DAY 7 (22nd October) BANTEAY SREI, KHBAL SPEAN and BENG MEALEA
Shunning Seila’s offer of a sunrise at Shrah Srang (sometimes you just have to sleep), we arranged for him to meet us at 06:30. Having forgone breakfast we went outside and sure enough there he was, waiting with the car. Ok it wasn't a limousine, but a 17 year old Toyota Camry, which belonged to his uncle (who actually came with us and drove one way). Still, when we were only paying $40 what can you expect. However, it did the job fine. It was comfy and had air con and got us where we wanted to go. What more do you need.
This was a temple we had hoped to see on the Grand Circuit, but our previous driver said it was too far out. So we decided to add it on to today’s’ schedule.
By the time we walked through the entrance it was 07:15 and a lovely time of the morning. Upon reaching the main enclosure you notice the long galleries around the walls with square columns. The grassed area in front of these is the first of the moats which surrounded the temple. If you turn around and face the gopura (doorway) you have just passed through, you will notice there are some fine carvings to the doorway jambs. Continuing on you enter a chamber containing a linga (fertility symbol). Through this chamber you are now facing the central sanctuary which would have been on an island, as the narrow second moat is ahead of you. Also on islands would have been the two libraries you can see from here. These would only have been accessible by boat. The carvings on the pediments over the doorways to the central tower are quite worth a look. Another thing we noted here were the vast number of windows with the turned balusters, some of which had been formed in colourful stone.
Having spent almost 45 minutes wandering around, we decided it was time to move on, but it had been a good time to visit in the early morning and we had had the place to ourselves.
Seila had already got the gist that we liked to see traditional Cambodian life, so he stopped for us to take some photos at a locals house where there were water buffalo grazing. This also showed why the houses were built on stilts, as the area below the house was flooded.
Next he took us to a house where they were preparing Cambodian noodles. He showed us how they were made and told us they are left cooking, overnight. Also, he explained that the rice farmer, after the rice has been harvested, has to find another job. Some do the sugar palm, some the Cambodian pancakes and others do the noodles.
From here we went further on and he showed us the trees where they get palm water from and how they climb up the trees by using a single piece of bamboo as a ladder.
Our next educational stop was to see how they actually turn the palm water into palm sugar. The water is boiled and it leaves the liquid sugar which is spooned into circular moulds and left to set. We tried some and sure enough it was very sweet.
LANDMINE MUSEUM - http://www.cambodialandminemuseum.org/
We had requested Seila to stop here as we had read it was a worthwhile visit. So at 8:40 we paid our $1 entrance fee and followed him into the centre. Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined countries on earth and hundreds still die each year. It became even more poignant when he told us, when he was just 17, his father had been killed by a landmine. He had stood on a very large mine, it was such a large explosion there wasn’t much left to recover.
It was a moving experience for us and even more so when we watched the short DVD presentation detailing Aki Ra’s work. In the centre of the museum, there is a small pond containing a large glass enclosure, inside which are displayed just some of the mines that have been cleared.
As you walk around you have a lot of information to read about the museum and the work which is still ongoing, so you need to allocate some time here to fully appreciate it. I would definitely recommend stopping on your way to Banteay Srei, as there is a lot more to Cambodia than just temples.
You Tube Videos:
A Perfect Soldier
Land Mines in Cambodia
As, we travelled further along, through the countryside, we kept spotting what looked like scarecrows at the entrances to some homes. We asked Seila about these and he informed us that they were used by Hindus to scare away evil spirits or ghosts. When we spotted the most effective and determined scarecrow we had ever seen, we asked him to stop and just had to take a photo. There was no way this house would have any evil spirits! (see photos)
This is another of the “must do” temples and should be on most visitors list. It is only a small complex but its carvings (which are prolific), are simply magnificent.
Arriving at 10:15, we first had a walk around the multitude of stalls that abound around the car park. Normally this isn’t our kind of thing, but I had left my cap at the Landmine museum and now I’m at that age were my head is starting to become solar powered, I needed a replacement. Luckily I found a genuine Nike fake for $2.
By 10.30 we had walked along the main causeway and entered via the east gopura, but not before we had taken in the carvings on the pink sandstone pediment above. This depicts Indra (the king of gods) sitting on a three headed elephant. It is only small, but is located in the centre of the carvings. The door jambs are also worth closer inspection, before moving on. This gopura gives you the first taste of the intricate detail the carvings have and for what lies ahead.
Through the gate and there is a long causeway, with boundary stones leading to the main temples. However, halfway down here there are two pavilions or galleries either side which are worth a look. The one on the right has some good carvings depicting Vishnu as a man lion.
Further on and just before you enter the next gopura, there is a pediment lying on the ground (right hand side) showing Sita being seized by a demon. It’s not as detailed as the others, but at least you can get close up to it.
Once through this gopura you are again on a causeway which had a moat either side. When we visited it still had some water remaining, allowing for reflection photos.
You are now at the last gopura and this pediment is of interest for the (as our book said), soaring finials. The detail on top of the far right scroll is impressive.
Once inside the central enclosure you are overwhelmed by the amount of detailed carvings here on the three towers and two libraries. There are far too many to describe and you will have your own guide or book to explain them all.
Once you have completed the temple tour there are still other things to view. There are a couple of exhibition pavilions, which are worth a whiz around (they are adjacent to the outlying toilets).
