We gave ourselves a day off in between temple sightseeing because it can get a bit tiring in the sweltering heat and we want to really enjoy the various temples without feeling fatigued. Yesterday we had a super lazy day around the pool and sorted some trip admin out inc visas for Vietnam.
Straight back into it today though with a pickup from our trusty tuk tuk driver. We headed 38km out of town to visit Banteay Srei, one of the oldest temples of the whole complex.
It was built in the 10th century and dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Whilst it’s a much smaller temple than the likes of Angkor Wat, what it lacks in size, it makes up for in stature. Banteay Srei boasts incredibly ornate carving and fine decoration not seen on the other temples and is regarded as the jewel in the crown of Angkorian art.
It is constructed from sandstone and has an almost pink hue which looks beautiful in the sunshine.
As we headed back to the core of temples, we visited the landmine museum which was a sobering experience. Set up and curated by an incredible Khmer man, Aki Ra who was forced to be a child soldier under the Khmer Rouge regime after they killed his parents. Before defecting at the age of 18, he was responsible for laying many land mines and witnessed terrible violence. After years of fighting he returned to the villages in which he planted thousands of mines and began removing them, by hand, and defusing them with homemade tools. Now with international support and recognition he is dedicated to making Cambodia landmine free and has set up a relief center to support dozens of orphans and children injured from landmine incidents.
Despite best efforts, landmines are still widely scattered across Cambodia. They can remain active for 50 years and are triggered by as little as 5kg weight, making them an ongoing threat. In the 20 years from 1997 to the start of 2017 there were 19,748 deaths and 44,914 injuries (mostly resulting in amputation) from landmines.
It’s only when here in person and confronted with the reality of the situation that you can fully try to grasp the horror that the Cambodian people have faced over the last 50 Years.
In need of some light relief we next headed to a butterfly conservation area which was beautiful.
Set in the most gorgeous surroundings bursting with exotic flowers, we saw hundreds of tropical butterflies flitting about.
A local guide showed us around and allowed us to see the full life cycle from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly.
A perfect interlude before we headed back to Siem Reap.
In the afternoon we visited a couple of temples on the outer circuit, including Neak Pean.
This is a small island temple accessible by a long wooden walkway above a weird, desolate water teaming with tadpoles and mozzies.
Our final stop for the day was Preah Kahn, a grand and imposing temple completed in 1191. We loved the walkway leading to its entrance gate.
The crumbling ruins looked stunning in the mellow afternoon sunlight. Preah Kahn is so atmospheric, with an impressive Hall of Dancers and columned walkway and perfect symmetry in maze-like paths leading to the structure’s centre point. Sprawling tree roots attempt to reclaim the walls and dappled sunlight finds hidden corners. I feel like we saved one of the best til last.
With so many sights, spread over a 400Km sq distance, we knew we’d only be scratching the surface with two days at the temples. Some people spend up to seven days exploring, but I think we got a great taster and loved our time here without feeling as though we were traipsing from one to the next for the sake of ‘bagging’ temples.
We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our time in Siem Reap. The temples have been incredible. I visited them 10 years ago but I don’t recall being quite as wowed by them as I have been on this trip. Perhaps we had better weather and light or perhaps I’m a bit older and can appreciate their history, scale and grandeur more. Sitting back in a tuk tuk being whisked through the most atmospheric of destinations filled with the sounds of wild birds and monkeys and glimpsing these wonderful temples set within the forest is a wonderful experience.
To top it all of we treated ourselves to a fancy dinner in a lovely French bistro. Thanks Siem Reap.