Time is a funny thing. Six weeks ago, waking up at 4 a.m. to cycle around the Angkor Wat temple complex seemed like such a good idea. Now, at 4 a.m. on the day of the tour, I am significantly less enamored by the idea. It’s still dark out on the way to the pickup, and on Sok San Road we passed last night’s stragglers who are refusing to admit that it’s morning. Exactly what you need to see before going on a 5 a.m. bicycle tour.
Grasshopper Adventures is one of the biggest bike tour companies in Asia and has a great reputation and glowing reviews so I signed up for the Angkor Sunrise Discovery Tour. We were picked up by our guide, Som, and a nameless driver who laughed uncontrollably every time I said anything in Khmer. First stop was the ticket booth to buy our $37 temple passes, not included in the $85 tour price.
This may seem expensive, but you are fully catered for with bike and helmet, breakfast, lunch, snacks, pickup and drop-off, as well as a qualified Angkor temple guide to show you around. The Angkor Sunrise Discovery Tour is one of their more expensive day tours, others are significantly less.
Angkor Wat is perhaps one of the most-visited tourist sites in the world. It helps if you accept the fact that you will be unable to escape the hordes of tourists, at least some of the time. Sunrise at Angkor Wat also contains the largest collection of tripods, cameras, and other overpriced photography accessories anywhere in the world. It is a place where regular people become serious about photography and spend the whole time there enjoying the view through an iPhone screen when the real thing is there right behind it, in all its glory.
Angkor Wat itself is a wonder, but you can also have a great time marveling at other things, like tourists’ fashion choices, or people’s apparent need to film stationary rocks and how agitated they get when you get in the way. There are literally tons more rocks to film, buddy!
We did not get onto the bikes until after breakfast, around 8 a.m. It’s a simple breakfast, with fresh omelettes, a selection of fruits, cereal, and tea or coffee. Once you’re on the bike, you are taken through the surrounding jungle on a small track and out to the west side of Angkor Wat where there are no tourists — this is what you are paying for.
The path is not too rough, which means the tour is open for all ages and fitness levels, unless, of course, you are the type of person who goes faint at the sight of people cycling. The bikes are professional, sturdy, and comfortable and helmets are also provided. Grasshopper has a cycle shop in town so the bikes are regularly tuned up by expert bicycle mechanics with good quality parts.
One of the highlights of Siem Reap that many people miss is the countryside. Grasshopper Adventures’ sunrise tour stops off at a small village in the temple complex where you can catch your breath and enjoy the morning atmosphere as people go about their day. Cambodian people are famously friendly and welcoming, and while the villagers certainly seemed to be used to the sight of foreigners, they were no less friendly.
One lady even stopped making Khmer New Year stars to machete open some sugar palm fruit for us. She was smiling warmly the whole time while all of us smiled nervously from fear she would chop off her fingers (she didn’t).
The landscape changes during the tour and you go past thick forest, rice paddies, and even along the wall of Angkor Thom, which gives you a great view of the moat. We also stopped at the place where they keep the elephants, on request of one of our fellow cycle tourists. This would perhaps be interesting if you have never seen an elephant before, but the sound of their chains clinking as they moped around looking bored was a little bit depressing.
Whether you are interested in temples or not, the tour still has plenty to offer. We were fortunate enough to spend 15 minutes watching a family of gibbons swinging through the trees at one of the smaller, more obscure temples. This was an unexpected treat, and of course everyone, including myself, immediately went into serious wildlife photographer mode as we all tried to capture the perfect ‘gibbon in the wild’ moment on a compact camera.
After a visit to Ta Prohm and the usual queue of excited tourists waiting for their special-but-totally-generic tourist picture, we went for lunch at one of the restaurants on the banks of Srah Srang. The food was decent for such a touristy restaurant. Being jaded and cynical about the tourist masses at the temples was part of the experience for me, but make no mistake, the execution of the tour was fantastic.
We were totally catered for the entire time and the guide was attentive and friendly. Grasshopper Adventures offer various other options for tours around Siem Reap as well as all over Asia. If you are traveling and see the logo, have a look, because I’m sure they’re all good!
Open daily, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
586 Street 26, Wat Bo, Siem Reap
T: 012 462 165; 016 337 363
We paid our own way for our tour with Grasshopper Adventures. This is *not* a paid placement!