After an air conditioned lunch break we headed out to one of Angkor’s new tourist attractions, a hot air balloon ride. The tethered balloon goes straight up 200 meters for an aerial view of Angkor Wat, Phnom Bakheng (where we would go for sunset) and the surrounding jungle. While it was kind of the junior varsity as far as hot air ballooning experiences go, I had never been and found the whole thing to be a fun experience for only $10USD a person, a good alternative to the hundreds of dollars a helicopter ride for a similar aerial view would cost. Be warned that it will be near impossible to get impressive photographs without a zoom lens.
To finish off our first day of temple hopping we made our way to Phnom Bahkeng, the tourist go-to for sunset watching. According to Canby:
“Bakheng is the first major temple to be constructed in the Angkor area. Its hilltop location makes it the most popular sunset location in the area, offering a view of the Tonle Sap Lake and a distant Angkor Wat in the jungle. The temple is usually overcrowded at sunset, sometimes even completely overrun by tourists.”
We figured it must be crowded for a reason and embraced our camera-totting map-squinting sides as we made our way up the hill. On elephants. Yes, we handed over our $15USD a person, climbed onto the nifty wooden tree platform for getting onto the elephants, and made our lazy, bumpy way up the hill.
It was as crowded as everyone says, and due to cloudy weather and a lackluster sunset that meant lots of disappointed people. But we didn’t mind so much. I had checked off many firsts on my first full day in Cambodia: first sighting of Angkor Wat, first theft by monkey, first balloon ride, and now first elephant ride. An epic day indeed.