As I mentioned, we decided to hire a tuk tuk driver (for $12/day!) for our 2nd day of exploration. This was the best decision EVER! Our first stop was Bayon, a Buddhist temple built in the late 12th century complete with 37 towers. Almost every tower has four carved faces each pointing in a cardinal direction. From afar, the temple looks completely uniform but up close, you can see how each stone was fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces. The large stone faces have become some of the most famous images connected to Khmer art and architecture. Inside was like a giant maze with passage ways, shrines and open window sills all looking like they were about to crumble.
Bayon was part of Angkor Thom, which was a complex that included many other temples and terraces. Below, there are pictures of the Terrace of the Lepers and Terrace of the Elephants. It was fun walking around, but we didn't last long here as most wasn't shaded. Did I mention that it was HOT?! When we got back to the hotel later this day, it was 107 - I can only guess that it was hotter while we were out exploring.
We really enjoyed Preah Khan temple as well. This was probably the temple that we saw that was the most "in ruins". There is a debate going on about how much to restore this temple and how much to leave it in the state that it was found in. I personally loved the feel of this one since it was really in the jungle with overgrowth and trees poking out. You could hear the birds chirping and there were hardly any people to be seen. I felt very much like Indiana Jones discovering this hidden ruin. For the most part, you can really jump and climb over everything. Hard to believe that all of these areas had to be swept for landmines only 30 years ago. For that reason, when an area says "danger" or "landmines may be present", you need to respect that.
Our absolute favorite temple was the last we visited - the Buddhist temple of Ta Prohm. I loved this temple because it was in complete shambles and tinted a faint red and green color from its jungle surroundings. The grounds and temple itself were completely overgrown with humongous roots and trees. This is also the temple that was featured in Lara Croft, Tomb Raider for any of you movie buffs out there.
We ended our day at the pool with $5 pitchers of Redbull/vodkas and massages. The next morning, we got in some pool time before we had to catch a plane to Bangkok. The trip back to the US home involved us frantically buying Australian visas at the Bangkok airport (only needed for people who don't have a "guaranteed seat" out = us), but seats looked good! We jumped on a flight from Bangkok to Sydney (on Emirates) and Sydney to LAX (on Qantas) and then LAX home (on Southwest). 30+ hours of traveling later and we were home!
We really loved this trip and we especially loved how cheap everything was. There are so many places I would like to go in the world, but I can definitely see going back here some day. I would recommend every single place we visited and would be happy to email anyone more details in case anyone is thinking about a trip. My biggest piece of advice? PACK LIGHT! I am fairly high maintenance and I managed to fit 16 days worth of clothes in this carryon pack. Be impressed - be VERY impressed.
Thanks again Southwest Airlines. This trip had been planned in my mind for at least 6-7 years and was truly epic. Standby travel is always stressful (I expect no sympathy here), but it is always worth it. I'd like to think that we're kind of old pros at this thing now!
Up next for us? We just can't stop - we're heading to Vancouver, Canada tomorrow. We've never been to Canada before, so it should be great! I hope everyone has a great Memorial Day weekend!