Siem Reap temples

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Banteay Sre

We left at 8am this morning, eschewing a sunrise start. We started first at Pre Rup, an unfinished temple that was abandoned following a bad omen. It was a slightly scary climb to the top, but after yesterdays practice scaling temples I was as sprightly and deft as an antelope, with the grace of a female elephant(!). According to Richard this is a great compliment in Hinduism...hmmm...

 

We were then surprised but pleased to be treated to a long, breezy drive through the Cambodian countryside to a far-flung temple called Banteay Srei.

Awesome carvings
This is a beautiful pink sandstone temple with some truly gorgeous carvings. It's known at the Citadel of Women, as it is not believed possible that it could have been created by men. Its creation however was ordered by a monk. It was a busy little place, and the carvings were roped off, but it was easy to see the truly exquisite work that far surpasses anything else we had seen so far. By now we were getting pretty expert at picking out details and analysing their meanings.

 

From here we drove to nearby East Mebon where we stopped to refresh and rejuvenate (and regenerate and relax) with a drink and to do some shopping with some persistant but smart-talking child vendors.

Temple that needs water
At every temple you are hassled to buy bracelets, drinks, food, silk scarves, grass toys and books from adult and child vendors. If you sit down you will be inundated by a line or crowd of these who will often just repeat their patter over and over till you give up saying no and simply have to ignore them. The children sometimes seem to forget you are even there, and just go on repeating their words like a mantra 'you buy my bracelets, 3 for a dollar, you buy my bracelets 3 for a dollar'. I thought this would be infuriating as the day heated up and my patience wore thin but since I was enjoying myself so much I was armed with an almost permanently patient smile. Besides, these children are only doing what their parents asked them, and the living they make is surely the reason the family has food to eat and school to go to. We were also imppressed by the level of English and French these children possess, English from school which they only attend in the morning and help sell in the afternoon, and French from speaking with tourists. Many, once hearing where you are from, will start to recite information "the capital of England is London, the capital of Wales is Cardiff, the capital of Scotland is Edinburgh, the capital of Northern Ireland is Dublin.
The prime minister of England is Gordon Brown"! They were fluent enough in French too to be able to answer and respond to questions and even to make jokes. We even tried to catch some out by saying we were from more random countries but astonishingly they still knew the capital of Poland and Slovenia...! Anyway, they drive a hard bargain and I ended up with new jingling pants and Richard bought a bronze Ganesh from a fast-talking child prodigy that we recommended to get a job on the London trade floor...

 

From here onto Banteay Samre where we sat for some time in the shady entrance merely working up the will to step out into the hot sunshine. It seemed to be a popular place and we chattered lazily with passers-by. The ruin itself has towers of temple rooms dotted within the temple walls, but raised about 2 metres above the ground and joined by raised walkways. This suggests that the 2 metre space to the ground would have been filled with water, and may still be during the wet season here. It would have been very beautiful to walk between these with the reflection of the sky and stone in the water; it surely must have felt very holy and very peaceful. It would have been great to have a dip here too! Like a magnificent Roman bath, but better, cos it's Angkor, fnar.

 

And then onto Preah Neak Pean which is a reservoir Baray. A tower sits in the centre of a square basin (that would have held water that fed the Preah Kahn river) with 4 smaller square basins (also of water) on each side, each with a statue. This was decorated with the symbolism from a story describing the source of a giant river that flows from the mouth of a horse, a lion, a snake and something else. By now we were seriously flagging, and we were grateful to reach our final temple, Preah Kahn. This was sort of similar to Ta Prohm in size and complexity; it seemed to go on and on and on, and I could only muster the strength to be interested in the unique diagonal supports and construction, and the odd second storey ruin on the eastern corner for which there is no evidence of stairs, and which looks more Grecian than Cambodian. We just about mustered enough humour and energy to court the wrath of the Gods by playing with the temple linga and yoni. Richard says I would be jailed in India for what I did....

 

Finally we made our way back to the tuk-tuk and enjoyed a lovely drive back through Angkor Thom and past Bayon, and then past Angkor Wat - all my favourite temples. Again we swung past my hotel first to grab swimming stuff, had another lovely swim and a lassi in the pool and then got ready and headed out to Siem Reap town. Seeing as we hadn't yet explored Siem Reap town proper and yet presumed to talk about how wonderful the city was, we thought we should actually go down to the south part of town. Here we had dinner at Traditional Khymer Food restaurant on 'Pub Street' (maybe now it is clearer why we didn't stay down here), and then went to investigate this 'bubble tea' I keep hearing about. Conveniently there is a Bubble T cafe in the town (probably on 'Bar Street', zut alors!), replete with 'bubble chairs' (gym balls) and a CD burning service or request jukebox of 7000 albums. Bubble Tea itself was somewhat of a disappointment; bubbles or 'crystals' of corn starch fill the bottom of the glass of whatever tea, milkshake, or cocktail that you choose. I prefer the crystals as you can swallow them whole, while the bubbles need to be chewed which tastes funny. Frankly after two of those I preferred beer and we spent a couple of amusing hours wobbling around on the bubble chairs and listening to Cat Empire.

 

After so much sight-seeing in so many cities I truly expected Siem Reap to be 'just another city' with 'just another bunch of temples'. How wrong I was. Now I understand that Siem Reap is truly one of the Great Wonders of the World, and although not all the temples have the awe-inspiring splendour of the main Wats, many are truly magnificent for other reasons. All are unique in different ways, and it is impossible to walk around them and not wonder who walked here and why? What did they look like? What did the temple look like when it was built? If the sheer grandeur and magnificence still has the power to shock and awe, then what a sight must it have been when it was complete?

 

Not only this, but as my last stop before I volunteer for a month in Thailand, this was technically my last days of traveling. And not only was it simply one of the most jaw-droppingly stunning places I have ever been, but I was also lucky enough to see it with a new friend and have lots and lots of laughs along the way. We both agreed we'd finished our travels on a high, and we said a reluctant goodbye as I go to Thailand tomorrow, and he catches a flight back to Paris.

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Banteay Sre
Banteay Sre
Awesome carvings
Awesome carvings
Temple that needs water
Temple that needs water
Siem Reap
photo by: genetravelling