Following the Vietnam Cave Expedition my friend Jonas from Copenhagen in Denmark and I decided to take some time out to fly across to Cambodia, Siem Reap, which was only 1 hour away by plane and here we experienced the impressive Temples of Angkor along with cycling to Tonle Sap, getting caught in a freak storm and seeing a memorial of the Killing Fields victims.
Here is an account of that trip, including this quick film extract below of Cambodia Water life that I filmed on a hand held camcorder:
After a transit day from Vietnam to Cambodia we arrived at the airport of Siem Reap where we had the unfriendliest Visa check from two seemingly very angry, aggressive and frustrated officials, this was not quite the welcome we had expected when entering a new Country.
We then met up with our guide and headed to the Siddharta Boutique Hotel, which was just a short drive from the airport and there we had the most amazing, friendliest welcome which more than made up for the airport officials. We were both given Cambodian scarfs in a little bag and then had a tropical fruit welcome drink, after a check in we had an evening walk around the grounds and outside the perimeter of the hotel to look for tree frogs and insects, we found some interesting orange coloured toads.
Day 1- Wednesday 25th April
We had a superb breakfast of fruits, yogurt and toast with Dragon fruit and lime marmalade, then we were collected by the guide and headed out to see our first Temple Angkor Wat.
We arrived at Angkor Wat at 7am and the sky was pink with the risen sun, this Temple was extremely impressive with a huge moat surrounding it, the name Angkor Wat means City Temple and is steeped in mythology.
Outside the Temple there are many statues of ‘Naga’ the seven headed snake which protects it and is a symbolic ‘rainbow bridge’ for man to reach home of the Gods making Angkor Wat a ‘Heaven on Earth.’
What was hilarious was that a group of monks walked past in their colourful orange robes and then stopped and all took a picture of the temple entrance with their Ipads, it looked really funny.
Inside there are galleries with walls covered in the most wonderful intricate carvings all depicting mythological images telling stories that are fascinating to see.
The Eastern half of the South Gallery shows the punishments of the 37 Heavens and 32 Hells and images of people can be seen being forced towards the 18 armed Yama known as the ‘judge of the dead.’
There are images of the not so lucky who have been judged and are being dragged by devils along the road to hell and suffer terrible punishments, yet above this the ‘good ones’ dwell in luxurious mansions tended by servants.
The most popular and famous story is that of the ‘Churning of the Ocean of Milk’ and is a fascinating carving of 88 Demons (Asuras) and 92 Gods with crested helmets (Deras) churning up the sea to try and extract the elixir of immortality and as both good vs evil wanted the prize so badly they made a deal to work together and churned the sea for many years whoever proved the strongest would win and the weaker one would gain nothing.
The Demons hold the head of a serpent and the Gods hold it tail, the Gods won the elixir as the Demons were too hot headed and this proved to be their downfall.
We walked through the Temple which was vast and around the grounds where we climbed many steps to the top of the building to look in the upper sections. It was such a hot, humid day that my clothes were soaked through after just an hour of walking about the Temple, by now the heat was uncomfortable, however the lure of seeing more of the temple counteracted this and the exploration continued.
We walked through many rooms and through dark tunnelled galleries and stone arches, there was so much to photograph as everywhere you turned there were these wonderful shadowy structures that looked dramatic in the light.
We then walked round the grounds and past the library which was also a very impressive building with the snake Naga statue lining the entrance walkway as a protector.
We walked out through the grounds of Angkor Wat past the huge lake and moat out to the car and off to see Angkor Thom Temple, its name means ‘Great City’ and was built by King Jayavarman VII (r1181-1219). The Temple was said to once have had 1 million people living and working there and it was surrounded by an 8 metre high wall and a 100 metre wide moat with crocodiles to deter any intruders.
South Gate was beautiful with men riding elephants dressed in bright red colours through the gateway which offered a hint of what it must have been like in the olden days.
The gateway itself was really impressive as it has a bridge made up of continuous statues showing the Churning of the Ocean milk with 54 statues of giant Gods and 54 statues of Demons, it is a true work of art and one of my favourite sights along with Naga the snake, who appears everywhere.
