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Cambodia countryside

CAMBODIA | Saturday, 29 November 2014 | Views [589]

Yesterday we woke, not quite as early, and got ready for a long tuk-tuk ride out of town to a couple of temple sites we were particularly interested in, north of town about 40 km. We stopped first at Pre Rup, a lesser known temple ruin that seemed of a different style than some of the places we saw yesterday. The primary stone structure seemed made of smaller brick-like stones, and we were able to crawl up to the top of the three-story structure via ancient thick stone stairs. From there, we were rewarded with a great view of the surrounding jungle, punctuated briefly with the sounds of, incredibly, an ultralight plane!  Walking around at the top to the other side, we found a wooden stairs built with handrails, which I was very happy about!  

I'm having to deal with my weird vertigo-like fear of stairs and high places quite a lot on this trip. I can't say I'm really getting any better at it. It's funny sometimes though, in that I do a lot better going up than coming down. So, once Im up there, what am I going to do, just live up there?? I've got to get myself back down. I find it encouraging to repeat a little mantra to myself with each careful step, "One step, one step, one step." I probably seem ridiculous, but I've climbed up and down stuff I wouldn't normally dare, so I feel good about the whole experience. Normally I avoid climbing up on a kitchen chair! 
We get back into the tuk-tuk to continue our drive to our next destination: Kbal Spean. We pass through villages and rural communities, seeing roadside stands with what at first looked like bottles of cooking oil. I realized later that they contain gasoline, portioned off from some larger container. We see small wooden or thatched huts, often raised above ground. Chickens, dogs, cows, and even water buffalo are in fields and yards. 
Kbal Spean is an elaborately carved riverbed, northeast of Angkor. It is referred to as The River of a Thousand Lingas. Phallic symbols called lingas are visible in many places in the riverbed, allowing all the water flowing down to Angkor to be blessed. We had a beautiful hike to the site, ending at a pretty waterfall. I regret not dunking myself in the waterfall due to my dread of the return hike in soggy clothes. But I will never forget the look of pure joy on the face of the 77-year-old man who stripped down to his skivvies to immerse himself in the falls. Should have joined him. 
Our final stop was Banteay Srei, which my guide book described as having some of the finest carvings on earth. It was quite a drive from Siem Reap, especially on our tuk-tuk, which never reached too high a speed for fear of jolting us out of the back. When we finally arrived, we were so happy we had made the effort to come!! The carvings were incredible. It was as if every square inch of the temple was adorned, and with detail that I could hardly believe. Still visible were individual teeth of the lions, detailed flowers held by the heavenly apsaras, and intact protective naga snakes like I rarely saw at the other temples before. Banteay Srei means Citadel of the Woman, because the quality and detail of the carvings are thought to be too fine for the hand of a man to have made. Regardless, and considering construction on this temple began in the year 967, I couldn't believe how sharp the detail still was. Better stone as well??
Coming back to Siem Reap, we decided to eat at the Butterfly Gardens, where there are a thousand butterflies contained in a courtyard around where you eat. We have been having fun watching all the different kinds of butterflies on this trip; our favorite so far being a large red and white one that we have only spotted a couple times. When we arrived at the restaurant, it was dark and we immediately realized the error of our thinking: the butterflies were sleeping. Didn't see a single one. 
Wandered around a bit at the Night Market and Pub Street, had a drink and some ice cream. A ladyboy invited me to come visit her bar. I told her "maybe tomorrow." Lots of tuk-tuk drivers constantly and forcefully offering their services. It's hard to stop walking and just look around, because we are immediately yelled to by vendors or drivers. I try to be understanding, in that everyone is just trying to make a living, but it is hot, we are trying to figure out which way to go, and it happens all day, pretty much constantly. I got a little snippy a few times. We are also approached separately by a woman and by a young girl, both with 1-yr-old babies, asking for milk.  The baby holds an empty sippy cup that clearly has the dregs of milk in it. It's very difficult to refuse to help. "No money madam. Need milk. Milk, please, please madam. For the baby. For my sister. I have no money to buy milk."  They grab my hand. I keep walking. It feels wrong not to help. I've been told this is a scam, but I wonder how it is actually wrong to basically just be begging. I feel horrible. 
We are planning to sleep in tomorrow for the first time in a while and do some trip maintenance stuff. Low-key Siem Reap day, such that it is. 

Tags: cambodia

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