Kbal Spean, Banteay Srei – day 356

The motorbike was delivered on time. We however, were running a bit late and jumped on the bikes slightly later than planned. But, we had the suncream on, helmets fastened tightly and motored down the road, finding the right turn off on the roundabout. We must have been only half way there when the bums started to go numb. MapsMe said the journey was just a 46km trip. The road markers would suggest we did 53. Either way, the last 20km was slow going as neither of us wanted to pause and ease the muscles and the traffic coming round the roundabout in the wrong direction suggested that we needed to stay alert. 

Arriving at the car park for Kbal Spean, we looked a bit like Jeff Daniels and Jim Carey getting off the scooter in Dumb&Dumber. We looked like a set of upside-down letter ‘Y’s’, as we gradually loosened up on the 2km trail uphill. We overtook several other tourists and a tour group of Indians. It only took us 25mins to reach the ‘Bridgehead’. This is the actual meaning of Kbal Spean, but many only refer to as ‘The River of a Thousand Lingas’. A spectacularly carved riverbed, set deep in the jungle, it was ‘discovered’ in 1969 by an ethnologist, shown the area by a local hermit. We didn’t need any hermits to direct us along the jungle paths, clearly marked every 100m with a countdown to the top of the trail. I was admiring the cascading water and trying to capture a photo of the water movement, while Katherine was taking photos of rocks. I had to snap out of it and realise that the entire rock surface was carved in to beautiful figures and mini lingas. It was not at all what I was expecting. We walked a bit upriver finding the impressive boulder of Vishnu in the shallows. Downstream of the bridge head there were further series of carvings with carvings of deities, animals and scripture chiselled in to the rock. The entire riverbed was designed in a beautiful mosaic of lingas with several large sculptures carved in to wide sections of the river. We spent some time at the base of the waterfall. The amount of water was spectacular – of course we had been caught out in several of the downpours that contributed to the flow of the fall. Local families were having picnics, splashing about in the riverbed and introducing their young ones to the water (much to the displeasure of some). We passed some of the same Indians on the way back down and were worried about their progress. In the hour we had passed them, they had progressed a total of 400m. With no water with them and no sign of their guide, I’m not sure they were going to make it to the waterfall, let alone to riverbed of lingas. We did try and discourage them going any further, but we were probably back at the car park before they made a decision. 

Back down the road, we visited Banteay Srei. Included in the Angkor ticket pass we were visiting the jewel in the crown of Angkorian artisanship. This Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva is cut from a stone of pinkish hues and includes some of the finest stone carving seen anywhere in Earth. Banteay Srei means ‘Citadel of the Women’ and it is said that it must have been built by a woman, as the elaborate carvings are supposedly too fine for the hand of a man. We wouldn’t dare comment on who built the city or carved the designs, but the stones in a lovely mixture of pinks, yellows and greys, with intricate and several varied scenes of craftsmanship, meant the temple was incredible. The site was the first major temple restoration undertaken by the EFEO in 1930 using the anastylosis method. The success of the project, very evident in situ, soon led to the restoration of Bayon (our favourite). Originally thought to be from the 13th or 14th century, it was later dated to 967AD from inscriptions found at the site. The manicured lawns around the moat, the buildings almost fully restored to former glory and the landmine victims playing music in the distance, the atmosphere gave the feeling of being back in time. We bypassed the kids (with their prepared speeches) trying to sell postcards and beg candies, managed to find a street side restaurant down in the town and chowed down on some exquisite food. The whole side trip to Banteay Srei, not a million miles from Siem Reap, was memorable and enjoyable. Only a small jaunt down the road (bums still not forgiving us for earlier journeys) we visited the landmine museum. We initially felt cheated by the $10 price tag, but once you visited the place and learned what they did with the money we were content with the cost. We convinced the lady at thedesk to let us have an audio guide in exchange for leaving a credit card – normally wanting a photo ID card. The recent, up-to-date audio commentary was informative, with short bursts of info and letting you enjoy the displays while listening. A well put together museum, the story of Aki Ra – kidnapped child, turned soldier, deserter of the Khmer Rouge, etc and now dismantling land mines that he had placed there himself – was portrayed along with info on global progress to de-mining, costs, manufacturers, how to trigger a mine, its mechanisms and effectiveness and so forth. I would highly  recommend anyone, even if not interested or clued up to the conflicts in history of SE Asia to visit this establishment. It is a short history lesson, without the chalk dust and bells. 