This was without a doubt my absolute favourite Temple of Angkor Thom as the statues of huge faces intrigued me and I thought them to be the most striking and attractive of all the statues that I saw around the complex area. This temple is shaped like a pyramid and symbolises the Lost Civilisation of Angkor with 54 towers forged with 216 gigantic haunting stone faces that stare out into the distance.
It was a joy to walk around this area and if I ever go back to Cambodia this is one place that I would be heading straight across to see again and perhaps spend a whole day just at this one place looking into those faces and learning more about the meaning of them.
This 350 metre long terrace was once used by the King for mounting and dismounting his elephants and was also known to be a viewing platform.
This is a 7 meter high platform and one of the statues thought to be Yama representing the God of Death as the area most likely housed the Royal crematorium, the statue was worn by nature with moss and lichens which looked as though the statue Leprosy, two of the former Kings allegedly were inflicted with the awful disease of Leprosy so the name was formed from this.
This temple is now nearing the end of a multi million dollar 8 year restoration and there was evidence of this in the stonework, but it was extremely well done. The day was getting even hotter and it was a relief to go to a restaurant in town for lunch just to get out of the glare of the sun as the stone seemed to draw the heat in around you.
I have to say that the food in Cambodia is absolutely amazing, it is not usually a priority or something that I would bother to mention, yet this was outstanding and very cheap to buy too.
After lunch we headed back to Angkor Wat and went up in a balloon to get a view of the Temple from the air, the balloon just goes up and comes back down as it is tethered, however this still gave a spectacular view of it and the surrounding area. I found it highly exciting up there in the balloon, one girl was very nervous and despite my trying to persuade her to enjoy the view would not look at it and instead clung desperately to the side of the basket while her husband continued taking his photographs completely unconcerned at her obvious despair.
Sunset at Angkor Wat
Once the balloon was back on the ground we headed back to the grounds of Angkor Wat to photograph the sunset, which was a mild golden colour. The crowd of onlookers grew and all assembled in one area at the back of the lake to get the reflection of the beautiful temple in the still water.
It had been a lovely day, the temperature was 38 degrees whether 4pm or 4am.
Day 2 Thursday 26th April
Today was brilliant as we visited more Temples of the Angkor complex in Siem Reap including the jungle temple, you would think that having seen one temple you had seen them all, yet nothing could be further from the truth as each one was uniquely different.
This temple meaning ‘Sacred Sword’ is a monastic complex and one of the largest temples at Angkor, it was built by Jayavarman VII and served as a temporary home while Angkor Thom was under construction. It was used as a monastery religious college with over a thousand teachers all working in the name of religion. This temple has a fantastic view of a tree that has grown over a part of the building and looks as though it is literally grabbing it to lift it off the ground, see my photo of it below.
The walk down to this area was interesting as children ran alongside you trying to sell wooden jewellery or a whistle and there was the most beautiful music played by small bands of land mine victims. Their injuries were horrific yet it was good to see them doing such a positive thing to make a living and the music was excellent.
Neak Pean is a tiny Temple built within the grounds of Preah Khan symbolises entwined serpents and is an artificial island with a Buddhist temple on a circular island Baray built during the reign of King Javavarman VII. The snake statue of Naga runs all the way around the building and meets itself head to tail, I tried to get a photograph of this but it was not possible to capture the whole thing even standing high up on a bank side.
Dragonflies flew constantly back and forth from the muddy waterside.
This is a temple is small with five towers built on a terrace, the name means Cardamom Sanctuary and built to honour the God Vishnu, it also has a small moat protecting it. These temples were so amazing to see with such interesting inscriptions, one in particular as some men pointing to 9 planets and seeing the Earth as round, this of course is long before Scientists knew about this and that we had the 9 planets, fascinating to think how they would have know this back then.
This temple was built in 1186 and referred to as the ‘Monastery of the King’ and apparently it took over 80,000 people to maintain it during its time. However, over the years it became neglected after the fall of the Khmer empire in the 15th century. This was one of my favourite temples as it demonstrates the power of nature with huge fig trees twisting round and through the ruins, it was left as a natural ruin looking like something out of an Indiana Jones film.
