Cambodia Part 5 – a spot of tomb raiding
One of the unfortunate side effects of Cambodia’s recent past is that one should not go too far off the beaten track for fear of stepping on one of the 5 million land mines that still remain rooted in the fertile soil. In still more recent history, this amazing country is now getting a reputation for being something of a sex trade hub with children as young as 5 being lured into the appalling trade and sold for anything between $300 and $1000. A dark side to a light and airy country.
Our day begins at Cambodia’s second most famous temple, Ta Prohm. This was the temple featured in the 2001 film, “Tomb Raider” starring Angelina Jolie and it was built by Jayavarman 7th under its original name “Ancestor of Brahma”. It was, in its time, certainly a very wealthy temple as a unique stelae records that Ta Prohm owned 3140 villages, had 28 high priests and 615 dancers and it also had a set of good dishes weighing more than 500kg, 35 diamonds and over 40k pearls. Unfortunately there weren’t any lying around when I was there.
The temple was subject to quite intensive restoration so many parts of it were obscured by unsightly cranes whilst other parts were mere piles of numbered bricks, like discarded jigsaw pieces, waiting to be put back in, hopefully, the right place. Today the temple is synonymous for it’s back to nature appearance and the trees that grow spectacularly through the walls and work their way sinuously through the ruins. Long, stringy fingers, almost of a melted cheese appearance, caress and grasp at ancient stonework and slowly strangle the moss covered hallways and open spaces.
The temple is ours to explore and so we stroll from one end to the other where we find a number of saffron robed monks coming and going across an old wooden bridge. We also stumble across one of the more bizarre/stylish (delete as appropriate) fashion statements I have seen in a while. A lady, I’m guessing French, wearing an enormous white, flying saucer shaped hat with a thin red brim, white jacket, with red trim, red handbag and slimline red skirt with white polka dots. Her shoes are a very bright red and of the stiletto type. She stands out a mile and I marvel at the sheer impracticality of her shoes with a heel so thin it will probably snap off in a crack!.
I am wearing purple. I say that because a member of our group assured me she could never be lost if she could see my shirt. She also said it took her eyes “a while to adjust”. Whatever that means!
From Ta Prohm to Pre Rup, a very popular temple from which to observe sunrises and sunset and where members of the Cambodian Tourist police, sell parts of their uniform, badges, cuff links, almost all of it, to tourists. I purchase a badge and wallet but draw the line at what I believe to be the offer of a (used) pair of official police pants!. At least I wasn’t offered handcuffs!
Beantey Srei is a lovely temple. Dedicated to women it’s set on its own on a little island surrounded by a moat and with an outer wall. It’s really cool and kinda cute. It’s actual name is, repeat after me, ” Tribhuvanamahesvara” or “Great Lord of the Threefold World” and it’s constructed from pink and roseate sandstone. It’s a very intimate temple because it’s so small and it’s fantastically decorated with scenes from the Ramayana. Overall, I think it’s the most beautiful temple I see in Cambodia.
The end of temple sightseeing means we are left with the afternoon to ourselves so we wander off into Siem Reap for some shopping. There’s a modern mall where I purchase a bright orange and blue t-shirt and which has a huge Sony store selling every PlayStation game imagineable. We pass a KFC which appears to be next door to an emporium where goods made from Crocodile skin are made. Are we sure it’s not Kentucky Fried Crocodile ?.
We bargained for pictures in the market, had a Pepsi or two in a local cafe, let fish nibble at our feet at the appropriately named “Dr Fish” and picked up the only tuk tuk driver in Siem Reap who didn’t know our hotel and who had to stop for directions every fifty yards!.
In the evening we attended a local “cultural show”!. I dislike cultural shows. I find them far from authentic and frequently drawn out and bothersome. Unfortunately this was at a packed venue where the noise was deafening, a member of our group had a major panic attack, the food was absolutely awful and a Japanese tour group (with obligatory drunk Aussie) invaded the stage and rubbed themselves against the terrified dancers!.
Karen and I, and another couple decided to walk back to the hotel but we stopped halfway so I could have a banana milkshake ( I presume it took so long because they had to grow the banana first) and we paused to admire the traffic lights with their animation of a little man who starts walking very slowly but who then speeds up as the lights begin to change. Quite cool.
After a long day bed seemed like a sensible option so, after reminding Karen we were in 254, I let her go and get our key from reception.
Here is her conversation..
Room 452 please ?.
No madam, I can’t see your key.
Karen to me : What room number ? Me : 254
Karen to reception : 452 please.
No madam, it’s not here.
Karen to me : it’s not here. Me (a little frayed round the edges) : it’s 254!!.
And so it went until the young lady on reception twigged the hotel only had two floors so it must start with a 2!.
So that was Siem Reap. Wonderful, glorious Siem Reap and incredible Angkor. It was time to move on to visit one of the most haunting and evil places I have ever seen.