Once the bustling capital of the mighty Khmer Empire – it housed over a million inhabitants at its peak – Angkor today is a complex of ruins overrun by lush jungle on the outskirts of Siem Reap, Cambodia. Scattered over a 250 square mile area are 72 major temples built between 800 and 1200 AD, offering a monumental glimpse into early Southeast Asian culture. A visit here allows one to discover their inner Indiana Jones, but devoting just a day of exploration will barely graze the surface of all that is on offer. Take your time and a few days; even then, there’s so much to investigate that using a bike to get around is an ideal way to explore these ancient wonders.
Even beginner-level cyclists can hack the easygoing 20-minute pedal from Siem Reap’s city center to Angkor’s main entrance. We borrowed our bikes from our guesthouse, The Cashew Nut, but rental shops are scattered throughout the city, and most guest houses and hotels have rentals for about $2 per day. Although roads are speckled with minimal morning traffic, the evenly paved streets got us to the entrance gates with ease. Once inside the complex, riding around is like a walk in the park, but please mind the monkeys. (Seriously, they’re everywhere.)
Near the entrance stands the temple superstar, Angkor Wat, surrounded by a square moat. This five-tiered Hindu masterpiece is best seen during the early morning sunrise when its dark grey stones shine, as if Mother Nature herself were shining a spotlight. After a fried noodle lunch at a food stall nearby, we peddled just up the road to take in the many grinning faces of Bayon at Angkor Thom (there’s 216 of them carved into the temple, to be precise), where King Jayavarman VII built a mighty temple surrounded by formidable walls and a square moat (moats were popular back then). At the end of the day, we laid back lakeside to give our sore muscles a rest at the glistening Sra Srang, the royal bathing pond.
For exploration of more far-flung ruins, like the well-preserved and meticulously detailed stones of Banteay Srei, a tuk-tuk (a passenger cart attached to a motorbike) is recommended and costs about $30 a day.
More information: Rentals are available for about $2 per day from your guest house or hotel or from rental shops scattered throughout Siem Reap. Try some of these sample bike routes around the Angkor Wat Temple Complex.