Being able to easily get into town with the bike we went to the Korean BBQ. Even more importantly with our easy ride back home, we were able to stuff ourselves silly with extras of nearly everything. The food probably did’t help with my poorly tummy, but did I care… not an ounce. I was just about able to prop myself up enough to watch some Dexter before bed.  Tuesday 27th September 2016

Siem Reap – day 353

The Big Circuit of Angkor yesterday was brilliant. We had a taste of the riches of the area and kept some of the best for another day. But, even with the motorbike and taking the day nice and easy, we were a bit tired. The heat was more draining than you realised at the time. So, we gradually crawled out of bed and got ready for the day and washed some clothes. It was perfect timing that we were ready just at the same time as Hoai. We had a chilled out day in town planned. 

First on the agenda was a spot of lunch. Down a side street, there appeared to be nothing visible of the Vietnamese community that lived in the area. Then we were passing houses, where the garage forecourts had tables and chairs laid out in a restaurant fashion. We plonked ourselves down in a ‘restaurant’ on flimsy blue and red plastic chairs and simply ordered 3. The only thing on the menu was Pho and this place specialised in just beef (the broth is designed to complement the meat). Ripping a few leaves from the basket of herbs and a sprinkle of chilli flakes for more flavour, we had one of the nicest bowl of noodles ever. Still not as good as Pho in Vietnam, the flavours were intense and lingered long between mouthfuls and loads of chatting. 

Only a few houses down, the long yard had been converted in to two sheltered dining areas and it served as a very popular cafe. Not sure they see many foreigners in there, this secret gem of a place served us amazing filter coffees with condensed milk. The hours flew by and we had to make some other plans for the day. We couldn’t/shouldn’t spend the rest of the day on our ass enjoying condensed milk (and coffee). Hoai made a few calls and eventually the tuk tuk driver found us. We could have walked by the time he arrived, but we would have been on the street for 10mins and then would have got soaked. The heavens opened and a downpour of rain made the all of the potholes look the same depth. 
Thus, we bumped down the road on the way to Les Bambous hotel. In the ground floor of one of their buildings they had set up Escape Rooms. We were going to try a game and see what they were like. Katherine and Hoai had never really heard of them before and I was itching to have a go. An hour locked in a room to try and solve the puzzles and escape – it was genius. 

We opted to try City of Temples room. The object of this room was to find the treasure lost in one of the temples of Angkor. But, we had to find the clues to which temple it was in. The first section of the room had us turning up the stools to find colours and numbers under the seat, pebbles in the flowers pot of different colours, pieces of plastic with green shaded pieces. The clues were all in hidden places of the room and together they formed the combination for the locks to the chests on the ground and the lock on the door. The next room had stuff hidden amongst the skeleton of the last explorer whom couldn’t solve the puzzle and died. This clue helped unlock his backpack for more clues and a diary. We got a bit stuck at this point as we had all the clues worked out and couldn’t figure out the next combination lock. Colours on the chart depicted what combination to use, except we didn’t know the significance of the colours as that clue was hidden behind the decorations of the room – decorations they had told us that were not part of the game. We didn’t feel cheated in the slightest. We were given the last clue and entered the last room past the 60min time limit. The final chest was a piece of cake. So, so close!A bathroom break were we had to traverse the now flooded hotel complex and overflowing swimming pool meant we were all soaking. So, in no rush out to the elements we did another room. We did ‘Kowloon Captive’ where we had to solve the mystery and rescue the captive politicians daughter from her captors. We did brilliant at this more difficult room. The had to come in and help us with the briefcase as it was stuck. We thought we had the code wrong, but it was their props. The cameras constantly watching you in the room must be a bit funny for them. They get to see some people struggling, arguing or geniuses like us storming through a complicated set up. The UV torch was a cool trick as a clue. We finished the day, already on a high with a mega meal at the Korean restaurant. Another hidden treasure in the heart of Siem Reap, we got an all you can eat BBQ set up, with pancakes and kimchi and the works for a reasonable $7. Katherine and I waddled home trying to think of ways of converting the escape rooms into a board game and Hoai joined some friends in town for a drink. It took ages to fall asleep after such a chilled out and adrenaline pumped day. It was brilliant and can’t wait to do it again… ahem!

Saturday 24th September 2016