Siem Reap - Day 5

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October 27th 2022
Published: October 29th 2022
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It rained again during the night. Quite a lot actually! When we went out to meet our driver, Lin, there were huge puddles in the unmade road outside and we had to pick our way to the Mercedes minivan to keep our feet dry.

But, before we left our room for our day trip we had made sure that we would have everything we might need in our day packs. Raincoat, tick, water, tick, toilet paper, tick and the Go Girl, tick. What’s that? people might ask. Well, a week or so before heading to Vietnam and Cambodia I was stressing about the whole squat toilet thing and decided that maybe I needed a ladies urination device so that I could pee standing up!

Some research ensued and, not only are these a thing, they go by all sort of weird and wonderful names: STP (stand-to-pee), PStyle, Purple Turtle, SheWee, The Tinkle Belle, Whiz Freedom, etc, etc. I decided on the Go Girl because I was able to pop into Boating, Camping, Fishing in Box Hill South on my way home from the hairdresser and just buy it, rather than stressing about purchasing it on the Internet … and risking not having it arrive before our departure. I practiced with it at home and managed to direct the flow into the toilet bowl, but today just might be the day that I really need to use it to avoid peeing on my shoes??!!

Before we left town we had to visit the ticket office that sells permits for Kulen Mountain. The ticket that we already have only covers temples in the Siem Reap area. When venturing further afield it is necessary to pay another US$20 per person to visit the sites on Phnom Kulen. The driver and car cost us US$120 for the day so, all up, our day trip set us back US$100/couple.

Our first stop was at Banteay Srei which is about 36km from Siem Reap. This temple is renowned for its delicate carvings on every surface of the temple that depict traditional Hindu stories and portraits of celestial nymphs. Banteay Srei has a sanctuary featuring three towers and three statues with kneeling human bodies and animal heads. There are also three enclosures to explore, but our visit was somewhat short and sweet because Lin had asked us to return to the car within 40 minutes.

Well, there wasn’t much time between finishing our breakfast and departing at 8.00am so our breakfast fluids (juice AND tea!) hadn’t really been processed and eliminated before we left this morning. We decided that we should use the WC here at Banteay Srei because facilities were only like to be more primitive the further we ventured from Siem Reap.

We walked across the bridge over the lotus pond to the facilities and … they were MAGNIFICENT!! Bernie had read that during COVID lockdown Cambodia used the time to develop their restroom facilities and they have certainly done a great job. These restrooms were on a par with any that you would find in a shopping centre in Australia complete with flushing western-style toilets with seats, sensor operated taps and electric hand dryers. I didn’t even have to resort to my trusty wad of toilet paper in my pocket!

After this stop we were really on the dancing road! The roads around Siem Reap have been really good because the Chinese have invested in them over the last couple of years, but the further away we drove from Siem Reap the more the road surface deteriorated. At the base of the mountain we pulled into the checkpoint and showed that we held the necessary ticket for our excursion up the mountain.

After last night’s rain the unmade road up the mountain was pretty dodgy. Ideally we should have been in a 4x4, but we made it in the old Mercedes minivan that Lin was driving … without having to get out and push!! We really felt for the road maintenance individuals who were out by the side of the road in their flip flops with a shovel a thousand years old trying to shovel the dirt washed out last night back onto the road. Hopefully someone is paying them for their efforts??

Our first stop on the mountain was at an absolutely stunning viewpoint at Poeng Ta Kho. We had a great view out over the rainforest from this cliff top lookout and Lin knew a really good camera angle that enabled us to have a photo taken that looked like we were sitting on top of the world. Local knowledge is great.

We continued up the mountain, passing more road workers along the way and roadside stalls where there main produce was very weird looking red-skinned bananas. At the summit of Phnom Kulen there is a Buddhist pagoda and an eight-metre-long reclining Buddha statue that was carved into a sandstone block in the 16th-century. Lin dropped us as close as possible and then we had to walk up a stone staircase to the pagoda. At least the steps were smaller here than they are in all the old temples which made it a bit easier to make our way to the top.

As we slogged our way up these steps we encountered the most beggars that we have seen anywhere in the last three weeks. In fact, we have seen very little begging in either Vietnam or Cambodia. Quite a few of the temples have ragtag bands playing traditional Khmer music nearby in the hope that you will give them money. At least busking for money shows some initiative compared with outright begging.

Having reached the summit, Lin turned the van around and we started heading down the mountain. Not far from the summit we stopped at the 1,000 Lingams. This time we encountered children begging with their ‘Hello, $1.00’ catch-cry. I’m not sure if they think that being able to say hello in English is sufficient to earn them a dollar? Anyway, as hard as it is not to give them something when they have so little, we did not give in to their requests as all the guidance that we have heard and read says that rewarding them for begging is not really helpful because it discourages them from going to school and then, when they a no longer cute little urchins, no-one gives them money anymore.