Sadly now restoration is in progress and wooden walkways have been put down with the outer building is roped off, this makes photography opportunities more and more limited and I could only get the images below. I think for this Temple it would have been far better to leave it completely natural keeping tourists further back from it, yet still having the experience of seeing a temple in total, natural ruin.
Mebon is a beautiful temple and another favourite of mine, it stands on a small island in the middle of the Eastern Baray which originated from the Siem Reap river. The temple was once only accessible by boat, however today the baray, once a source of water for irrigation, is now dried out and has become a plain of rice fields and you are forced to imagine the original majesty of this temple in the middle of the former large lake.
This temple dedicated to Shiva the Hindu God, has five towers and three tiers, there are impressive statues of 2 metre high stone elephants set at the corners of each tier, this was certainly one of the prettiest temples and one that I would like to re-visit, you really need a good 2- 3 hours at each place to see all the detailed carvings and statues as they are full of the mythical legends.
On the way back we bought a bag of insects at a market stall to eat as the locals all eat them and we wanted to try them also. Jonas and I both ate Katydids, Crickets, Beetles and Cockroaches and they tasted ok, the crickets were the best, I was not so struck on the beetles as they had a slightly unpleasant taste to them. Later that evening I had a very upset stomach which went on through the night and Jonas says that he suffered with it a bit also, it seems our bug eating experience came at a price.
Day 3 – Friday 27th April
Today we were up at 6am ready to leave at 7am as we had a day of cycling ahead, our guide met us with bicycles, which we tried out and then set off through the extremely chaotic streets of Siem Reap. It was fairly terrifying cycling through those roads as I felt at any moment one of us at least would be run down by some crazily fast vehicle and trying to get across the roads was really disconcerting as vehicles seemed to come at us from all directions.
We eventually got on to quieter tracks where we cycled over sand and stone past small local farms, villages and rice paddies and children waved and shouted either “Hello” or “Bye” to us, this was ongoing for the whole route, but also really nice that the children wanted to greet us in this way.
It was intensely hot but the cycle ride at this point was pleasant and as long as you kept drinking plenty of water from the bike bottle it was fine.
We had cycled for a few hours and were heading to see three different temples all part of the Roluos group, the first of the three was to be one called Bakong.
We Reached Bakong Temple and left our bikes by a tree, the temple was dedicated to the God Shiva and was really beautiful with Elephants in each corner and Lions and Nandi Bull statues also set about the area and protected by Naga the snake, a seven headed version of the snake.
The temple was set in tropical gardens and there were orphan children living in the grounds and Jonas gave them some money, the children seemed very content and were looking out for each other and finding ways to make money. Nowadays the temple is used by Buddhists as a place to go and worship.
This temple was in my opinion the best of the three as the statues were so picturesque and it was so interesting to see all the fine carvings around the towers, we left and moved on to the next one.
The name Preah Ko means sacred bull and there are statues of Nandi the Bull about the temple which was built by Indravarman I in honour of his parents and like Bakong was dedicated to Shiva. It is a very small temple but it had some very beautiful carvings and inscriptions on the walls, both Jonas and I took many photos in the searing heat that seemed to be building by the minute.
This small temple is set on a mound in the centre of the Indratataka Baray Reservoir it has four brick towers that are central with excellently well preserved inscriptions, it did not appeal to me as much as the last two temples however it did have some amazing paintings inside on the walls and ceilings of its shrine, all of which told a story.
One such story was of Buddha eating a meal, he eats food which poisons him and he dies, he knew that the food was poisoned yet he still went ahead and ate it as he knew it was time to move on to the next life, so he eats it willingly.
We walked back to get our bikes and continued on with the cycle ride until we came to a restaurant and had a lovely meal though I had an upset stomach immediately afterwards again and also felt a bit of nausea.
Afterwards we were told to have a long rest in one of the hammocks, which was a welcome treat for me in the heat with my upset stomach, Jonas and I took a shine to a scraggy, long legged black kitten with a stump for a tail and I cuddled it in my hammock. It was nice to see the kitchen staff feeding it and was obviously a regular thing as it ran to them and started meowing for its dinner.
