Biking Along the Hidden Trails of Angkor Thom with Kids
A well-kept secret are the trails that run along the top of the ancient walls that form a perfect square around what was the city of Angkor Thom. They are not secret at all, intrepid cyclists have been riding these ancient paths for years, however, many people miss this amazing opportunity to get away from the crowds and to experience hidden jungle temples, tourist-free quiet and an easy ride that is suitable for the youngest of children.
First off, let’s strike the image you may have of riding along an actual wall and trying to balance on a narrow ledge. There are actual and ancient walls running along the outside, at a height of 8 meters. Along the inside of these, is an elevated pathway that follows what would have been the interior road of the city, likely used by sentinels and guards. These form a 3 kilometer by 3 kilometer square and the path itself is about 5-8 meters wide.
Most visitors to the temple drive through one of the four gates on their way in to visit Bayon, the Elephant Terrace and other temples inside of the former city. The gates are where you will find the trails to access the top of the wall and start your jungle cycling adventure. These are nearly overgrown paths that require a bit of navigating and walking/pushing your bike. You will need to help smaller children get up and off the wall.
There are six gates around the outside walls. The most popular to start a ride along the wall (and the closest to cycle to from Siem Reap) is the south gate. The path on the left after you enter through the gate is also the only one with signage of any kind and a small rest area.
If you are with young children, the best plan is to take a tuktuk or car to the starting point, get your kids up onto the wall and cycle one corner of the trails only. Older children may be able to continue around the entire perimeter, but even just doing one corner of the route will be a great adventure experience for the entire family, that is not too long or tiring. The trails are not loudly marked. Look for the small blue signs that indicate the start trails.
An exciting feature of these hidden trails (other than the quiet, solitude and distance from the crowds of tourists and vendors everywhere else) are the small temples found at each corner. These are each labeled Prasat Chrung (corner temple) and marked with their direction, for example Southeast Prasat Chrung and so on. Chances are, you will have these small temples to yourself to explore and picnic at.
If you get on at the south gate and ride towards and past the south-east Prasat Chrung, you will come to the beautifully restored and maintained Gate of the Dead, or Ghost Gate as it is named in Khmer. This gate is quiet as the road to reach it is bumpy and ends at the gate itself and therefore does not have the through traffic of the other gates. Rather, other than the guard stationed here, you are unlikely to meet anyone else.