"Necessity is the Mother of All Inventions" a famous sage said that in the 1800's and this truism is never more apparent here in Cambodia as you can see for yourself. Most cambodians can't afford to own a car and even a pick up vehicle and even large trucks as it has one of the lowest incomes in the world. But it did not deter them from being creative and geting the best bang for their riel! they invented the Tuk Tuk Cargo Trucks! these tuk tuk cargo trucks have the same chassis as the regular tuk tuk passenger auto rickshaws but instead of a passenger carriage, they put a flat bed metal in it with railings to make it into a mini truck to haul the necessary supplies like food, cement, wood, building materials, etc. from point a to point b as a fraction of a cost if you are hiring a truck.
Truly Imaginative People!
Cambodia is a tropical country hence, there is only two season, a wet season a dry season. If you are visiting the Angkor Complex during th summer dry season from december to may, it can get quite hot also very humid as Siem Reap has a high humidity and you easily get tired and sweatly after walking around the huge angkor complex like the Angkor Wat or Bayon or Angkor Thum or Ta Prom, etc and after a day or a few days of walking the huge Angkor Complex, it is best to have a dip at the swimming pool of your hotel for a refreshing respite of the heat! Our hotel in Prince D' Angkor Resort & Spa has a large salt water swimming pool and hence, after some brisk walking and hiking on the Angkor Complex and Tonle Sap, we took a dip.
Seems like a strange thing to do while on holidays I know, but a couple of our tour group took part in giving blood. You can give blood at either the Angkor Hospital for Children or the Government Hospital in Siem Reap. Our donators had whopping bruises after doing so, but I don't believe there was any other side effects.
Most of the landscape around Siem Reap is flat and not to exciting. So it is a good option to head to the hills and a very sacred place for Khmer. Phnom Kulen is a over an hour drive from Siem Reap but worth the visit. It has nicely wooded hills but the road is not too good and is one way only. Therefore you need to get their in the morning, and cant really leave for home until the afternoon. No porblemo, its worth staying a few hours.
It has a Bhuddist temple with a huge reclinging Buddhist statue and many shrines. Also carved linga. Just down from the temple is a small market with some restaurants and souvenir stalls. Unfortunately they had a bear skin and part of other local fauna for sale here.
There is also a beautiful clear river with many linga carved in the rock based riverbed. THis river flows all the way to Siem Reap and it is believed that the Linga impart good fortune on the water as it flows past.
Along side the river is a picnic ground with many picninc huts where many families were enjoying the shade whilst eating lunch after a dip in the river. This place was magic. THe picnic huts cost $1 and you pay a $ for ice if you need to keep drinks cold. We also bought a whole roast chicKen, rice, fish and some other stir fired dish. Total cost for 4 ppl was around $10. There is a US$20 fee per car to get to Phnom Kulen so be aware of this.
Just south of Siem Reap town is the floating village called Chong K'neas. I got driven to the port where I took the boat ride which takes you along a small river past the floating house boats of the locals. You also see schools and shops, anything you may see in a land based village. Amazing. Houses are powered by car batteries and most have satellite dishes for TV and comms. Not a bad set up. The boat ride opens out to the Tonle Sap lake where there are more houses and a restaurant/souvenir shop with caged fish and Cambodian Crocs. This was not the highlight of Chong K'Neas but you get a good idea of the size of the lake as you get to the top story.
As I love nature, I wanted to explore more in Siem Reap and Angkor Wat not limiting myself to temples. Our guide Neang suggested a trekking route which would take us to waterfalls. It took us approximately 1 hour car drive from Banteay Srey to reach Kbal Spean. After 35-40 minutes trekking, we found ourselves at the top of the hill where we saw some stone carvings on the water. Following the sound of water, we reached the waterfalls. It was relaxing and different to be in the nature. This short escape was a good change as we had started getting bored with visiting temples all the time
Can someone tell me why there is a grove of young Australian Eucalyptus trees on the road to Beng Mealea? My driver wondered why I asked him to stop, thought I needed a "pit stop" or something. I just had to stop and take a photo as it just something you expect to see.
Around 1km before to Beng Mealea, there is a road that heads north towards Phnom Kulen. the road takes you to tiny bridge over a creek where you can see a creek bed with the what is left of the sandstone after the rock was cut to build the temple structures etc.
Around the platform we see tens of boats with kids. Some are trying to sell bananas, others, with snakes around their necks, want to attract our attention and hope to get a dollar or two when we take a picture. Oh, and these little kids in metal bowls equipped in a stick to steer with ..., it's an unforgettable sight.
It's time to go back. Our boatman doesn't say much so I can think about what we've just seen. I've got mixed feelings ... It's so sad to look at the poverty of these people, but giving them money doesn't solve the problem. Isn't it their government that should provide for their basic needs? (They even don't have easy access to drinking water - isn't it a paradox?) Yet, the tourist police take the lion's share of money left by visitors here and in Angkor.
The visit to Chong Kneas is considered by many a 'tourist trap'. They say it is better to visit places a bit further from Siem Reap, such as Kampong Phluk. There village life is not disturbed by tourists yet. I agree, but if you are pressed for time Chong Khneas seems the best option. For me it was a real eye-opener.
We leave our tuk-tuk driver behind and follow a young boy who is to be our guide in Chong Khneas. After boarding a small motor boat (there are only two of us and the guide) the trip begins. The boatman- guide knows English well enough to give information about the place. We pass a floating village school with a basketball court, different shops and houses. Chong Khneas is inhabited by over 5000 people ethnically diverse: there are the Vietnamese, Khmer, Cham and Chinese living there. The concept of address is practically unknown here: people have to move several times a year back and forth as the waters of Tonle Sap increase and shrink.
