Today it rained. Not a dreary, UK, drizzle, or a quick, wet season, downpour, but a relentless torrential monsoon. It began shortly after midnight and has yet to stop. So, with ponchos and rain coats on, the four of us (Kaat, dad, Joy and me) set off. First stop, Banteay Srei; the ladies temple, far off in the jungle, known for its pinkish stones and delicate carvings which are said to be too elaborate for the hands of a man to have created.
Without a guide or much research, we were a bit clueless as we splashed through ancient walkways and admired the intricate decoration. ‘What do you think this means?’ was a frequent question, and ‘dunno!’ the inevitable response.
Most temples here are being restored by an international government since the Angkor temples gained world heritage recognition sometime in the 90’s. A country provides 2-10 officials to oversee the work, then hires locals to carry it out. In the case of Banteay Srei, someone had taken pictures of before and after they’d started reclaiming the temple from the jungle; how incredible to be wandering through and discover something so ancient and precious. Of course not many Cambodians go wandering through the jungle due to the number of land mines left over from the Khmer/Vietnam war. We visited a museum before lunch, to read about a former child soldier who fought for both the Khmer and Vietnamese army as a land mine expert. Since the end of the war he, and his family, have dedicated their time to removing thousands of land mines (with a stick and pair of pliers!) as well as educating and housing some of the younger victims of them. The stories were horrible; tales of children who reached to pick up a toy only for it to explode in their hands.
Something like 1 in 10 Cambodians have been maimed by land mines. I know I’ve been here less than a week but honestly, these people seem so gentle, kind and trusting, 1 in 1000 would be too many. Though I suppose that’s the same for anyone anywhere. From the museum I got a bit lost to be honest, our driver gave us many options on where to go next and I had real trouble determining where we actually ended up! After a bit of reading I’ve decided it was Preah Khan, or in my mind ‘the a-maze-ing temple’. Look it up; it’s a complete maze of corridors and ruined courtyards. We had great fun ducking under and over the ruins, once again trying to determine what this meant or what that could be. At the central temple a guide told us the corridor to the east offered several successive doorways of equal size, the Kings entrance, whilst the other three got progressively smaller so that worshippers were forced to bow their heads in respect to the gods.
Like the famous Ta Prohm this temple had been taken over by giant kattuck (I think) trees, with majestic roots growing from between the stones to support beautiful Ferngully style canopies above. I could have stayed for hours, but there was much more to see, so on we went. Again more confusion (Pai was definitely a driver, not a guide!) as we visited our final stop. A quick hop over the terrace of the elephants (more on that tomorrow) to Tep Pranam, which was mostly closed by the time we got there at 4.45 (the entire park closes at 5, to give you time to leave before the gates are locked at 5.30.
We slid up the main walkway, admired the ‘swimming pool’ to the left, ooh’d and aah’d at the temple and then left. Bad tourists or what? For many of our group this was the last evening, so we all headed out together to have some delicious Khmer food before visiting Angkor What?! for traditional beers and encouraged graffiti.
As most of these guys are travelling straight out of university, the prices on pub street were soon the topic of discussion and we ventured out in search of cheaper beverages ($1.25 is just too much for a pint!). Around the corner, in what looked like an old trailer, lay the $1 bar where mojitos, margeritas, beers and everything else awaited us for the bargain price of…you guessed it…$1.
Early start tomorrow, not quite sunrise early as after 2 days of rain our hopes are not that high, but I’m looking forward to finally seeing the big three temples…with a guide and delicious aircon car. Bring on the learning!
Till then…lea how!