Thursday, April 12, 2007

Travels to Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia: Part III

Welcome to Travels to Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia: Part III. After the first and second day in Cambodia, we have already got used to the weather, people and lifestyle (as a tourist) here. We have visited a couple of prominent temples in the Angkor region. The itinerary of the past two days were carefully documented here:
Travels to Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia: Part I
Travels to Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia: Part II

We began third day as per normal, getting up early, have the same American breakfast and set off at 8 a.m.. On the way to the Angkor checkpoint, Sakhorn stopped by to buy himself a motorbike helmet. It was really cheap, a certified full face helmet with tinted visor for just US$15. We also bought a 6-pack, not booze, but 1.5L drinking water for US$1.25. Our first stop for the day was Preah Khan. Learn more about Preah Khan. This temple was a significant temple in the Khmer history as it was built on the site of Khmer victory over the Chams.

Not far away from Preah Khan is Neak Pean. Learn more about Neak Pean. Neak Pean is actually an artificial pond with a temple island in the middle. During our visit, it was hot and dry season. Hence, the ponds were dry allowing us to be able to walk up to the temple. The whole compound is made up of the temple surrounded by one pond and on four corners each an individual pond.

The next stop was Ta Som. Learn more about Ta Som. Our stay at Ta Som was rather short and there wasn't much photos to show either.

It did not took us long to reach East Mebon. Learn more about East Mebon. The temples was previously built on an island in East Baray. However, the reservoir has now dried up over the years. The three-tier temple elevates upwards with a nexus of small temples towers. At the corners of the middle tier, stood 8 stone elephants facing the outwards. Each elephant has a trapping with bells and a three-stranded necklace.

After East Mebon, Sakhorn took us to lunch at Khmer Village Restaurant near Sra Srang. It was a really hot day, we offered Sakhorn a cold Yeo's lychee can drink while he had lunch at the driver/guide's corner. Interestingly, most of the restaurants inside Angkor Wat, has got a separate dining area for the drivers/guides, usually tuk-tuk drivers. According to Sakhorn, they have simpler food at their affordable rate. We looked at our menu, the food pricing was about US$3-4 per dish, which was not expensive for us at all, but not for their locals. I was tempted to try their Amok Fish, but I thought that having coconut in the afternoon might give me a stomachache upset later. In the end, we ordered stir-fried beef with mixed vegetables and a lemongrass soup with chicken, not to forget our favourite thirst quencher, Tonic water. The stir-fried beef with mixed vegetables tasted ordinary and reminded a lot of our home cooked food. There was obviously no MSG, as my tongue is a rather sensitive MSG (monosodium glutamate, flavour enhancer) receptor! The lemongrass soup with chicken dish is something new. The soup is rich in flavour with a strong fragrance of lemongrass. The chicken breast meat was not too tender and I thought it was rather dry, but when it was dipped into the accompanying mint leaves liquid, it tasted sweet and light.

After lunch, we embarked on a journey up north to Banteay Srei. Learn about Banteay Srei and more. Banteay Srei or sometimes Banteay Srey, briefly translates to the term "Citadel of the Woman". Such a name is attributed to the fine and beautiful bas-relief and lintels found in Banteay Srei. Sadly, after years of touching by tourists, much of the bas-relief has changed, some de-faced. Hence, the authority had set up sign pickets warning visitors not to touch the carvings. There is also a rope surrounding the central temples with the famous gorgeous religious lintels. I managed to snap a few shots of my own. Other than the lovely lintels, the carvings on the wall columns and pillars are displayed very intricate craftsmanship and art.

We took quite a long ride to and fro Banteay Srei. We went past rural areas. However, the people there were not as poor as those along the way to Tonle Sap lake (refer to Part I to learn more). The people had better wooden, some brick, houses on stilts. Each family usually have some space around their houses, where they could set up a shed for work or business, and to grow some fruit trees. Sakhorn stopped by the side of the road to have his motorbike's fuel tank replenished. According to him, these street fuel peddlers are usually more expensive than the rare, foreign-operated fuel stations (such as the Caltex near our gh). Along the way, we also saw some people paving the main roads with stones. I also saw a vehicle that seem like a tar dispenser. The workers are most likely to be those who live in that region or stretch.

We soon reached the main Angkor Archaeological Park and we visited Banteay Kdei. Learn more about Banteay Kdei. This sprawling and largely unrestored Buddhist temple was originally a monastry. The use of inferior grades of sandstone and poor construction techniques, made the temple unable to withstand the test of time and weathering. Retoration is taking place and quite a few areas of the compound was blocked off.

Srah Srang is immediately opposite to Banteay Kdei. Learn more about Srah Srang. Srah means pond or pool. This huge swimming pool was used for ceremonies and as a royal bath. Now, it is a swimming pool as well, but for children who play there.

After Srah Srang, we still had time, so Sakhorn took us to Ta Prohm. Learn about Ta Prohm and more. This Buddhist monastic complex was overrun by vegetation and till date, only part of the vegetation were cleared. Many parts of the buildings are damaged by the growth and it has since became a beauty in its own sense. Thick roots run through stones, forcing them apart. However, some parts still managed to hold itself together. Any hap-hazard clearing of these trees might result in the collapse of the buildings. Hence, the massive fig and silk-cotton trees were intentionally left unrestored. Ta Prohm is a very photogenic location and the tranquility of this place led many people here to enjoy the peace and even do meditation. We bumped into a small of 3 enthusiatic caucasians who had their MacBook playing some spiritual music while 2 of them snapped away at the magnificent tree with their professional dSLR. I heard that there was this belief that the kings in the past visited this place to pray and the answers were responded in terms of echoes.

After Ta Prohm, it was almost time for the Angkor park to close. Sakhorn took us back to Siem Reap town via a new route, a rather spacious and new 'expressway'. He asked if we would like to visit a souvenier shop. By bringing us there, he might be rewarded with a bottle of soft drink and might even get a dollar. We did not buy anything as they were too expensive compared to what we could find at the Old Market. So, I bought a nice packet of dried fruits chips for US$0.50 (2000 Riels) which I happily munched away as supper.
Since we wanted to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat on the next day, we though we return to our gh for dinner and have an early night. We asked 'madam' to fix us some Korean food. We had Kimchi Jjigae (김치찌개) and Khmer fried rice with Bibimbap (비빔밥) banchan (반찬). Kimchi Jjigae is a tasty Kimchi soup dish with tofu and pork, US$3. The Bibimbap ingredients consists of zucchini and according to 'madam', two different types of kimchi and one sauteed vegetables, US$4.


Keep watching this blog for more updates. Next up is Day 4.

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