It was June 1999 when I first arrived in a dusty and sleepy little town of Siem Reap with my backpack on my back and my mum flying into meet me to explore the temples of Angkor.
It was a very different place back then. Nearly all the roads were broken, there were very few fancy hotels or restaurants. There were not even any tuk tuks! So I negotiated with a moto-taxi driver to rent his Honda Dream and off we went -me driving and my mum nervously hanging on for dear life. Its 20 years ago now, but I still remember like it was yesterday.
Angkor Wat was this immense magical place that rivalled any man-made creation I had ever seen. We wondered around almost alone – except for a young local boy with one of those magical Khmer smiles that melts the heart, he took it upon himself to show us around. There were no crowds, no selfie-sticks, no disturbance. Only this monumental spiritual place, this charming young lad, and me and my mum.
Tombraider had not been filmed yet, so the magical temple of Ta Prohm was simply known as the ‘jungle temple’ or the temple that the French left to nature. This was always my favourite and I felt like Indiana Jones clambering over the rocks and twisted vines..
The Bayon, is one of the most moving of all the temples for me. In the exact centre of the walled city of Angkor Thom, there remain roughly 200 huge faces with enigmatic smiles carved into the ancient rock. It’s a very powerful and spellbinding place.
Today Siem Reap, and the temple experience, has changed beyond recognition. The temples are still, to this day, some of the most amazing man-made structures you will find anywhere in the world!
But it’s not just the temples by themselves. The temple complex is still very much alive. It is studded with local villages, schools, and ancient irrigation systems that are still used to this day – most tourists miss this side of Angkor. One of the most overwhelming features of the temples is the jungle and forest that envelope them. Most temples were lost to the jungle for hundreds of years. Painstaking efforts have been made over the past few decades to uncover them. But the magical forests are still everywhere to be seen.
As an ex Tour Leader I have been very happy to deliver amazing experiences to guests who were quite literally blown away by Angkor. In this day and age this is hard to re-create and doing Angkor the justice it deserves is no easy task. It’s not easy to over-come the crowds, the traffic jams, and the noise, all of which detract from what should be a special once in a life time experience
However, at Vespa Adventures, I honestly believe we have created some of the best temple experiences available. Being on 2 wheels gives us the freedom to leave the main roads behind. We use hidden trails through the forest, rice fields and villages. We choose alternative approaches and out of the way entrances to ensure that we capture the magic not only of the temples, but their magical surroundings as well.
I have put this to the test. My mum, now 72 years of age took the, Our Angkor Tour some 20 years after her first visit. She did not go easily. She hates organized tours; she gets stressed by crowds, and, now has a bad back and is terrified of motorbikes. However, with some moderate persuasion, we got her on the bike and around 7 hours later she came back with a massive smile on her face. She hugged and tipped her driver and guide and told me it was “one of the best things I have ever done!”
On any of our tours each guest has their own professionally trained driver and Vespa. All of our guides are licensed and first Aid trained. We carry first aid kits, iceboxes with soft drinks, beer and cold towels. We include passenger insurance, and offer a premium service unrivalled on any adventure tour of the temples.
But what really makes our tours so special? Our people! They love their work, they love their country and are proud of their heritage and they love to show it off in a different and exciting way! We believe that it is the people of Cambodia that are the real stars of the show – after all they built the temples! For every tourist who books a Vespa tour we are employing at least 1 local for a day. With each tour we are delivering experiences that our valued guests will remember for a lifetime!
Jake Corke is country director for Vespa Adventures in Cambodia and has vast experience in the travel industry