Siem Reap - Day 6

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October 28th 2022
Published: October 30th 2022
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This morning we arranged for Cholna to collect us from the hotel at 8.30am so that we could start ticking off the the last of the temples on Steve’s list of 12 Temples. First we went back to Angkor Thom to view Baphuon Temple. With it being part of the Angkor Thom complex we’re not sure how we missed it on Tuesday? It sits between Bayon and Phimeanakis, but I guess we missed it because we couldn’t see it through the jungle from either! That’s the good thing about being here for a week, we don’t have to do our temple viewing like a military operation, we can go back again and again when we discover that there is something else we want see.

We didn’t see this temple when we were here in 2010 because it was undergoing restoration. It took nearly half a century and many failed attempts at restoration before Baphuon opened to tourists in 2011. Apparently it was put back together like a giant Lego set with the temple in a particularly tumbledown state before the restoration, or should that be rebuilding, took place.

We walked into Baphuon on a raised causeway with ponds on either side. The gardeners were working very hard this morning removing water weed from the huge pond on the right hand side of the temple. They were waist deep in the water in their uniform of black pants and green polo shirts, wearing their safety footwear (flip flops, ha, ha) hacking away at the weed with giant machetes. What a job?!! Most of the gardeners had a plastic bag hanging from them in which they were collecting snails. It seems that finding a feed of snails is a bonus of the job.

We climbed the terraces at Baphuon Temple which gave us quite a workout! When we were climbing back down Cathy and I decided to climb down the stairs backwards because they were as steep as a ladder and with tiny treads. Face forward and very, very slowly seemed the safest way to proceed. At least doing it this way I spied a spider in its distinctive cross shaped web on the way down. A young couple got stuck behind us, but waited patiently to descend. The two of them skipped down the stairs like mountain goats once the old ladies cleared the way!

Cholna met us in front of the South Kleangs. We didn’t visited the Kleangs, north or south, specifically, but each time we have been in the Angkor Thom complex we have seen them from the road. Kleang means ‘storehouse’ in Khmer, but scholars think they may be the archaeological remnants of royal residences, perhaps because the door bears an inscription of an oath of loyalty to the monarch? The North Kleang was first built using wood, but later reconstructed in stone. The South Kleang was only ever partially built. Regardless of their purpose, they are an attractive group of ruins situated opposite the Terrace of the Elephants.

Our plan was to visit East Mebon Temple next which is over to the east of Siem Reap. Cholna gave us another one of his tips, suggesting that we visit Neak Poan on the way. Neak Poan is a small Buddhist temple built in the Khmerian era (late 12th-century) on an aritificial island. Cholna told us that the bridge to the island is new. It was a lovely sturdy bridge built from fake wooden planks which allowed us to access the island with dry feet! This temple involved lots of water with the island surrounded by water and then the temple itself surrounded by a pool. The main temple is flanked by four chapels guarded by Balaha, the horse king. This proved to be another great tip from Cholna as the temple was very picturesque.

And on … to East Mebon Temple. This temple is yet another Hindu temple mountain of the Khmerian era. It is made from brick, sandstone, laterite and stucco and comprises three enclosures and five towers which symbolize Mount Meru. The temple is arranged over three levels and features carvings representing Indra, Shiva and Airavata. The most distinctive features here are the massive elephants guarding the tiers. The elephants were remarkably well preserved … or well restored??

With lunchtime approaching it was time to retreat from the heat and return to the hotel for lunch and some pool time. Cholna returned at 4.30pm to take us to the final temple on Steve’s list, Phnom Bakheng. Bernie was keen to visit this one for the sunset. Phew, I keep forgetting that Phnom means mountain! Before we could reach the temple we had a hill to climb.

Phnom Bakheng is one of the oldest temple mountains of the Angkorian era and, initially, it was the main temple of the Archaeological Park. The temple features a central pyramid made of rock and five sandstone towers bearing carvings of Hindu deities and dancers. The temple also features cranes (not the bird type) elegantly poised around its western side (yes, that would be the sunset aspect!) for ongoing restoration works. And people, lots of people, all wanting to be IN their sunset photos so positioning themselves in front of the towers and posing for their photos. This made it really difficult to take a photo of a tower silhouetted against the sunset. I mean, I didn’t want to be IN a sunset shot I sure didn’t want some other random tourist to be in my sunset photo!!

We made our way back down the mountain in the dark, assisted by some smart phone illumination and Bernie’s trusty little LED torch. Even in the dark, Cholna was quick to spot us and wave us over to his tuk tuk. We motored back into Siem Reap along with all of the other traffic returning from their sunset vigils. Cholna took us to the hotel so that we could unload all of our photography gear and then ran us over to Pub Street. We returned to the Khmer Kitchen tonight where we enjoyed Khmer Fried Rice with BBQ pork.

Steps for the day: 14,010 (8.84km)

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