Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Temples, Day 1 Siem Riep, Cambodia, Monday, 05 March 2007 8:07pm

For our first day in the Angkor region, we decided to see relatively minor sites. In the past, I've been underwhelmed when visiting the little sites after the big, spectacular ones, so I decided to try the opposite order this time around.

We had breakfast at the Two Dragons (nice cheesy omelette), and then met our driver Phan. He gave us a ride over to our next hotel, Pavilion Indochine, to drop off our luggage, and we started off towards Beng Mealea.

It was a fairly long drive to get to the site, but it was interesting to see the progression from boom town to villages to countryside. Near Siem Riep, rice fields are actively being replaced with buildings at a furious pace.

Outside of the city proper, almost all of the houses are on stilts. Thatch houses, raw board houses, cut wood houses, concrete houses — all of them start at the second floor. It rains a lot during the wet season, but not enough to justify putting houses that high off of the ground. During the dry season, the space under the houses is used for shade, for keeping livestock (or motor vehicles), and for storage.

The first site we saw, Beng Mealea, was beautifully ruined. Many structures were complete, but many others were only piles of stone and half-fallen arches. The jungle was pushing through in many places. In a couple spots, the best way to get from one stone to another was to grab a strangler fig root for support.

After seeing Beng Mealea, we realized that we had time for more than just the two sites we'd planned on seeing. We asked Phan if he could take us to Kbal Spean as well, since the guidebook described it as close.

Kbal Spean is known in English as the "River of a Thousand Lingas". The archaeologically interesting part of the site is a set of carvings near a bridgehead across a river on the side of a mountain. It's about a mile from the parking lot to the site, along a steep dusty trail. It was a nice hike, though tiring and a bit dehydrating. The site isn't really worth going that far for itself, but if you like hiking for the sake of hiking, it's a pleasant diversion.

By the time we returned from the hike, it was about 2pm, and we hadn't eaten anything since breakfast, so we stopped at the thatch-roofed restaurant stall where Phan had been waiting for us and had a light meal. I had a tasty pork soup with ramen-style noodles. Jessica had similar noodles without the soup.

The drive to Banteay Srei was mostly on dirt roads. We passed through villages where banana trees and coconut palms were growing interspersed between the houses, and a number of broken-down bridges. When that happens, the traffic just routes around to the side, making a deep, rutted path alongside. I wonder whether the bridges will be repaired before the rainy season, when that will become a mire.

Banteay Srei is famous for its reddish stone and its carvings. The stone had developed a really neat pitted texture over the centuries, like worm-eaten wood. The carvings were very intricate. Lots of detailed repeating motifs and sculpted mythological beasts.

We were tired by this point, so we returned to our hotel to finish checking in and discovered that it had a pool. The salt water was very nice after a long day sweating in the hot sun.

I had some tasty palm wine with ginger with dinner. Apparently, it's a great sleep aid. That or maybe all of the exercise in the hot sun had me out like a light by 9pm.


Great plan! dml (Anonymously) Thursday, 08 March 2007 6:44pm

Great plan, Aneel, seeing the smaller ruins first. Jenny and I visited Angkor Thom and some of the main ruins on our first day, though we saved Angkor Wat until after we'd travelled to the outlying areas. I remember there's one ruin that you have to pay extra for, because it's far away; I can't remember the name offhand, but it's definitely worth seeing (I think the fee was $8 or something).

We ended up visiting some of the ruins twice, first on our own and then with a guide (who also took us to Angkor Wat). I think Pra Thom was one of them, the temple that is overgrown with trees. I thought this worked well, since we got to take in the temples on our own and then learned quite a bit of history for those we thought were most interesting on the second, guided, trip.

Sounds like everything is working out so far. What's the weather like currently in Siem Reap?