Today was my final day temple hopping. Sure there are a good two days of possible exploration left, but I'm content with what I've seen. I feel that I have a good understanding, and concept, of the temples of ancient Cambodia. I've seen a lot, I've climbed a lot, and I've explored a lot. Clearly, though, the best were saved for last.
You may ask how I woke up without an alarm clock, and let me tell you – the construction site alarm next door? Still working its magic.
Today I headed out to Kbal Spean. The journey would be over sixty kilometers, just about an hour and a half riding in the back of a tuk-tuk. And that, in itself, was part of the experience. We would leave touristy Siem Reap far behind. While there were still a number of shops set up along the road, many of them simply sold mysterious yellow fluid in glass bottles. I have come to the understanding that this is some sort of motor oil, or something to that effect. People seem to pour it into their bikes.
Gone were the miles on miles of shops, and endless sales. Instead there were farms where long horned cattle bathed in great pools to escape from the heat of the day. Thatched roofed buildings on stilts lined both sides of the roads. People ran around hanging laundry, fixing meals, or trying to track down their children, often enough running around naked.
Children here dress in one of three ways – either they wear over sized t-shirts, and pants, nothing at all, or are clad like muppets: a shirt, and nothing else. One wonders if this is due to poverty, heat, or just personal preference.
The countryside opened before me, and rolling hills filled the horizon, covered with expansive forests, crowning the lush fields reaching out towards them. And for quite some time I looked out onto these surrounds and thought, 'so this, this is Cambodia?'
Arriving at Kbal Spean Boidna stopped the tuk-tuk and pointed me off towards a trai. Being early, and quite far from the main drag, few people were out here with me. And as I walked towards the temple, I saw a sign post on the ground. 1500m.
Yes, there would be a temple, but it was not one which would simply make itself available to me. No, I would need to hike a kilometer and a half through the trails which led between trees, and up steep rocky climbs. It was a well worn trail, but not necessarily an easy one. While there was never a moment, even on the inclines, where one thought, 'well where does my foot go next?' there was still some reaching, grabbing, and dragging oneself up through the trees.
Again, it was suggested that one stay to the marked trails. The landmind museum, and signs pointing out potential danger zones as be made our way out was reason enough to take that advice seriously.
Two hundred meters before the end of the trail the rush of water can be heard through the trees, though it still can not be seen. That remaining distance is closed quickly with the end nea, and the aural stimulation invigorating. When the trail ends, you come out to a small waterfall. Exploring up the stream quickly takes you to a hand pained, “warning: no access” sign. Again, I assumed it probably best to take this advice that I should not proceed. I also wondered what of those who do not read English?
Down stream you find a small pool created from falling water, bordering some engravings lost amongst the wilderness. No formal temple exists. No rising walls. Simply a sacred area, where pictures dug into the rock leave a lasting impressing across time. A platform once made home here, but that has mostly eroded over the last one thousand years.
Following the river, you will climb down some stairs, and if you know enough to look, turn around and view Vishnu, and other figures. While most remain in tact, the face of one has been cut away, sold on the black market. Lingus are set in the stream, a blessing for fertile crops.
Continuing on, you find yourself standing in front of a waterfall, ten feet high, cascading over the rocks, joining once more with the river down below. And it is here that your journey ends. It is here that you may take your final pictures, savor your final memory, and return to the trail which led you here: at the end, there will no doubt be those offering your the chance to buy their post cards, t-shirts, bracelets, books, and cold drinks.
Enjoy this wooded escape while it lasts.
And then it was off to Beng Mealea. This would be my final temple. And while it was an actual structure, it is somewhat smaller than any of the others. While those that I had seen on previous days required me to arch my neck, and stare up and up, here you need just look forward to appreciate its beauty.
Three towers come into view as you walk the red-sanded pathway towards the temple. While it appears as any other, from a distance, you will notice immediately that it does not grow the closer you get. In fact, it seems to remain the same size, if not shrink as you draw nearer. Once inside, however, you find, for the first time, a rope keeping you away from some of the walls and the statues.
The reason is that this temple is by far the best preserved, and they would like to keep it this way. The statues have not been defaced, the engravings are all mostly compete. And because of this the beauty is beyond compare. Seeing this it's possible to gain insight on how the other temples must have appeared in their dawning days, yet it is only here that you can still have the full effect revealed to you.
I walked, I lingered, and I took numerous photos of all the different scenes carved before me. And then, with heavy heart, I walked back to the tuk-tuk.
For three days I had done little but view temple after temple, and yet I was still finding new aspects of them that impressed me, still finding all number of places I would have liked to have spent more time. And it struck me that if I was a citizen of this country, I might never leave this area, doing most of my reading, writing, and crashing in within these walls. There are some people who make these areas home. And I wonder, what do they think of their surroundings? And how do they see the tourists who pour in day after day?
As we journeyed back I passed, for a final time, East Mebon. The Desert Palace, in my mind. It has become my favourite, just looking upon it as we drove past stopped my breath. It's strange – I came here, not expecting anything – and yet I found myself quite overwhelmed. Strange, then, that the least inspiring things were those that I was told you just, 'had to do,' - see the sun rise and set at Angkor Wat. So often is the case that where you're told to go, and what you're told to do, fails to live up to the unexpected.
Back at my hostel I showered, dawning afterwards, for the first time, my Africa t-shirt. The rest of my clothes were taken to the front desk and handed in for laundry. With that integral task – my shirts all being soaked through with sweat by this point – taken care of, I headed out to town. For once I was actually seeking out the market.
My watch, last night, broke. The glass face shattered. The watch which Vlad gave me on Christmas was no more. I had duct taped the glass in place, so that I could see some of the numbers, but this was not a permanent solution. How the glass broken, I do not know. I simply picked it up, and three pieces fell.
In the market I found a shop that sold a very small, quite fantastic, alarm clock. The only problem? The lady said it cost $2.50. This I paid, not feeling the need to haggle it down any... but, if I paid that price off the bat, odds are it's a fifty cent clock at best. I can only guess at how long it will actually last.
From there I headed to dinner beside the place I'd been eating at lately. I checked the fancier places across the street, but they were five times the price, and I had no patience for that. Oh sure, maybe I wouldn't have had to pick a fly out of my curried chicken there, but without my fifty cent smoothies (orange this time) what's the point of eating at all?
With that resting soundly in my belly, I headed to Blue Pumpkin, grabbed a delicious shake in the 2nd floor lounge, and kicked back for some reading. When my eyes could barely remain open I set back, wanting only to find an ATM and stock up on some American money. The best part was when two said my pin was wrong, and wouldn't work, another said I could take out only $0.00 today, and yet another displayed my account balance but wouldn't let me access it. Was I worried? Only slightly. There were some financial tricks I could work to prevent being completely in trouble at this point, but running into a bar for a last ditch effort in their sketchy ATM provided me with my green backed prize.
I wonder how many times my card was duped today.
Well, that's all with the temples. But I still have plans, oh yes Siem Reap, I'm not done with you yet. Remember when I was grouchy on transition day (you were all warned some time ago never to take me seriously on such days) and said that 6 was far too many days to spend here? Well as it is turning out, that seems to be the perfect amount. So good for me.
Now if you'll excuse me I have to go read the stories of every Mortal Kombat character in the eight game series. Still seventy megs to upload of my Khao San Road video. I've got three fifty up already. I can hardly quit now. Go 29 kB/s go!
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