This stop had it all. Not only did we see the 1,000 lingams carved into the riverbed, we saw an amazing freshwater spring with crystal clear water bubbling out of a bed of sand before it slowed across the forest floor and into the river. Combined with last night’s rain this made the area quite sloppy underfoot and we had to tiptoe over boards and tree trunks to keep our feet dry.

As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, I saw a Snake! Ugh! I want to say it was as long as Bernie is tall and as thick as my wrist, but that would be a lie. It was maybe ten centimetres long and only as thick as my finger … and it couldn’t get away quickly enough. I had barely registered that it was there and it was gone!

We walked all the way to the end of the designated path, but it turned out that the best of the riverbed carving was the section that was only about 100 metres from the road! We started picking our way back along the waterlogged path … eyes peeled in case there were anymore snakes. When we reached this spring again someone, not me, slipped on a tree trunk ‘bridge’ and fell into the mud. Fortunately no harm done, only some injured pride

Our next stop just a couple of minutes away was at the waterfall which consists of an upper and lower fall. Our driver claimed not to speak very much English, but he was still cheeky enough to ask the member of our group who was already wet if she was going to go for another swim?! Oops, that may have given away which member of our group has dirty pants and soggy shoes.

When we arrived at the top waterfall we were confronted with orange robes that had been discarded by the river. Oh my goodness, does that mean there are naked monks swimming in the river??? Well, no, because it turns out they wear orange underwear under their orange robes and they were enjoying the water in their orange trunks!

It was a steep, but thankfully sort climb down to the lower falls. It started off pretty rugged with warning signs about undertaking the hike at your own risk, but then we turned the corner and their was a wooden staircase!! When we reached the bottom, the falls were impressive. Not so impressive were the ‘beautiful people’ swimming in their itsy bitsy bikinis. Just because it’s OK in Ibiza doesn’t necessarily mean it’s OK in Cambodia. I really think tourists should have more respect for the locals and keep themselves a bit more modest.

After clambering back to the van we discussed the rest of our itinerary with Lin. We had Kbal Spean on the list, but Lin told us we would have to walk about half and hour in and half an hour out to see more riverbed carvings. Dripping with sweat we all felt disinclined to go to that much effort to see something very similar to the 1,000 Lingams we had already seen. The third site on the itinerary was Beng Melea which Lin told us was still a very long way and heading further away from Siem Reap. We decided instead that we would visit Banteay Samre and Pre Rup on the way back to Siem Reap.

It rained as we drove down the montain, but it fined up before we reached Banteay Samre which is located near the East Barray. This was a body of water (now dry) that was located just east of the walled city of Angkor Thom. Banteay Samre is a Hindu temple comprised of four gopuras (towers) and a sanctuary featuring elaborate architecture and carvings. The large sandstone and laterite construction is typical of the Angkorian style.

It had been a while since our toilet stop at Banteay Srei this morning. Having been so pleasantly surprised with the standard of the facilities there we decided to try them again at Banteay Samre. Once again, new, clean, western-style, toilet paper. The ONLY concession that we’ve had to make (even at our hotel) is that we can’t flush the loo paper, it has to be put in a bin but, hey, as long as I have a toilet seat to sit on, I’m not complaining

With the weather still holding we drove the five kilometres to Pre Rup where we made the final stop for the day. Pre Rup is the last and most underrated temple mountain of Angkor Wat. Made out of laterite, brick and sandstone, its name literally means ‘turn the body’, leading Cambodian people to believe that this was a place for funerals. The temple is comprised of two enclosures and a pyramid with each enclosure featuring four gateway entrances. The temple also features three big towers with a north-south orientation and two smaller towers.

… and right at the moment that Bernie and I reached the corner furthest from the road, our luck with the weather ran out and we were caught in the rain. Fortunately, it wasn’t too heavy and we made it back to the van only slightly damp rather than soaked to the skin.

Changing our itinerary for the day meant that we were dropped off at the hotel with a little bit of the afternoon left for a swim … and a snack seeing as we didn’t take a packed lunch and we weren’t game to sample the food that we saw at any of our stops.

We had already decided that we would eat dinner tonight at the Baby Elephant Hotel after having a big day out. Thank goodness we had made that decision as it was bucketing down this evening. It would have been very soggy getting to and from Pub Street so we were happy to eat on the front verandah while the rain poured from the gutters and off the awnings outside. Still no cooler, just wet, wet, wet.

Steps for the day: 15,795 (10.42)

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