If you’ve ever watched Angelina Jolie tearing through the Cambodian jungle in ‘Tomb Raider’ and thought to yourself ‘wow that looks riveting’, then you’ll understand how I was feeling as I cut through the dense scenery around Angkor Wat. Sure, I was only on a rented mountain bike and not in a powered up Land Rover Defender, and instead of dodging an armed militia I was evading selfie stick wielding tourists, but the sense of adrenaline raising exploration was well intact. It is simply impossible to not feel like a true adventurer, discovering new temples and investigating unchartered territories when exploring the wonder that is Angkor Wat.
After several days of toiling down the roads of Cambodia, the once invigorating sights of spectacular landscapes, stunning temples and outstanding forestry started to become, well, a bit mundane and repetitive. Having successfully made it to Siem Reap from Bangkok 375km away, the roads started to all look the same, so the day of pedalling around the ‘city of temples’ was as refreshing as it was intoxicating. After reaching the complex from the city centre we began our route along the walls of the old city, overlooking the vast moats surrounding the main temple, before heading deeper into the jungle. Cycling in this environment was certainly more challenging than just cruising down tarmacked streets as we had to battle with rough, narrow footpaths and the overwhelming nature attempting to reclaim them. Instead of just having to worry about the damaging sun and the destructive saddles, we also had to battle with stray branches and cobwebs, as well as all the spiders and insects which accompanied them. It is quite an art to successfully cycle through the wilderness without coming out on the other side with enough species of bugs on your face to populate Noah’s ark, as well as avoiding eating the webs of a million, now homeless, spiders. I was fully expecting someone, maybe Nick, to not duck in time for one of the lower, thicker arms of a tree and get comically catapulted in the opposite direction of their bike, but I wasn’t so lucky in getting to see such slapstick as I was faced with staying at the front of our party. As well as missing out on any droll dismounts, leading the pack also meant that it was my unfortunate face tasked with the duty of clearing any webs and twigs, which was a grim endeavour, but at least my energy levels were kept topped up by consumption of the native insects. Having unintentionally feasted on a buffet of six legged snacks we finally popped out into the presence of Angkor Thom, the last and most enduring capital of the Khmer Empire.
Having wandered around the infatuating structure, it was time to move onto the main building, the temple that features on the country’s flag and is the main reason for why half of tourists Cambodia visit the country. The 12th century colossus is one of the most extraordinary man-made creations on our planet, and my limited ability to string together words can pay no worthy tribute to its beauty. As the centrepiece of the largest religious site in the world, the main temple is obviously going to be jaw droppingly stupendous and me and mum spent hours walking around the site, amazed at the architecture and engineering accomplished over eight hundred years ago. 5 million tonnes of sandstone was carried 25 miles to erect Angkor Wat, which is a ridiculous statistic, especially if you learn it whilst exhausted and sweating enough to fill up the moats after only cycling the same distance to get there, without bearing any sandstone. It seems a shame that it is now rented out and the tickets sold to make a profit, rather than reinvesting the revenue into the preservation of the site (which only 28% of sales goes to) and just as sad that it didn’t make the cut to be elected as one of the new seven wonders of the world in 2007. If Angelina Jolie and her and her Land Rover were arguing its case, I’m sure it would’ve got on the list.