We then got back to our bikes and continued cycling on, the ride was not so enjoyable now as the heat was so intense and we were cycling over mostly sand which kept making the wheels on my bike spin out of control.
The ride went on and on and once again I began to feel very nauseous which turned into a stronger feeling of sickness that I could not shake off, it got to the point where it may have been better to make myself sick to get it over with, but something in me stopped me doing this, I guess because its not natural to do that.
We came across a pond of hundreds of ducks that were all moving in and out of the pond, it looked as though they were migrating as there was such a huge number of them moving all at once.
Jonas took many photographs of them and I started to film them, however I now felt so sick and also had trouble focusing on the ducks as kept getting black spots in my sight and feeling dizzy, I was annoyed at the timing of this as I wanted that footage of the ducks, I got a little but no more.
In the end I had to say to the guide that I was not going to continue with the cycle ride as I felt so ill and hitched a ride with a policeman on his moped, I clung to the back of the moped as we bumped over stones and ridges in the sandy track.
He gave me a lift to the next village next to Tonle Sap which is the largest lake in South East Asia getting up to 16,000 km square in the rainy season and is where we would be heading across. I was welcomed by a group of villagers and they got me a drink and allowed me to sit at the front of their house while I waited for Jonas and the guide.
Later, Jonas, the guide and I waited by the riverside for the boat to arrive, the children here were lovely and friendly, I took some photos of them and then our boat arrived, a modest wooden boat with a young boy as the skipper who may have been young, but was a competent seaman.
The boat ride started out good, my sickness subsided and we passed mangrove forests and fishing boats, it was an interesting boat trip down the river and I was really enjoying it, as was Jonas.
We eventually stopped at at another boat and jumped across onto it for a fizzy drink, the huge expanse of water out front changed colour to a dark sea grey and the sky turned a navy blue tinged with black. It smelt so fresh by the water and was lovely looking out across it, there was nothing out there except the odd tiny fish farm, flimsy bamboo, netted areas where ethnic Vietnamese boys catch fish for the floating village further away on the lake. The sky changed and got much darker, it looked and felt as though a storm was coming and the wind soon got up and rain began to pour down.
The rain got heavier and heavier until our guide suddenly said to get back into the small boat and continue across the water, the timing of this seemed odd I thought as surely it would be better to wait until the storm passed. Still, we did as we were instructed and got back into the boat, it was only Jonas, the guide, myself and the boy skipper.
We proceeded across the water but after half an hour or so the rain got even heavier and the wind became gale force, we were to be caught in a freak storm and there was no land in sight at all, the boat started to rock back and forth and water rushed in over the sides of the boat. Although the skipper boy had initially pulled down covers at the side of the boat to try and keep the water out, these were acting as sails in the strong winds and so he had to quickly take them back up again.
Water came at us from all directions and we clung on to the boat as it was rocked from side to side, everything felt out of control and we were soaking wet hanging on to our cameras and camcorder.
We were thrown life jackets from the guide and told to out them on, he was very good and was trying hard to reassure us that all would be well, I did not feel as optimistic as him though.
I glanced back at Jonas who was sat behind me, he looked both panicked and angry at the same time, suddenly the boat jolted and we hit one of small the floating fish farms, it was awful to think that we might have damaged someones livelihood, but the boat was out of control and nothing could have been done. There were now huge waves and I was convinced that we were going in the water, I had my camera and camcorder in my small backpack under my life jacket in an attempt to keep the water off them.
The skipper got some tools out, a spanner, etc. and started trying to fix a problem with the boat, he which was fairly alarming as no land was in sight still, just huge waves that were getting bigger and bigger. I shouted to the guide asking him to call for help on his mobile but he shouted that no one would come as it was too dangerous, we would have to sit it out.
The storm persisted and the boat was no rocking dangerously with thunder and lightening all around us and water still coming in, the boat thrashed against the waves and the fish farm, I turned to Jonas once more and said “Sorry Jonas, I think we are in a bad way” he nodded and said “Yes, I think we are.”
