Cambodia 12th April 2004
Kong met us early after breakfast to take us on the journey through the countryside to the jungle temple of Beng Mealea. The road had been recently upgraded by a private company, which required a payment of a toll. A price well worth paying given stories I had heard about the previous road and the time taken to drive to the temple previously. The drive through the country side was great, and gave us a better appreciated of the country besides Siem Reap and Angkor. We passed a number of small houses along the road as well as a few small villages. We stopped at one to buy some drinks; yes it was hot again! Nobody spoke English, but the transaction was easy, and the price was reasonable too!
Continuing along the road we crossed a small bridge over a river, and stopped to photograph some water buffalo, who were quite pleased to pose for the camera. While walking back to the car, a Stork-Billed Kingfisher flew past, with it's brilliant Blue-Green head and back and bright orange neck and chest.
All along the road monks and people were collecting to build a new road out to a Buddhist temple. The cars often just threw the money out the window as they passed.
In just over an hour and a half we were at the entrance road to Beng Mealea. We crossed the old bridge with the ancient Naga and made our way towards the temple, past a group of young girls sitting in the shade on the crumbled balustrade.
We passed the fallen stones of the southern wall and made our way through this temple were the jungle has been allowed its own free reign. We clambered up rickety timber ladders, across teetering stone walls, squeezed through windows between broken columns and along darkened corridors and timber walkways as we explored this amazing place of history, age and nature. Fortunately along the way we picked up two young guys who led us through the maze of passageways and corridors, past precariously balanced columns and lintels, broken stone coffins and fallen walls. All with the constant heat and buzz of the Cambodian jungle all around.
We lunched at the restaurant across from the temple, made all the more memorable with Liam's trip to the toilet; a squat toilet back behind the houses. I think Liam will remember that experience for the rest of his life!
Back past the pigs wallowing in muck we returned through the restaurant and were back in the car and heading to Banteay Srei.
An hour back the way we had come saw us take a different fork and heading towards Banteay Srei, the Citadel of the Women. The bridge across the river had collapsed two nights previously when a truck loaded with about 30 tons of stolen timber from the jungle further north had tried in vain to cross the 8 ton limit bridge. It wasn't the first bridge that the truck had damaged on it's journey, but it was certainly the last.
We crossed a temporary bridge across the river in our little Camry and decided to have lunch before braving the worst heat of the day at the most open and hottest temple in Cambodia.
Loaded with coconut milk we braved the heat and explored around one of the most beautiful temples in the world. The carvings were very finely detailed and very well preserved and the stone of the temple differed from all of the other temples with it's pinkish hue.
Walking back through the small village, a procession made it's way through with girls in colourful dresses carrying what looked like money trees. After a quick look around the many stalls we jumped back into the welcome relief of the air conditioned car, and made our way across the temporary bridge with scores of kids cooling down in the river.
We stopped at Banteay Samre on our return to Siem Reap. This temple was unique in that it had an inner moat, which was presently dried up though the moat was grassed and it was easy to visualise the water lapping against the steps descending to the moat surface.
We returned to the Guest House late afternoon and freshened up whilst Liam played shuttlecock with Srei Pic.
We visited some of the more upmarket souvenir shops, which had some beautiful stone carvings, timber carvings and clothes, but the perfect apsaras I was looking for proved elusive. We also saw some demonstrations of teaching of various stone and wood carving skills.
We headed over to the market, and had a bit of drama when a minibus reversed into us as we were looking for a parking spot. These things are best left to the locals to sort out, so we explored the markets in Siem Reap for half an hour or so and then headed out for dinner.
Oiyee was determined to have Frog legs, with our restaurant the previous night being all out. Tonight she was in luck and feasted on the tasty little amphibians (which tasted like chicken). Regrettably the crayfish were small and overcooked, but this was easily solved with the order of another dish.