Anth in Phnom Penh

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Siem Reap (Pchum Ben Part 2)

The second half of our Pchum Ben holiday was quite a contrast to the first. We arrived in Siem Reap early afternoon on the Wednesday. After driving round town and goggling at all the new development we found a nice guesthouse and chilled out until dinner. On the invitation of our friend Maylee dinner was at Hotel De La Paix’s restaurant Meric. It was quite the dinner – we had the Khmer set - traditional fare all served in various common household receptacles. My favourite food blogger also happened to be there at the time, so I shall refer you to him for a more eloquent description. It was a luxurious meal. I was reveling in the fact that I was eating truly Khmer food that wasn’t ‘cha bonlai’. The chefs even managed to rustle me up a sour soup without meat – this was of course not authentic, as no Khmer would dream of making it without fish, but at least it meant I got a bit of an idea of what all the fuss was about.

Our evening of comfort set the scene for the rest of our time in Siem Reap. We were much in need of unwinding and thanks to Maylee and Paul’s hospitality our wishes were granted. Our first day was spent lounging by the pool at the hotel, doing the crossword and eating ridiculous amounts of ice cream.

The following day we went to visit some of the farther out temples. Maylee and Paul decided to come along and our small road trip began at Kbal Spean. The road out was terrible, beyond Banteay Sray it turned into a potholed mess, and it took ages to cover the 50 kilometers. Kbal Spean is very different to the other Angkorian temples that I have seen, as many of the carvings and stone is underwater. Wet season is probably not the best time to go, as the many of the carvings are not easily visible under the rushing water. The 30 minute walk through the forest to the site from the carpark was lovely. It was a busy day, and people were running around everywhere, further downstream families were bathing.

On our return we stopped in at Banteay Sray. I had never been to this temple before and was amazed by the intricate carving. It is simply stunning and so much more intricate than many of the carvings I have seen in the major temples in the Angkor complex. We wandered around with the hordes of tourists, took photos and simply gaped at the detail.

That eve Mr B and I decided to put our Angkor passes to good use and visit Angkor Wat for sunset. We walked in the backway and scaled up the stairs right to the top, which I always find terrifying. Sitting in a little corner and looking out on the temples we mused about leaving Cambodia. However, it wasn’t time to say goodbye just yet, as will be in Siem Reap again in November.

The following day, we decided to go even further afield and head out to Bang Melea. This entailed us leaving Siem Reap and traveling down the road to Phnom Penh for about 20 minutes before turning down a road that led to the site. Previously access to Beng Melea had been restricted simply because of the terrible road condition, but as some enterprising businessman had come along and fixed up the road – with a toll booth, which requires one to pay each way – the temple is now much easier to access.

All up it took us around an hour to get out there. We strolled up the main walkway and climbed up some wooden stairs constructed so to enter the first inner wall of the temple. It was simply jaw dropping. Thankfully, an apsara authority guard decided to take us around and show us all the parts, because it was enormous. It had the proportions of Angkor Wat with the overgrown and lost look of Ta Prohm. We clambered over stones and walkways and through high ceilinged coridoors. Every now and then our guide would explain that we were in the east or west quarter, but after a while I found myself completely lost and just content to follow. The full beauty of the temple was not immediately apparent as we walked up the wooden steps but the more we explored the more we discovered. Most of the stone carvings were covered in moss and tumbling down, however some had levels of detail similar to Banteay Sray, particularly on the outer walls. After we finished the tour we attempted a small wander around by ourselves. We couldn’t believe how stunning it was. After a while, we decided to go back to the car as the temple was ridden with mosquitoes and head back to Siem Reap for our final night’s dinner with Maylee and Paul.

They took us to an excellent Japanese restaurant. The owner treated us to an indeterminate number of courses of fabulous food. Sake and beer were being passed around and finally when the courses ceased I was very full and satisfied. Cocktails at Linga bar followed and by the end of the evening all I was fit for was collapsing into bed.

Despite the previous evenings over indulgences we were up fairly early the next morning and cruised out of Siem Reap by a little after midday. We arrived back in Phnom Penh tired and frazzled after an even more stressful than usual leg back into town. The insane driving and traffic started earlier (around Skuon) and crescendoed as we reached the Japanese bridge. We drove slowly and calmly and made it home safely.


  • At 10:03 PM, Anonymous andnIc said…

    thanks for sharing your trip with us... I'm going to Cambodia soon and hope it will be a great trip.... just got a guide from and found that it contain a lot of useful information in it :)


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