Thursday, December 27, 2007

Day 3: Gone to the Temples Again

Another Sunrise at Angkor

5.00 a.m. We were on our way to the temples once again, this time armed with a ginger loaf.

Disneyland.... NOT!

an unforgettable sight

This time we knew what to expect and were much more confident about moving around to get a good view. We settled down on the main causeway to munch on our bread (which was excellent) and take photos.

sharing the sunrise with the hordes

All too soon our second and last sunrise at Angkor Wat was over. Our agenda for the rest of the morning was the temples on the Little Circuit, but first a little breakfast was in order.

Breakfast at Khmai Village Restaurant

We were about to ask Narin to bring us to a better restaurant for breakfast when he announced that we would be proceeding to a restaurant nearer the temples of the Little Circuit. Phew...

The Khmai Village restaurant proved to be a much nicer place, not least because the family running the place looked like they took good care of their pets!

We sat and watched the critters while our breakfast was being cooked. We had:


noodle soup with chicken

fried noodles with pork and vegetables

The food was fresher, tastier than that of the previous day's restaurant, the people friendlier, and the bill only came up to US$6.50.

The Little Circuit

Satiated, we were ready to face a day of templing.

local visitors at Sra Srang

Our first stop was Srah Srang. Narin who peppered our drive with little pithy comments termed this the "giant swimming pool for the king's 2000 concubines". In his words, life was good for the king in those days.

Opposite Srah Srang was the quiet, pretty temple of Banteay Kdei.

entrance to Banteay Kdei

still a place of worship

with a little modern help

We marvelled at how everything was being held together but we could not afford to dawdle, not if we wanted to get to the ever popular Ta Prohm temple - sadly now renowned as the site of the Tomb Raider movie - before the crowds arrived.

first view of Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm's real claim to fame is the fact that the temple is just partially reclaimed from the jungle, not wholly cleared like Angkor Wat.

Sadly, we had arrived a little too late. As much as the ruins were fascinating, the ebb and flow of the crowds proved too much for us. It was frustrating to say the least.

egad, people everywhere

In the end, we left without even having seen the redbreasted parakeets that are resident at Ta Prohm. (That's just me; HM was not concerned about not seeing them.) We vowed to return, perhaps before we flew home to Singapore.

We pottered around the Little Circuit for a while more.

the unfinished temple, Ta Keo

Narin told us that Jayavarman V had had to stop the construction of Ta Keo because the temple was struck by lightning, not once but twice. If that wasn't a BIG no-no sign from the heavens, he didn't know what was. The temple was therefore left unadorned and henceforth abandoned.

the remains of a bridge

Then we passed by a bridge. Narin's comment - the Angkorians were better at building temples than bridges...

devatas at Thommanon

We finished up at two smaller temples, Chao Say Tevoda and Thommanon. Not having spent as much time as we would have liked at the temples, particularly Ta Prohm, it was too early for lunch. We ended up pushing our afternoon's programme forward, so off we went to Banteay Srei.

Banteay Srei

The drive to Banteay Srei, 20 plus km outside of Siem Reap, took a while. To tide us over till lunchtime, Narin surprised us with pineapple from a roadside vendor, something I doubt we would have had the guts (literally) to buy for ourselves, for fear of spoiling our holiday with the runs. With the chilli, salt and sugar mix, it was just the thing for a refreshing snack.


Banteay Srei, the "women's temple" was the prettiest lil temple ever. Made from pink sandstone, it was ornately and exquisitely carved.

By this time, the sun was blazing overhead, not a good time for photography, and the temple was not one of those under a canopy of trees. Moreover, the tourists had caught up with us, by the busload. It was time to move on.

Kbal Spean

12 p.m. We were hungry and Narin offered to drive us to a restaurant, but I had gotten it into my mind that it was the Blue Pumpkin or nothing. I figured we may as well swing past Kbal Spean, the "River of the Thousand Lingas", and then rush back to town. I would later find out that I figured wrong.

The road to Kbal Spean was our first unpaved road in Cambodia. Every car coming from the other direction was covered in red dust.

smoke screen

We turned into a carpark at the foot of a hill. Narin parked his car and told us that he would wait while we climbed Phnom Kbal Spean. He said the climb would take 45 min or so and then we should take lots of water with us. That's when I realised that there wasn't going to be a lookout point of some sort that we could drive up to, that it wasn't going to be a hop, skip and jump. When he saw me balk, Narin realised, with a start, that we didn't know what we were getting ourselves into. Apparently, the fact that we had come armed with our own itinerary had led him to think that we had also done our research in this area. Oh well, we were there. I decided we would climb the hill, at double speed if we needed to, with a good lunch as our incentive.