I truly believed that we would be in that water at any minute, Jonas said to just keep hanging on to the boat, which I duly did until my hands turned white from gripping on to it so hard.
If the boat was to flip over, which it felt close to doing, we did not want to bash our heads or bodies against the boat, I kept looking at a spot of bamboo that I would swim to if it did flip over, though the farm was very flimsy and small and realistically would not really have held us for long.
Two ethnic water boys appeared in the waves, they must have been on the small fish farm that we crashed into, their skin shone in the moving water and they looked like Sea Gods, they were trying to hold the boat and keep it steady, I wished that they would get in the boat as they looked so vulnerable out there, yet also there was a confident strength about them too.
I looked out across the huge waves in the water and turning my face upwards in the rain said out loud “please, help us” I said this twice and it was sheer despair of the situation that we were in that made me do it, neither Jonas nor the guide would have heard me in the roaring winds, but someone did.
Within about 10 to 15 minutes of my begging for help, the storm subsided and the wind calmed right down, there was still lightening all about us, however the boat ceased rocking so violently and thankfully the water ceased rushing into the sides of the boat.
It was such a relief that the storm was passing, the skipper boy was still trying to fix the boat and had tools scattered everywhere, lots of banging went on and the draining of fuel then more banging, it did not look like he knew what he was doing, but he continued on regardless.
Much more time passed and the sun was starting to set before the skipper finally fixed the boat, it was a great relief to hear the engine splutter into action once more, we got going leaving the mysterious looking water boys at the bamboo stack and the boat chugged along spewing out its oily fumes while we watched the sunset to the North and the lightening to the East.
It took another couple of hours for us to get back in the little boat and still the lightening persisted into the night, it was beautiful to watch now that the storm was calmer and it was less of a threat.
Eventually we passed by the floating village that we had been hoping to visit earlier on, but of course it was now dark so we continued on by until we got to land and disembarked up some iron steps. Both Jonas and I were relieved, not to mention the guide who looked positively ecstatic to be back on dry land again.
The drive back in the car was long, but great to relax in the back of that car after such a day, my sickness from earlier on now much better and felt a lovely tiredness from the excitement of the danger we had just experienced, its a strange feeling, I do not like being in danger yet quite enjoy the adrenaline of it all after it has passed and I know I am safe.
Day 4 – Saturday 28th April
It was another early start up at 6am, breakfast and then out for 7am ready to leave for a one and a half hour drive to Kulen Mountain, which was an absolutely fascinating and beautiful place. We drove up a twisty mountain road which you can only access at certain times to keep the single route clear for vehicles either travelling up and then clear again for the ones travelling back down, it is done in time shifts and is controlled with military precision by the road officials.
This mountain, part of the Phnom Kulen national park, is seen as a Holy place for Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims to worship and find peace and sanctuary, at the top there is a car park and then you walk through a busy market where locals are selling handmade jewellery, miniature brass animal motifs, wooden carvings, spices and clothes.
Then we passed by a communal area where monks, locals and tourists were burning joss sticks and kneeling before various statues and pagodas around the place, bunting was hung across from the trees and a voice spoke out in Vietnamese over a crackly loud speaker the whole time we were there, I suspected it was from a tape recorder as it was so repetitive, so most likely playing on a loop.
We walked up some steps into the oblong temple of Preah Ang Thom where a huge, 8 metre high gold reclining Buddha lays, it is the largest in Cambodia and is an impressive sight, it has hundreds of mini Buddhas all sitting alongside it made of gemstones such as Jade and Rose Quartz. There are small Gold and Silver Trees and money had been left around on the Buddha and also placed into clear large collection boxes, there are paper notes everywhere in here.
We then walked around the grounds through wooded jungle areas and under huge stone slabs and through cave tunnels to other areas where people were worshipping, the whole time the crackled voice of the speaker could be heard wafting out over the whole area.
There is a picturesque walk along the riverside where carvings are etched onto the stone riverbed beneath the water’s surface and the waters are believed to be holy as King Jayavarman II bathed in the river during his 48 year ruling. There were many monks by the river taking photographs of it and a beautiful ‘jungle chair’ hanging from a tree made of vines and leaves and covered in scented flowers, I sat in the swinging chair which was very comfortable, so much so I was reluctant to get out.