We had spent the better part of one and three quarter hours here, but it had been worth it and at 12:00 noon we set off again.
Thirty minutes later, as we pulled into the car park for lunch, Seila apologised that there weren’t any local places around this area to eat, only tourist establishments. However he did some negotiations for us with one of the owners and managed to get us a discount down from $4 a meal to $2. We didn’t even know you could try and barter for food! Seila and his uncle declined our invitation to join us and ate separately. We enjoyed our meal and took advantage of the hammocks before our hike up the hill.
Seila came with us as a guide and set off in his smooth soled mountain climbing flip flops. We were wearing our rugged trekking sandals and had a hard time keeping up with him. He told us we still had a lot to cover this day and couldn’t hang about (as we normally dawdle). Anyway after just over 30 minutes of slogging up the 1,500 metre jungle path of loose earth and tree roots, we were at the top, slightly moist and in need of oxygen.
This is the site of the thousand lingas (the raised discs) which have been carved into the bedrock of the river, and it was only discovered in 1968. Hindu gods have also been carved into slabs of rock through which the river flows. The water flowing over these was therefore blessed before reaching Angkor.
The first carving we noticed whilst standing on the stone bridge was that of two reclining Vishnus (one covered by water) and Shiva and Uma riding a bull. Sadly this and some other carvings have been partially hacked away by looters. Moving around to the other side and slightly up the right hand side of the river brought us to yet another carving of a reclining Vishnu and some more lingas. Also there was a carving of a the god Brahma on a large rock. We couldn’t walk any further upstream as we spotted the telltale red paint on a tree, warning this area had not been cleared of mines.
Seila led us down stream pointing out a cluster of Shiva carvings in the rock on the far side of the river, together with what looked like a crocodile. There were also a few square carvings representing the womb with a linga in the centre, for fertility. Just above the waterfall was a large basin in which there are apparently more carvings. But Seila said these can only be viewed in the dry season. He also told us that this is where the army swims to cleanse their sins as the water then pours down the falls.
At the base of the falls is a place where you could cool off under the river and some locals were doing just that. It did look tempting, but time was getting on. We left at 2:45 pm and had enjoyed our exercise..
At 3:10 we arrived at the turn off to Beng Mealea and hit a problem – the bridge had been washed away by the earlier floods. They had constructed a rickety bamboo crossing, but we hoped Seila’s uncle valued his car and wouldn’t attempt it. Fortunately common sense prevailed and we set off looking for an alternative route, which they indeed found. The road leading to the temple is privately owned and a fee in and out had to be paid. I don’t know how much this is, but would expect it to be included in the transport costs of getting here. We did however have to pay the separate $5 each fee to visit the temple, as it isn’t covered by the Angkor pass.
It was just before 4:15 when we started our walk along the long paved causeway leading to the temple. As you approach what would have been, I presume, the main entrance gopura, you see just how much the temple has collapsed. This is actually the beauty of the temple, in that it hasn’t been restored. At one time you were allowed to clamber all over the ruins, but now they have built a wooden walkway snaking through the labyrinth. However, for the more adventurous there are still sections were you can play Indiana Jones – just be careful out there.
At the front we turned right and followed the track which led to a flight of steps, which we climbed. This is the first view you have of the interior and of just how much the trees have dominated the temple. Some structures have survived, as have some carvings, but it’s the ruined condition that is the star attraction here. It made us think that if this was the state of the other temples, how on earth did they manage to restore them. Just where would you start.
The walkway meanders through the ruins and there isn’t really any set route. At some points it leads back up to the top of the walls and at others it abruptly stops at a dead end. A tour group did arrive whilst we were there and each one had a local child attached to them who acted as their guide. They didn’t seem to spend much time though and twenty minutes later we had the place to ourselves. It was a really good time to visit as the sun dropped lower, it provided some lovely colours on the green moss covered stones and the structures took on another characteristic.
Having spent an hour here, it was time to leave before it got too dark inside.
It had been a great temple to end our Angkor visit and if you have the time, it should go on your “must see” list.
Seila drove us back to Siem Reap and I would like to say it was a wonderful sunset viewed from the car, but I can’t, as we both fell asleep.
Back at our hotel, we paid Seila his $40 (again just as he had quoted) and discussed what we could do the following day, which was our last in Siem Reap. We had thought about going horse riding at the Happy Ranch, but our depleted funds (courtesy of some thieving git), had put a stop to that, as it’s quite expensive. We had a good rapport with Seila and he had mentioned about a countryside and local life tour. So as he only quoted us $8 we thought we would simply leave it up to him and put ourselves in his hands.
That evening we discussed how we intended to travel to Battambang, which was to be our next destination in two days time. Originally we had thought of travelling by boat. But, again due to the cost, the time it took and the fact that we had already seen lake life at Kompong Khleang and would visit another lake village later in the trip, we decided to go by bus. This was much cheaper and quicker than by boat and cost was now a consideration due to the robbery. So before we went down to the Pub Street area for dinner, we stopped off at the travel agents on the corner to cost it out. They told us it would be $4 each – so that made our minds up. The next day we would decide what time bus to catch – 07.30 (yawn zzzzz) or 08.30 (lie in and breakfast).
PREVIOUS LONG TRIP REPORTS
Siem Reap - Small Circuit
Siem Reap – Grand Circuit
Siem Reap - Sunrise, Roluos and Kompong Khleang