After two days in and near Siem Reap, we were ready to leave tourists behind and head out for a tour of interesting sites farther out. Considering our tight schedule and the holiday season, we arranged a trip to Preah Vihear, which was to be a bit of an adventure destination of our trip, even before arriving in Cambodia with help of an owner of Cashew Nut Guesthouse. An English speaking driver and a car for two days set us back $170, a great deal considering the distance and the road conditions. The first day of our two-day road trip included two stops along the way, which ended up being my favorite archaeological sites in Cambodia. The first of them were spectacular jungle overgrown ruins of Beng Mealea. The second stop was at the ancient city of Koh Ker. And everywhere in between was rural Cambodia and its welcoming people.
Our driver showed up in the morning as scheduled, and spoke just enough English so we could learn more about life in Cambodia. Beng Mealea is some 80 km by road from Siem Reap. The temple is attributed to Suryavarman II (1113-1150), also the builder of Angkor Wat, and the prime years of the Khmer Empire. Beng Mealea is much smaller than Angkor Wat and remains largely un-restored, with plenty of vegetation growing in the ruins. One can play Indiana Jones and explore them on their own, or with local kids who are willing to show secret passages and routes to the top of the ruins for a tip. Most tourists just follow a path winding its way through and around the ruins. The temple features a lot of carvings from Hindu mythology and depictions of the Naga serpent. From my point of view, this is an absolute must-see in Cambodia until more tourist hoards arrive,
|Our car at Beng Mealea||Minefield sign||Khmer kids||Boys||Naga serpent and the ruins||Spiderweb of stranglers|
|Irina||Lost among the ruins||Climbing guides||Courtyard||Becoming one||Lost in the ruins|
|Strangling the stones||Elegant parasite||Window||Engravings - modern and old||Pathway through the ruins|
|Informal Khmer guide||Pensive look||Myself and Irina||Courtyard||Temple alley||Hindu reliefs|
|Hindu reliefs||Canine guard||Naga guard|
We had lunch in the market adjacent to the temple, which gave us an opportunity to do some shopping and observe local life. Our next destination was Koh Ker, another 60km on dirt roads through the countryside. Finally outside of the reach of tour buses roaming the area near Siem Reap, we were in real Cambodia now.
|Khmer girls||Coconuts for sale||Khmer chess||Concentration||Passing by||Store owner|
|Slow ride||Scooter||Country roads||Cambodia-style traffic jam|
It took almost two hours from Beng Mealea to Koh Ker on dirt roads through the countryside, and it was already late afternoon when we got there. Having learned at Beng Mealea that we spend a long time taking photographs, our driver gave us an hour and a half to walk around the ruins. It was still a long way to Srah Emm near the Preah Vihear Temple, where we would spend the night.
Koh Ker was an ancient city, which served as a capital of the Khmer empire during the rule of Jayavarman IV (928-941). Most of it has given way to the jungle, and only some of the remaining ruins are accessible and safely clear of mines. We visited the complex of Prasat Thom/Prong, that features the red brick tower of Prasat Krahom and the Prang, a tiered 36m tall pyramid, built by Jayavarman IV. Climbing the pyramid was not allowed because of the condition of the stairs. We settled for walking around it and inspecting other ruins nearby.
It was getting dark as our driver took us the remaining 160km on Route 64 and 62 to Srah Emm, the closest town of any size to Preah Vihear Temple, the main destination of our trip the following day. The roads had been paved recently (see explanation on the Preah Vihear page) which made it possible to get to our motel ($18 per night for both of us) at a reasonable time and still have dinner. We had fun picking items from a partially translated multilingual menu, where most items ended up not being available. The staff spoke no English whatsoever, and we were down to pointing and smiling. The beef salad, a favorite among Khmer men, was as delicious as I have come to expect in Cambodia wherever we ate. The meat was done medium-rare at most, also apparently the way Khmer men like it. I had a hard time deciding if I should heed standard tourist guide warnings against everything that tastes good. The salad was delicious, I was fine and I am still here...
|Door at Prasat Krahom||Towers||Irina and myself||Prasat Krahom||Kids||Kids|
|Strangler figs among the ruins||Temple ruins||Khmer man||Tree branch stump||Prang|
|Profiles||Strangler tentacles||Pink and white blooming tree||Truck and its cargo||Ox cart||Phallic ruins|
|Traditional Khmer beef salad|