Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Day 3 Exploring the Outlying Temples: Banteay Srey and Beng Mealea

23 October 2015

Continental Restaurant has not opened. It was 6:50 a.m. and it has not started business for the day yet. The staff who opened the door told us that the chef has not arrived and he would arrive between 7:00 - 7:30 a.m. Instead of waiting, we decided to go out to look for breakfast. There was none nearby. We returned to our hostel hoping that the chef has arrived by now but he has not. Our driver was waiting and we decided to ask him to bring us to a place where the food was not as expensive as those in the tourist areas and was along the way to Banteay Srey, our immediate destination for this morning.

Banteay Srey

I read that Banteay Srey, being in the outlying area, was quiet. Well, not really. A few tourist buses had arrived just before us and there was a big group of Chinese visitors. From the parking lot, we passed through a building which served as some kinds of visitor centre/ waiting area/ ticket inspection check-point. We took the direction where most of the visitors seemed to be heading.

Banteay Srey is a small, one-storey high temple. There was not much to see except for the intricate and detailed bas-relief which is still very much intact and has not seen much wear and tear over the centuries.

From Banteay Srey, we went straight to Beng Mealea. On the way there, the driver had to stop to ask for direction when he turned into the intersection to Phnom Kulen. After what seemed to be like a long time on the road, I was a little worried that our driver might have lost his way. We felt relieved when the Beng Mealea ticket office came into sight

Beng Mealea Temple

This was by far the most wonderful temple. It evoked a sense of mystery, as though one has stumbled into a lost world and has made a great discovery. I just went "wow!" It aroused one's desire to explore it. The scene at Ta Prohm in Tomb Raider would not have evoked that feeling had it not been for its ruins that have been left to nature. Something mysterious! The rubbles at the entrance that piled as high as a 3-storey building evoked that sense of magnificence and mystery. How could there be so much rubble? It was much more magnificent than Ta Prohm. On the other wing, which I would call the tourist wing of the temple, the plank-walk, like those at Ta Prohm, has actually made it tame. Fortunately, there were not so many visitors to this temple.

When I saw a temple guard pointing and leading a white visitor over the rubble at the temple wall on the left path, I instantly connected with what I had read in blogs, i.e. of temple guides showing visitors around the temple and later demanding tips. We just observed and followed their path and got ourselves inside the temple wall. I saw them disappearing into a building but when I tried to use the same trail, I could not find where they had disappeared.

While trying to find a way to exit the temple at the back, I heard voices above and behind the wall but could not see anyone. There was no clear path, just soil stains on some rubble, which I told CTT was an indication of someone climbing over them. When we saw another temple guard guiding another visitor, we just observed where she would lead the visitor to exit the temple. I was right. She climbed over the rubble where I saw the soil stains.

When the tuk-tuk ran out of fuel on our way to Angkor Wat, I was a little worried that we might not make it by dusk for a short photography session. Fortunately, it did not take the driver long before he got back with a bottle of petrol. We arrived at Angkor Wat causeway at about 4:55 p.m. and finished at about 5:35 p.m.

If you are interested in gong to Banteay Srey and Beng Mealea, you would be pleased to know that the roads are fully sealed, except for a short section after Angkor Wat. Visitors should have no worry about breathing in tons of dust taking tuk-tuk on the way to the temples.

The total distant covered today was 167 km, including the additional stop at Angkor Wat based on the reading on my Garmin eTrex 20 track data.

We basically covered the major temples during these two days. My original plan to visit Chong Kneas or Kompong Phluk at Tonle Sap on the third day had been scrapped because of the poor review by Tripadvisors contributors. We actually talked to our driver about visiting his village which he said was about 10 km away. He told us we could have lunch in huts built over water but he failed to provide us any relevant or interesting photos even after we spoke to him a few times. He just showed us some uninteresting pictures.