We had enjoyed a wonderful day seeing the temples of Angkor. Now as we prepared to meet our guide at 8am there was a sense of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’. What else was there on offer after the awe inspiring Angkor complex?
First we headed to another temple, Preah Khan. Built along similar lines and at a similar epoch to Ta Prohm, the temple has been much restored. Some of the use of concrete and iron has generated a new set of problems with the ongoing restoration. As with the other temples we approached along a walkway flanked by pillars designed to protect the complex and entered through one of four gateways.
The temple is set out as four axial corridors of twenty one doorways leading to a central atrium. Along the way would have stood statues to the Hindu triad of deities – Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma. These are long since gone however.
There are some fine sandstone carvings here, but nothing to compare with those found at our next destination, Banteay Srei. Known as the Temple of Women, this gem of a building dates from the 9th century. It is reached by a delightful drive through fertile countryside dotted with rice paddy fields and palms. I found the countryside much more beautiful than anything I had seen in Vietnam.
Banteay Srei is more compact than the other temples, without a long walk up to approach.
The quality of the carving and the rich red of the sandstones is beautiful to behold.
We were to enjoy even more of the Cambodian countryside at our next destination, Kbal Spean. At this holy site, priests carved fertility symbols called ‘lingas’. These were commonly used in temples with water flowing over them to be purified; here the priests carved the symbols at the source of the river which flows down to Angkor. The source is reached by a 3km round trip which involved some climbing through rainforest to a waterfall. It was a challenging walk but worth it for the views.
We had certainly earned our lunch! Afterwards, we visited the landmine museum. In addition to documenting the incredible work of an ex Khmer Rouge soldier in clearing landmines, the museum provides informative background to Cambodia’s troubled past. I had some knowledge of Pol Pot and the Killing Fields but was unaware of the Vietnamese occupation which followed and the complex UN led negotiations which delivered a fragile peace in 1990.
I have found myself hugely drawn to this country and, in particular, it’s people, who I have found to be unfailingly welcoming and eager to please. I intend to learn more during my remaining days here and have an intuition that I will return here in the future. It holds a special place in my heart right now.