We made it through the six hour bus ride from hell (though Rahul has told me he’s done many overnight rides) with a barfing woman in the back, a toeless man to the right and a baby’s toy repeating “It’s A Small World” over and over again. I can’t tell you how delighted I was to see the face of our tuk tuk driver, who was hired by our hotel to pick us up. Our first stop in the morning was Kbal Spean, a site on the outskirts of Angkor. We didn’t realize it at the time but there couldn’t have been a better way to start our Angkor adventure. With a nice ride through the countryside, we were able to get a lay of the land and people. Once there we hiked up a beautiful trail with huge rock formations and trees. Reaching a river at the top, it is known as the river of a thousand lingams. In and around the river there are carvings of Shiva and Parvati and countless lingams. You could see how the temple had been much grander at one time but over the course of time the elements, shifting earth and perhaps human destruction had changed it’s face. One the way down via a second trail we played in a refreshing natural waterfall. Next stop was Banteay Srei which, for both of us, was probably the artistic highlight of Angkor. Intricately carved, this place is known as the goddess temple as indicated by it’s name (Srei means lady). It is also probably the most intact and probably faced less destruction on account of it’s relative distance from the rest of Angkor. At every turn there was another exceptionally beautiful piece, all carved into laterite stone.
Next day we hit the biggies -Angkor Wat is vast and majestic, it’s highlight a wonderful mural of the Ramayana along one of the galleries; Ta Prohm is super popular, best known for it’s appearance in Tomb Raider (Raiders Of The Lost Ark) and awesome trees that have grown around much of the temple;
The Elephant Terrace; Baphoun, which was completely rebuilt from the bottom up; Bayon, which was our second favorite with it’s giant faces and asymmetrical design. It was a near psychedelic experience (or maybe we were just lightheaded from the heat…)
Next day we were a little templed out so we decided on an excursion to the Ton Le Sap Lake. Down an excruciatingly bumpy road, we got on a boat that took us through the “floating” village which means seeing how the people in stilt houses live.
Our boat took us to a mangrove where we got into a little canoe that was manned by a young woman, an Eco tourism effort.
Once in the mangrove we were accosted by a woman in a second canoe who was guilting us into buying some crap for the children’s school. Under different circumstances it would have been more welcome but trapped as we were, it was just the worst in tourism vending tactics. After that we went to some of the areas oldest temples -Lolei, Angkors first temple (brick); Preah Koh, brick temple, built around 881 AD; Bakong, first Angkor temple made of stone.
We didn’t find the food to be that good. It was on the bland side with very little use of chilis and other spices except black pepper which grows prolifically in Kampot. There is very little vegetarian food and it got so bad that Rahul and I started to eat separate dinners to keep us both happy. We enjoyed great weather in Siem Reap and our hotel swimming pool rocked! Our last outing in Cambodia was the Cambodian Circus which we loved. All of the acrobats come from challenging backgrounds and the circus gives them a second chance. Most of them now tour extensively abroad. The highlight for me was when the contortionist took a bow and arrow between her toes and shot it into a ballon a few feet away. http://www.pharecambodiancircus.org/circus/