We then walked on to see the two waterfalls of Kulen, the first is down a natural track and is small at only around five metres high but is very pretty set in the jungle. Then it was a walk down many wooden steps, many of which had rotted away and were not safe to walk on, so you had to miss certain ones out and step wide across them. It was well worth it though as the second waterfall was much more impressive at about 20 metres high and the water beneath was an orange colour due to the minerals in the silt beneath it and huge sunlit rainbows appeared through the running water. Monks, locals and tourists all bathed alongside in these waters and after taking some photographs of the area I got changed and went in for a swim.
The surface below was very uneven and rocky, occasionally I would take a step and disappear beneath the surface where a sudden steep drop caught me out and I had to be careful as there were little towers of rocks that would sometimes scratch my skin, so it was a case of ‘tentative swimming’, but I really enjoyed it as it was so cool and refreshing in there. Small silvery fish nipped at my feet and legs, they could give quite a sharp nip but it was not unpleasant becoming part of the experience being in those waters.
I eventually got out, realising that the guides and Jonas had been waiting some time, but would have happily spent a good hour or so in there. We walked back up the broken steps and past the markets to the top of the mountain car park and had a walk through the jungle to another river whilst waiting for the time slot to be able to drive back down the mountain road.
Once we were off the mountain we headed on to the ‘ultimate jungle temple’ of Beng Melear, this had been long neglected left to nature and the ruins were engulfed in a mass of tree roots and foliage giving it a mysterious and eerie atmosphere. Beng Melear is often described as the Titanic of Temples, we walked past the huge moat and passed a huge Ox in a field that gave out a grunting call every few minutes.
Once in the ruins we walked through rocky corridors and ruined arches overlooking the jungle beneath us and viewing the twisted trees that had taken hold of the temple. A group of orphaned children lived in the ruins here also, much like Bakong Temple, and were collecting fallen berries from the trees and selling them in any discarded plastic water bottles that are left about. It is an enterprising way to make money, which they are clearly using to survive and at the same time they are doing a great thing in cleaning up the discarded water bottles which are dropped by thoughtless tourists, people who drop rubbish in such sacred places or anywhere for that matter make me angry.
We continued exploring this huge area for a good couple of hours, the time was needed as there was so much to see, everywhere you turned was a ‘postcard picture’ of the area and I filmed as much of it as I could and took photographs also, the grounds were stunning steeped in trees whose leaves rustled in the breeze making for a relaxing and pleasant walk about.
This was undoubtably one of the best days of the trip and we spent the evening looking for tree frogs in the grounds of Siddhart Boutique.
Day 5 – Sunday 29th April
Today we got up at 4am and got ready hastily to get across to see the much talked about Angkor Wat sunrise, we had arranged for our regular taxi driver to meet us and he was there waiting ready. We headed to the Angkor ticketing area to purchase a day ticket in order to get in as it was past the 3 day ticket that we had previously been given. This area was absolute chaos, naively unexpected by me at such an early time of the day, it reminded me of Victoria coach station in London where people jostled in queues to buy their tickets.
We queued but once at the window were then told to go to another as we were at the wrong one, it was not that clear which queue to get in and we had to keep asking until we found the right one, time was slipping by and that sunrise was beckoning.
We finally got our tickets and had our photographs taken for security and headed quickly back to the taxi, only to find our driver trying to fix it, the car had broken down, the driver said that it would be impossible trying to get a taxi there as all would be booked out already so he had phoned for another driver to come out to us.
Looking at the chaotic scenes of people running into waiting cars and the tuk tuks going off all in the direction of Angkor Wat I realised that we had no chance of seeing the sunrise, it was just starting to happen and we would miss the whole thing by the time the replacement driver would arrive.
He did arrive within about 10 minutes, which given the queues of traffic in the area was very good and we thanked our original driver and headed off to Angkor Wat.
Walking into the grounds, we saw hoards of people all crowding like paparazzi at the lake side of the temple, both Jonas and I on realising that we had pretty much missed the sunrise now anyway agreed that we would avoid the crowds and headed to the opposite side where it was totally silent away from everyone and ate our packed breakfast that the hotel had kindly prepared for us.
