My body still ached after the heights of Ta Keo and Phnom Bakheng but I wanted to see Banteay Srei, the farthest of them all. I bought a three day pass for 40USD so I’d better use it well. Mr. Samuth kept on talking about the “citadel of women” the other day. He said it was where you can find carefully carved stone, with a greenish tint different from other temples.
I had to mention the landmine band. In most temple sites, you would see a group of disabled men and women (sometimes children too) playing indigenous Cambodian musical instruments. They are victims of scattered landmines planted back in the Pol Pot regime. Some have innocently trampled on a mine while walking on fields. So in order to regain their lives, they play happy tunes and sell albums to compassionate tourists. (Aki Ra’s landmine museum was something I shouldn’t have missed in my trip.)
I also want to tell you about the vendors. Once you disembark from your transport, a multitude of vendors (mostly children, tweens) will instantly pester you into buying guidebooks, postcards, and the best one yet— cold drinks. Don’t get me wrong, I love the merchandise because they’re practical. Nothing beats a cold drink after being dehydrated from weaving in and out between temples. But sometimes these kids will drive you to guilt. I was patient at first, politely answering to their questions.. But when I got tired of it, I became Sarah of Singapore and Eliza of Indonesia. It’s because they ask you your name, where you come from, and add “laydeeeee, maybe when you come back you get a cold drink from me, okay?” This kid even gave me a wooden bracelet in assurance that I’d come back to him. From there, I bought three shirts (and almost a tablecloth and hat) from his store. Then his opponent got so mad and it finished off like the world was ending tomorrow. Egad.
Sometimes, they won’t go near you. Maybe because they know a stingy Southeast Asian when they see one.
There was a primary school near Banteay Samre. I asked my driver if I could take a peek in their schools, but he said that July was a school holiday for children. It was the time for farming in the fields. Now that explained why I saw some kids biking by this school. Wala lang, nothing’s wrong with biking by your school on holidays, right?
About cycling: Bicycles are the cheapest way to go around Siem Reap. Ensure that you’ve got the endurance to cycle through less than 50 kilometers or so for a whole day. They cost 1.5-2USD back in town. I heard that some guesthouses (like The City) lends their bicycles for free to guests. Also check out The White Bicycles charity, like I mentioned in the Passaggio post. Get the ones with baskets attached because it’ll help you take the load off your back. Don’t ever forget to rehydrate!
We went to Ta Som after Banteay Samre. Mr. Samuth said that it was an old hospital, my guidebook said otherwise. Whatever it was, I spent a few minutes gawking at this tree on the gopura. I’m glad it didn’t collapse on me that day.
We moved on to another temple. After crossing the long boardwalk to Neak Pean, you would be greeted by this island with a small temple in the middle. You could see some sort of a horse being carried by sailors towards the island. (Sorry, I forgot the explanation by the guidebook) I could remember that the water was believed to contain healing properties, and that it was designed similar to a coiled serpent (therefore, Neak= Naga= Snake= Voldemort’s Nagini) in relation to Hinduism. There are four pools around the main island, and each pool had a differently shaped head as a spout (an elephant, etc). It’ll be better if you saw it for yourself, during the rainy season.
In Preah Khan, there was a bridge, similar to the bridge near Angkor Thom, that actually told a story. Let me tell you how I remember it was supposed to be.. (Oh dear, I hope I give justice) One side of the bridge is represented by good warriors while the other are the evil ones. They’re playing some sort of tug-of-war using a Naga (snake) in the ultimate battle between good and evil. So here’s the thing, Preah Khan is surrounded by garudas (bird like creatures) which protect and lift the entirety of Preah Khan into heaven, away from evil that is the tug-of-war between good and evil as such in earth. And yeah, garudas are mortal enemies of the Naga.
Of the many garudas on the exterior wall, preservation efforts have been funded by participants of the Adopt-a-Garuda program by the World Monuments Fund. Individuals and highly credible organizations from across the world pick a garuda and donate for the lifelong preservation of these archaeological pieces. I would like to adopt one and name it Sari, the sarimanok slash garuda. (No conflict intended)
If Ta Prohm was dedicated by King Jayavarman VII to his mother, Preah Khan was in honor of his father. I made my way through halls and more halls. I was about to leave when a mysterious Cambodian man (not pictured) approached me and asked about my nationality. He wasn’t wearing the usual yellow long sleeved shirts that licensed tour guides do. But I replied honestly and he told me that there was something else that I didn’t pass by yet. I was curious and he gave me directions to a small room which apparently had the images of Jayarvarman VII and his two wives (the other one his sister). A few other people were in there so it was difficult to squeeze myself in. I didn’t get photographs especially when this horde of Chinese tourists appeared out of nowhere. I had to leave, pronto. Thank you anyway, mysterious unofficial tour-guide!
Which reminds me, there are quite a lot of Buddha sculptures that are still maintained by caretakers in various temples. I was in Angkor Wat when a teenager taught me to give respect to Buddha by bowing seven times (Seven? And I was told that there were meanings to each bow) and laying down incense. Heck, I didn’t want to be rude. So I did, and they asked me for money to give to the monk. There were no monks around. I haven’t seen a monk the whole day. I started to believe that monks were locked away in temples unheard of. Frustrated by the “scam”, I just gave 2000KHR. Again, don’t get me wrong. Don’t judge them right away. We were in Ayutthaya, Thailand in 2008 when an old woman kindly asked us to pay respects to Buddha. She even gave us yellow bracelets for the deed well done.
On the way back to the hotel, my driver asked me if I wanted to visit the Terrace of the Leper King and the Terrace of the Elephants in Angkor Thom. I refused since we passed by the structures previously. I would say that it is quite an astonishing sight from afar, but I imagined what it would look like in advance. That was my mistake since it proved to be a worthy stop as narrated by other travellers. It’s true then that seeing too much temples will tire you out. I wasn’t able to fill my three days in Angkor Archaeological Park, but at least I can finally cross out “temple exploring in Siem Reap, Cambodia” from my bucketlist.