Happy new year everyone! (Sua Sdei Chnam Thmei)
Day 3 - Reservoir
We started the day at the PEPY house and shared some goals before getting fitted for our bikes. Our day started early at 6:30am and journeyed our way to Baray Tuk Tlay, a 700 year old water supply for the Angkor Empire. As we road along the red clay dirt roads, we passed through a village where the children came running up to the path waving and saying "hello!" over and over again. Their smiles, the joy in their eyes to see unfamiliar faces, was one of the highlights of the day. I rode alongside a group of grade 10 boys who began learning English two years earlier and we were absolutely amazed at how fluent they were when speaking English. They wished me luck as we parted ways to our separate destinations.
As you all know, the three of us did not have much experience on a bike prior to the ride. I, personally, did not know what to expect. For someone who hasn't been on a bike for 15+ years, I was quite nervous. We started off on dirt roads which wasn't too bad but around the reservoir were sand pits that felt like we were riding in quick sand! There were some minor injuries that day but luckily the three of us managed okay, with me lagging behind, of course. However, I didn't mind too much as the time alone allowed me to take in all the sights, sounds and smells of the country.
We returned to the hotel mid afternoon only to find that our day was not over yet! PEPY organized a team building scavenger hunt which meant running through the city! Similar to the Amazing Race, we ran to restaurants for hints and bargained for fruit to bring to the final destination - Phnom Bakheng. Phnom Bakheng is a mountain with an ancient temple at the top overlooking miles and miles of rice fields. The view was breath-taking and the sunset that we saw was even more remarkable. As the sun drew closer to the horizon, the color became a vivid orange, brightening the sky with oranges and pinks. The year was coming to an end and our journey was just beginning.
Day 4 - New Years
Day 4 actually continues from Day 3. After a whirlwind day ending with watching the sunset atop the mountain, we headed to a local restaurant for some authentic Cambodian cuisine as our new year's eve dinner with the PEPY ride team leaders and all the riders. The energy at dinner was exuberant as we just all had one of the most memorable days thus far, though we've only been on the trip for 3 days. After dinner, the celebrations continued as we waited for the countdown to midnight. All we can say about that night is that it was one of the best new year's eve parties any of us had ever been to!! Completely unreal and no where else could we have experienced this level of excitement, happiness and CRAZINESS!!!No pictures shall be posted on this blog...but you may hear about it when we get back.
Soooo...after only less than 3hrs sleep (or no sleep), we enthusiastically dragged ourselves up from the guesthouse beds, a group of the riders took a few tuk tuks to Angkor Wat to witness the sunrise above one of the seven natural wonders of the world. We absolutely could not miss watching the first sunrise of 2011 over the largest temple on the planet!!!! Breathtaking again??? ABSOLUTELY!!! Since this was the first sunrise of the year, it was tourist heaven. We sat by the main viewing area...along with a billizion other tour groups with cameras ranging from pocket size to massive paparazzi-esque camcorders with microphones and tripods. We almost felt like celebrities with the level of flashes going off half an hour before the sunrise. But as the sun rose from the east casting a shadow over Angkor Wat, everyone took in the moment and felt the warmth of the sun as it rised from the horizon.
Following sunrise, we headed back to the guesthouse for some much needed sleep. The rest of the day was a "free day" from PEPY where we could explore the city as we liked. For us three, we slept a whole lot during the morning and then took some time to wander the markets. Following our quick market excursion, we decided to learn more about the history of the country and visited the Angkor National Museum. This visit was a great setup for the next day, when we actually visited Angkor Wat and already knew some background history about the temple.
Day 5 - Temples
After another 6:30 am (!!) start, we resumed our journey on our bicycles today, and visited Siem Reap's main temples which included:
Bayon: This was one of the oldest temples built by the Angkor Empire. A fascinating temple, it contained several large towers consisting of the heads of both Buddha and the King of the time. This was the favourite temple of most in the PEPY Group given its interesting and intricate architecture
Ta Prohm : Otherwise known as the "Angelina Jolie" temple (Portrayed in the movie Tombraider), this temple is unique in that massive tree roots can be found throughout the temple.
Angkor Wat: What can we say....its lives up to the hype as being an original wonder of the world. This magnificent piece of history is on the national flag of Cambodia and currently defines the nation. We visited the top floor of the complex, known as "being in heaven". This is the view from Angkor Wat:
The visit to these temples, organized by PEPY, is an integral part of us learning the history of the Cambodian people and its unique culture. The tour guides provided by PEPY were excellent and allowed us to become immersed in the country's history. This is important as it sets the foundation for us to learn some of the problems currently faced by the Khmer people today, and the challenges they have been able to overcome given the dark recent history of the country (which will be blogged about in a future post)
Anyways, thanks for reading our blog post for today! We are scheduled to leave Siem Reap on our bikes and get a taste of rural Cambodia over the next several days. Internet access may be limited so we will update you about our experiences as soon as we can!