Afterwards we began walking the grounds which were vast with woodland areas, we came to a stone wall with a large group of Long Tailed Macaque (Macaca fascicularis) Monkeys, two of them were playing with a flag and fighting each other over possession of it and I started to film them whilst Jonas took pictures.
One of the monkeys was watching us, acting as a sentry guard, we enjoyed watching them play and seeing the families grouped together grooming each other, I put away my camcorder and was about to walk on when I felt a heavy thud on my back, one of them had jumped on me.
I froze as I wanted it to jump off me, it was trying to take the hat that I was wearing and I held on to the hat not allowing the monkey to take it and it bit me four times, in the neck, both shoulders and stomach. Jonas told me to walk slowly away from the group of monkeys and it may leave me, so I did just that and it worked the monkey jumped off me and scampered off.
I got Jonas to check me to see if the bites had broken my skin but luckily they had not, enough though they felt sharp enough when it was biting me.
We walked on and further around the grounds past the moat, I found the most amazing Dragonfly that I have ever seen, a very exotic looking Tiger species and took as many pictures as I could with the camcorder, frustrated that my Nikon SLR camera had long since stopped working at the beginning of the trip back in Vietnam on day 3, so I was seeing all these wonderful dragonflies and often could not get a photograph of them, it drove me slightly mad.
After wandering around and enjoying the grounds we headed back out and looked for the taxi driver, there were tuk tuks and taxis everywhere you looked, along with the occasional horse and cart. We were really pleased to see our regular driver, he had got his car fixed and come back for us and so we got in and he took us on to see the extra temple that the guide had recommended to us called Banteay Srei.
It was always good to get back in that car out of the intense heat and drink the ice cold water that he always had ready for us, I had never been treated so well as we were in Cambodia, it was so nice. Once parked up, Jonas and I headed off to explore the area and see the temple, this place was amazing for the grounds alone, the habitat consisted of ponds full of lily pads and reed beds and fields decorated with Lotus flowers, huge buttercups and other wild flowers. It was perfect for Dragonflies and was full of them, there were so many different species in one area and I was again frustrated that I could not get proper photographs of them, missing many an opportunity, it was maddening, although I did get a couple of images on the camcorder, but I kicked myself for not having a ‘back up’ SLR camera.
I really would have been content to stay by the ponds and wait while Jonas looked around the temple as I felt I had seen enough of them, however he persuaded me to have a look at it and I am pleased that he did.
This temple was very small and there were small groups of people waiting to get through the single archway entrance to it, but although it was slightly maddening having to wait for each group of people to move before we could get by each time, there was so much to look at that it really did not matter so much. We had to quickly learn patience and respect that they were just as excited as we were to be seeing all this.
Srei means ‘citadel of women’ it is considered to have been built by women as the carvings are so intricate for the hands of men and they are said to be the finest carvings on Earth and it was only found in 1914 and has much of the jungle surrounding it still.
In 1923 Frenchman Andre Malraux was arrested for attempting to steal four of the statues from the temple grounds and quite frankly who could blame him, it really was so impressive everywhere you looked. There were statues of monkeys and fine carvings of sea monsters and snakes all telling different stories, the temple is dedicated to Shiva and cut from sandstone the colour of rose pink.
Walking out of the the temple we went around the side by the moat and viewed it from there, it really was very beautiful and looked like it had just been discovered by early explorers.
I headed back for one last look at the dragonfly ponds, looking for a particular species I had seen earlier with clear wings and just a dash of vibrant blue on them, I could not see it so gave up as Jonas was waiting to get back to our driver.
After a change of clothes to freshen up back at the hotel we decided to go out for a walk and headed to the park area where we saw a colony of Fruit Bats high in the trees, Jonas photographed them and I looked for insects in the grasses. Then we walked on and decided we would try to find the local markets, there were two of them, a day market and an evening market, so we looked for and found both. The day market was interesting to walk around there were so many food stalls there, though some smelt better than others (the meat ones were to be avoided as it clearly goes off quickly in the heat) and we stopped and had a Gin and Tonic at a bar on a street corner then a lovely meal at a local restaurant whilst waiting for the night market to open.