As it turned out, the climb wasn't as bad as it looked. It did involve a little bit of clambering up rocks and some potentially slippery slopes with loose sand, but the dirt track was sheltered by trees and the incline was relatively gentle, with the difficult bits nicely spaced out. HM who had skipped ahead reached the top first and even had time to circle down to the lower levels. I, with some huffing and puffing, got there eventually.

at the top

the sacred carvings with Vishnu reclining, and some of the linga

The water rushing down would eventually bless the modern day residents of Angkor, just as it had in the days of Udayadityavarman II (hehe isn't that such a cool name?) After a brief break to catch our breath, we headed back down the hill. Now that we knew what to expect, we took a little more time to enjoy the sights.

scavenging for shellfish in the mud

At the bottom, we surprised Narin who, expecting us to take a good while longer, looked like he had had lunch and was taking a nap at one of the local shacks.

On the way back, Narin suddenly pulled the car over at a roadside stall, hopped out and then came back with snacks for us.

a pink pao!

These were filled with simmered vegetables such as turnip and pork but, except for the filling and the odd colour, similar to the Chinese paos we get back home in Singapore. No wonder too, for, according to Narin, the stall was run by a Taiwanese family who had settled down in Cambodia.

Banteay Samre

Just when I thought lunch was within my graps, Narin stopped the car again. I had quite forgotten about Banteay Samre. Now I understood why Narin had thought it necessary to feed us a snack.

finally, a quiet deserted temple

Notwithstanding our hunger pangs and tiredness, not giving Banteay Samre a miss was a good decision. We were practically the only ones there. There were two other tourists, both on their own, a fortune teller and a guard of some sort. That had to be our quietest moment for the day; even at Kbal Spean, we met at least ten people at various points, going up and down the hill. If only all temple visits could be this peaceful!

a carved lintel

Finally, it was time to leave and not a moment too soon. Truth be told, we were just a little bit "templed out". Back in Siem Reap town, we parted ways with Narin. I had other plans for the next day, a trip across the Tonle Sap lake to Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary and Village, while HM wanted a day of leisure. Before he left, we paid Narin US$90 plus another US$10 tip for the two and a half days, and asked him to remind Soryar, on our behalf, about the driver we would need for the drive to Phnom Penh.

Tunch at the Blue Pumpkin

It was practically tea time by the time we had sat down, ordered and gotten served. Late as it was, it was a well-deserved treat.

masala chai and latte

sauteed tofu and black sesame salad

baby lobster and pumpkin soup

tau you bak or stewed pork in black soy sauce

caramel and cashew, and cinnamon

Again, everything was delicious. It was a little strange finding tau you bak on the menu - it's the kind of thing my mother would cook -but it was well executed. HM who normally doesn't like the dish couldn't get enough of the fragrant sauce, nicely infused with star anise and ginger. Before we left, we picked up yet another loaf, this time an olive one. Altogether, the bill came up to US$17.75.

Back at Shinta Mani

We took our first tuk tuk of the trip back to Shinta Mani. While HM went off for an evening at Shinta Mani's award-winning spa, I entertained myself with a little birdwatching next to the pool and writing up my notes for this blog, downloading photos, that kind of thing.

yellow vented bulbul

As agreed with HM, I would order something from room service while she was gone, so that when she came back, a light dinner would be ready. That was easier said than done, and quite unexpectedly so. This is what transpired: I browsed the room service menu then called the restaurant. The person who answered my call seemed to have problems locating the items on the menu. I repeated the items several times but to no avail. In the end, he decided to take down the names of the items anyway and told me that he would call me back. Five minutes later, there was a knock on the door. An apologetic elf had appeared to explain that the room sevice menu I had was outdated. He offered me a new menu and waited while I made my selection. Five minutes later, there was a call. The items that I had requested for, from the "new" menu, were no longer available either. It took another five minutes before the matter was finally settled.

chicken tikka sandwich

turmeric rice with grilled vegetables

prawn fritters, courtesy of the spa

cute glass of coke

HM returned, with a good review of Sanctuary Spa's services and facilities, and a platter of prawn fritters. Her 3½ hour-long package comprised a herbal bath, scrub, banana leaf wrap, massage and facial. At US$102, it wasn't the cheapest in Southeast Asia, at least not when compared to Bali or even Thailand, but it was way cheaper than what was available in Singapore. HM's final verdict? Good, well worth a try.

It had been a long day and I had an even longer day ahead of me. Other than my day trip, we were booked to watch an apsara dance in the evening. An early night it was.

No comments: