Temples of Angkor – Day 2
6.30.10 - 6.30.10 85 °F
It’s supposed to be monsoon season in SE Asia right now. Other than getting dumped on our first day in Saigon, it hasn’t rained since. Until now…
Our second day of the Angkor tours started out with a long tuk-tuk ride into the countryside and the surrounding jungle. Our destination was Kbal Spean, where gods and animals are carved into the riverbed, and can be seen through the translucent water passing over them. To reach the carvings, it’s a short, but steep, 2 km hike through a jungle. Galen and I both were profusely sweating as we made our way up the mountain, clambering over boulders, and weaving through vines. The scenery was incredible – nothing like I have ever seen on my adventures in the Rockies and the Cascades. Some vines wound up like spirals, others curved, creating a hammock like bed for the locals. The openings in the trail boasted incredible views of the diversity of the rich, green plant-life.
Once we reached the top, we were a little confused as to where the bulk of the carvings were, but were soon enough greeted by a young Cambodian girl who guided us along the river. She pointed out the carvings, explaining them as best as she could with the minimal English that she spoke. The carvings themselves, I must admit, were slightly disappointing – very much the “same same, but different” vibe that Galen wrote about previously. For both of us, I think the real treat of that hike was the breathtaking views of the jungle and countryside. And… the rain.
As we were finishing up our tour of the riverbed carvings, rain started falling – gradually at first, but by the time we tipped our guide and headed down the trail, it was pouring. It rained like I have never seen before, streams rather than drops, relentless, with seemingly no end. The trail began to turn into a stream, winding its way down the mountainside, turning a murky orange as it mixed with the dirt. Galen and I figured it was best to just keep on going, as we didn’t know how long or how well the trail would hold up. Our shirts, pants, and shoes were quickly soaked through, but luckily we had rain jackets to protect our backpacks carrying our cameras. Parts of the trail were somewhat treacherous, and at one point, I took a pretty nasty fall that left we with a scraped up ankle and mud all over the seat of my shorts. I’ll let you imagine what it looked like.
We stopped once under a gazebo, just long enough to wring out our clothes, devour some crackers, readjust our packs, and continue on. Westerners are typically greeted with a chorus of “sirrrrrrr, you want cold water?” and “lady, you buy scarf?” but as we descended from the trail, with the exception of one half-hearted attempt at selling us some water, it was silent. We climbed back in our tuk-tuk, exchanged some laughs with our driver, Sang, and headed back down the road, to Banteay Srei.
Upon arrival, we were happy to find ourselves the only ones there, with the exception of a tour group, who left soon after we arrived. It was a peaceful escape from the typical “tourist conveyor belt” we experienced at the other temples. Banteay Srei, dedicated to the Hindu goddess, Shiva, was anything but “same same, but different.” Considered by many to be the “crown jewel” of the Angkor temples, it is the smallest and one of the most well preserved. Instead of the typical grey stone, Banteay Srei is carved out of pinkish sandstone, which was obviously appealing to me ☺
The detail in the carvings is astonishing and impressive. Sanskrit messages and leaf-like patterns surround images of gods, sacred animals, and together they depict important scenes from the Hindu past. Beyond that, I’m not sure how to describe the grandeur of the temple, or the obvious attention it displays… The pictures still probably don’t do this incredible temple justice, but hopefully it will give you all a window into its amazing appeal. It’s safe to say that Banteay Srei, the final temple, was also our favorite.