Afterwards we found the night market and it was fantastic, the stalls were all lit up and it was a labyrinth of narrow corridors with jewellery, picture, art and clothes stalls, I bought a ring and pendant, they were only costume jewellery but I really liked them and am still wearing them as I write this, even though the stones fell out of the ring, its still pretty.
We later found a fantastic picture shop where a local man paints all his own pictures, they were very reasonable and stunning to look at so we both bought the same picture each, Jonas bought a large painting of Angkor Wat and I bought a medium version of it, we both felt very pleased with our paintings and carried them rolled up with pride, looking at other picture shops as we passed by and joking along the way that our picture was the nicest, every shop we saw we would say “yep, its still the best one”……..even though we were not really looking properly.
There were many moped riders in Cambodia, much like Vietnam and it was always fascinating to see what they carried on the mopeds and how they managed to balance so much on without flling off.
We got a Tuk Tuk back which was lovely with the cool air on us as we rode through the city, I already wished I had taken Tuk Tuks more, but we still had a day left tomorrow.
Day 6 – Monday 30th April 2012
We got up and took a Tuk Tuk back to the day market and bought teas and powdered spices that we had seen the day before for people back home, they were extremely cheap and made nice little presents.
We then walked to gardens again, but it was so very hot and I really just wanted to cool down so after lunch we went on to the local Angkor Museum of the temples, the museum had some interesting pieces but I was very disappointed as it felt rather unfriendly there and they could have done so much more with it than they have, there were so many empty spaces that could have been filled with more things to see.
Afterwards I watched the dragonflies by the water outside and then we took a tuk tuk back to the market, everywhere you looked they had fish tanks with messages of ‘Dr. Fish Massage, No Piranha’ fish foot massage so I decided to try it out, it was very cheap at £1 for 30 minutes.
I sat at the edge and put my feet in and the fish immediately reacted and started nibbling away at any dead skin, they were mostly Cichlids striped black and blue and yellow and black along with a few silver fish there also, their bites were quite sharp little nips until you got used to them, I do not think the fish spas in the UK use these fish, as they seem a lot gentler at home, but I liked the spirit of these fish.
As I finished up a storm came out of nowhere, very strong winds that blew shop keepers stands over and newspapers blew up the street, people began running about pulling down shutters and moving their wares out of the way, it was exciting to see and be a part of.
We headed back to the hotel and packed ready for the flights home the next day knowing that we had a little time the next morning as we both wanted to see the Killing Fields memorial.
Day 7 – Tuesday 1st May – The Killing Fields Memorial
In 1968 a Communist party in Cambodia formed called the Khmer Rouge which means Red Khmers and ruled from 1975 to 1979.
Once in power it was disastrous for the people as the political party created a genocide torturing and killing thousands of people, even babies were killed in case they grew up and tried to avenge the horror of what was done to their families.
The Khmer Rouge fled the country in 1979 and the Country finally slowly started to recover as the People’s Republic of the Kampuchea took over.
We took a Tuk tuk to try and find the Killing Fields memorial, we were dropped at the wrong place first of all as we could not find it there and think that perhaps the driver had misunderstood where we were trying to get to. We then took another Tuk Tuk after checking with a local and found the memorial which was a small pagoda filled with skulls and bones from the genocide victims. It is important to see these memorials to pay respect to the dead and think about it all and you ant help but question why it happened at all. Greed, power, threat…..all lethal ingredients that lead human beings to such appalling acts of crime against others, it never ceases to lose its shock-ability.
I stared at the skulls and tried to imagine who each of them were, it was slightly over whelming seeing them there and I felt very upset, I took pictures of it with my small camera but somehow that felt wrong.
Then we met our driver and headed to the airport to fly home, Jonas was heading back to Copenhagen and I was going back to the UK, I hugged Jonas and thanked him for coming on the trip with me, we had got on well considering we had been together pretty much 24/7 many people may have fallen out and I am pleased that we are such good friends, we are planning to travel together again.