindly took us to the ticket office to purchase our tickets before starting our tour, but it will save you a lot of time if you buy it prior to the tour.
- Water was provided on the tour, but we would advise taking a back up bottle, especially if doing the tour with children.
- Wear comfortable footwear. The tour we went on was 40km, so we decided to wear our hiking boots. Due to the difficulty of some of the terrain and with the extra weight of the boys on our bikes, we had to push our bikes through some parts of the route. We were very glad that we left the flip flops in the hotel and wore our hiking boots.
- Dress appropriately. It is an active worship site and visitors are not allowed entry if they do not follow the dress code. Knees and shoulders should be covered.
- If you would like to visit some areas more than others on the itinerary, discuss this with your guide at the start of your tour.
- If you are finding the route difficult, tell your guide and they will be able to change the pace and difficulty to match your ability. The terrain can be quite difficult, especially with an extra 15kgs on your bike and we really struggled towards the end of our tour. We communicated with our guide during our tour and he rerouted us to make sure we got to see what we wanted, while not being pushed too much past our limit.
- Be sensible about belongings and keep valuables secure at all times. We took a secure backpack on our tour.
- Make sure the bike helmets are fitted properly before leaving and voice any concerns. Our guide was brilliant altering the boys helmets to fit them well and also changed my seat in order to make it more comfortable for me.
- Be aware of the sun and heat, especially if touring with young children. We caked ourselves in factor 50 sunscreen and made regular stops in shaded areas.
Although a physically challenging day and on the pricey side, our day cycling around the city of Angkor and Angkor Wat has been one of the highlights of our entire trip. It was such an awe inspiring place to visit and somewhere we will never forget.
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