After a couple of minutes we get to the open lake. What a mass of murky brown water it is! Our guide points at a nice blue building - it's a catholic church. We stop at a floating platform crowded with tourists. There's a snack and souvenir shop and a kind of fish and bird exhibition but hardly anybody seems interested in them. Most people watch what's going around.
When you look at the map of Cambodia you see a big body of water; it is Tonle Sap lake - one of the biggest lakes in SE Asia. In fact, the lake changes its size from about 2 700 square km in dry season to 16 000 square km in the monsoon season. The reason is a unique hydrological phenomenon which makes the Siem Reap river diverse its flow and fill the lake.
A visit on the lake was recommended to us by our tuk-tuk driver and I'm sure will be one of our greatest memories from Siem Reap. It was to be a diversion from our exploration of Angkor temples and turned out to be an exciting experience. We knew only vaguely what to expect - a floating village on Tonle Sap lake. The 15 km journey along a bumpy road to the docks was an adventure in itself. On the way we passed shabby little huts and could observe village life: half-naked little children playing near the road, women cooking meals in big pots on the fire, in a few huts family gathered around TV sets (powered by generators). We felt overwhelmed by the poverty of those people. After about half-an-hour ride we reached the place selling tickets for boats to a floating village of Chong Khneas. To our surprise a man charged us 15 dollars each - a real ripoff for Cambodian standards. But it was too late to resign.
Roluos group consists of three temples: Preah Ko, Bakong and Lolei. All date from the late 9th century and give an insight into early Angkorian architecture. The group formed the ancient centre of the Khmer civilisation called Hariharalaya.
Preah Ko was the first temple built by Indravarman I in the capital city of Hariharalaya. Its name 'sacred bull' is surely connected with many statues of bulls which are said to represent Nandi - the bull that served as the mount for Shiva.
Bakong was the first Khmer temple-mountain. The naga (multi-headed serpent) on the side of the causeway appears here for the first time in the form of the balustrade. The pyramid is crowned with the tower which comes from a later period of Angkor.
Lolei used to be an island temple situated in the middle of a big baray, now dried up. The highlight of the visit are decorative elements, especially carved lintels, although some are badly damaged. Those in better condition offer the chance to admire such motifs as makaras (serpent-like monsters), kalas (demons commanded to devour themselves) or nagas.
Phnom Krom temple itself is not very impressive, but our trip there, though not pre-planned at all, turned out to be very nice. Our tuk-tuk driver talked us into visiting a floating village on Tonle Sap lake, which was a wonderful experience. On our way there we noticed a hill with stone steps leading up. When we were coming back we decided to stop there and climb the hill (137m), knowing vaguely from our driver that there were some ruins on top. It was still very hot (late afternoon), but the views were stunning. Paddy fields, dirt road winding through the countryside, little houses on stilts and the enormous lake on the horizon. The staircase soon changed into a path, there was this growing silence as we were walking away from the life down the hill, but the destination was close and we decided to continue. What we found atop was a buddhist temple with a smiling monk and a sleepy dog and some metres further the ruins of the temple. Only back in the hotel we found out that the temple we had visited is called Phnom Krom and was built in the late 9th century. Unfortunately, most of the carvings and details have been lost because of the erosion and the temple as a whole is nothing special. But I do cherish the memories of our own private 'discovery'.
This temple sight is around 1.5hours from Siem Reap so its a little out of the way and will cost you around $30 in a tuk tuk but if you are prepared to pay for an aircon car, which I prefer, you will pay double as the price of gasoline is rising enormously. They have just upgraded the road to the temple and you pay a $5 ticket at a checkpoint a few km from Beng Mealea. My guide explained that this temple was a practise run for Angkor Wat as it is the same rough plan but on a much smaller scale. Sadly though the temple is almost completely destroyed due to the jungel and trees taking over completely, but you can make out the gate, walls and the general idea of what it looked like in its heyday. They have built wooden stairs and a walkway for tourists as without this is would be very difficult to get aound as there are cut stones everywhere. There are plenty of cattel walking through the grounds outside the amin temple giving a real rustic feel to the place.
Beng Melea is a very peaceful place and you will not likely see many tourists here. Take some time to rest in the shade (there are many trees) and take it all in. Had a nice lunch of chicken soup and a beer in the restarant just across the road from the entrance to Beng Mealea.
"The lower mountain"
Date late 9th - early 10th century
King Yasovarman I
(posthumous name: Paramashivaloka)
Phnom Krom on the shores of the Tonle Sap, 137 metres in height. Of the three monuments, the temple of Phnom Krom remains the most complete in silhouette, with only the top tier on its northern and southern towers and the two top tiers on its central sanctuary missing. It is also the most threatened with destruction by the wind storms blowing in from the Tonle Sap on to its walls, built as they are in a friable and porous sandstone that has a tendency to exfoliate, and that consequently have retained but a few traces of decoration on their facing.
The climbing of Phnom Krom would perhaps not impose by its archaeological interest alone, but the pleasure of the walk is such and the panorama of the Great Lake with the surrounding plain so extensive and tranquil that we have no hesitation in recommending it - and with preference at the end of the day.
The poor state of the stone has unfortunately rendered any repair or restoration work to the monument impossible.
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