13 January 2013

More tuk-tukking round the temples

As we’d bought a 3-day, use-within-7-days temple pass the previous Tuesday, Saturday the 5th of January and Sunday the 6th were both spent templing. Although Marianne and I had seen most of these, Marianne’s friend (and now mine) Steve had not … as if we needed an excuse to go yet again!

On Saturday, after collecting Steve from his hotel, we headed south on the main road to Phnom Penh and hit the Roulos group of temples: first Bakong, then Preah Ko and lastly Lolei.

Bakong is purported to be the first of the state temples of the Angkor period, having been consecrated to Shiva in 881. It is in relatively good condition as it was restored in 1940 using the original stones. Across the causeway of the wide moat that surrounded the temple complex, there’s a modern wat (temple) housing an assembly of monks, and there I was befriended by a very cute little cat – but more on Cambodian cats in another blog.

Next was Preah Ko. Three mostly ruined sacred bulls guard the temple at the front of a platform holding 2 rows of 3 towers. There are lovely leaf, floral and geometrical designs on the carvings on the octagonal door columns of the towers and some of the lintels still show beautiful garlands and images of Kali, a Hindu god of death.

A young monk in the modern pagoda at Lolei
Next to Lolei, where the temple towers are mostly in ruins, That didn’t matter as we were spotted by a zealous local youth, who offered us some information about the site before leading us off to see the small school where he is taught by the local monks. Of course, it was a ploy to get us to donate some dollars to the school but that was okay, as these places desperately need supporting and he was a very nice lad so we were happy to give a few dollars.

We lunched at Lolei, at a small local stall opposite the temple platform. So many tourists ignore these little local places, terrified that they’ll pick up some dreaded stomach bug when the reality is that the food is delicious and it’s nice to enjoy a chat with the locals!

We took a break from the temples in the afternoon and, instead, had an excursion on the water. Marianne and Steve both work in the yachting industry in the south of France so being on the water seemed appropriate. We tuk-tukked down the long long road that leads towards Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in South-East Asia, then clambered aboard our wooden long boat. They are rather primitive and extremely noisy contraptions but the breeze was very refreshing, and we were soon chugging along the waterways through Kompong Phluk, a lakeside village built entirely on high stilts to protect the houses, school, church, restaurants, etc from the floods of the rainy season.

Next day we headed out relatively early, hoping to reach that world wonder Angkor Wat before the crowds. Fat chance! But it was lovely to see again, to take the obligatory reflection photos in the pool full of water lilies and, this time, to be able to climb the precariously steep stairway up the central tower – the two previous times I’d visited, it had been under restoration so inaccessible.

Just as we were leaving, we were treated to the sight of a local wedding party, arriving to have their wedding photos taken. Here, the brides, in particular, are so heavily made up – with false eyelashes, layers of make up and hair-pieces - that they are barely recognisable. This group was happy to pose for tourists to take their photos.

My absolute favourite temple was next on the list: Bayon. The huge and magnificent faces on its stone towers always amaze, impress and delight me. Their expressions are mesmerising and every corner presents yet another photo opportunity. Thank god for digital cameras!

After another yummy lunch, we strolled leisurely around the temples of Phimeanakas and Baphuon, plus the elephant terrace and the Terrace of the Leper King – strolled because it was extremely hot and humid and we were all wilting a little.

Luckily, a long tuk-tuk ride followed, as we headed out of town to the West Baray. Baray is the Khmer word for man-made reservoir and this one is huge, approximately 8kms x 2kms. Construction was probably begun in the 11th century. The building method is unusual – they didn’t excavate, but rather erected dikes to contain the water. Although there are no beaches to speak of, the locals like spending a lazy afternoon or evening swimming, then eating and swinging on hammocks under small, open-air shelters at the waterside. As it was late afternoon and therefore beer o’clock, we finished off another perfect weekend sipping on cold beers while sitting on the steps down to the water.

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