Temple Times Two!

Told you there were too many temples for 1 post!

This trip, with the tour company Beyond. Unique Escapes (yes, they have a period in the name) took me and two other tourists beyond the Angkor complex. Siem Reap is surrounded by farm lands and temples, and you need a car or motorcycle to get out to them. Car really- I’ve been told most places won’t rent motos to tourists here.

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We started at Bakong, in the Roluos group of temples to the southeast of Siem Reap. These temples are older than the Angkor complex; they were built in the 8th century and were part of the previous capital.

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The ruins are impressive, with the remnants of 12 elephant statues and over 100 lions. Some of the lions are now just stone lumps, but you can still see the open snarling mouths on others.

Our trip continued to the jungle temple of Beng Mealea.

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This temple ruin was only recently opened to the public because the area was heavily land mined by the Khmer Rouge (Cambodia’s ruling party from 1970 to 1979, during which time they engaged in genocide and killed >2 million Cambodian people), and needed clearing first. The jungle temple really makes you feel like Indiana Jones- you scramble through the fallen stone blocks, up and over walls into galleries lined in tree roots, under an overhang of branches.

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The recommended scrambling path

Some of the galleries have become swimming pools, flooded and full of tadpoles, with vine-draped trees growing out.

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Stone might be permanent, but tree roots can force their way into cracks and split buildings apart.

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For our rock scramblings, our guide offered us a snack after Beng Melea: the locally grown glutinous rice. It’s prepared with beans, a little salt and palm sugar in bamboo tubes, then roasted on coals. At some point (the cook recognizes when, but it’s a mystery to me!) the outer green husk of the bamboo is peeled away, but the rice continues to steam a while longer.

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But the finished product is pretty good- a little chewy on the outside, a little salty and a little sweet, eaten straight out of the bamboo tube.

Our next temple was Bantaey Srei, literally translated as a fortress of the women.

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Built of red sandstone, where other temples have blocks made from laterite clay, it has some of the best maintained carvings of all the temples around, including many devatas (carvings of women) from which the temple might get its name. The focal god for this temple is Shiva. Look at the details in the pediments above the doorways, the lintels and the doorways themselves. You can see dancing gods and demons on the pediments, naga (the many headed snake) on the roof, gargoyles at the corners and intricate scroll work- all from the 11th century.

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Here, a lintel: Shiva rides a swan, and you can make out the pupils of his eyes!

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Needless to say, I was impressed by the artistry of Banteay Srei. It was definitely worth a visit, even as it started to rain. Maybe especially as it started to rain, as that gives the sandstone an even more dramatic look!

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I’ve really enjoyed being in Siem Reap- learning the history of Angkor and the temples, seeing the Cambodian countryside, and Khmer art. I had some delicious lok lak (thinly sliced grilled beef served over tomatoes, onions and cucumbers in sauce, with a condiment of salt, pepper and lime juice) at an out-of-the-mainstream local restaurant. I wandered tourist central, aka Pub Street. But we’re moving on. My next stop is Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, for a dose of the country’s more recent past.