Monday, November 25, 2013

Field Trip

Yesterday was probably my favorite day so far, touring-wise.  After changing to a new hotel my driver took me way out of town to Banteay Srei, the "citadel of women' about 45 kilometers from here.  
45 K isn't all that far in a comfy car or air con mini van.  Sitting in an open air tuk tuk with terrible suspension is a different story...especially since they don't seem to go much over 25-30 mph.  And that's not counting having to slow down for the incredible pot holes, traffic clogs, dogs and chickens in the road and so forth.
For a while, as my spine was getting pounded, I was regretting my choice of a tuk tuk, but once we really got out in the country side I realized it was absolutely perfect.  No window between me and the people and landscape.  360 degree views.  And my driver Choom was happy to stop whenever I asked.  He even offered many times at choice places.  Really nice.
Me and Choom, my driver.
Being in the countryside allowed me to see how rural Cambodians live.  Which probably hasn't changed a lot in the past 2000 years.  Sure, there's scooters and bicycles and weird farm vehicles, and lots of plastic garbage in places.  But the houses up on stilts, the woven hammocks, the baskets, the hand loomed cloth, the rice and chickens and water buffalo, it seems pretty timeless.
After a while I noticed that some compounds were really nice, with no trash or litter at all.  Others were an ugly mess.  Not that different really than the US I suppose.
Banteay Srei is touted as one of the jewels of the ancient Khmer empire.  It's carved out of red sandstone and has held up better than the other temples I've seen.  I have to admit I was a little let down by the visit.  It's quite small really.  There's not much to it.  But the thing that kind of wrecked it for me was having been to Ubud in Bali, where almost every building has gorgeous carvings around the doors and windows, pretty much along the same Hindu themes.  
Of course the carvings at Banteay Srei are a thousand years old!  That does make a difference, but it's sort of an intellectual difference. 
Plus it was really really hot!
But the next place we went (another good half hour drive) was one of my favorite places I've seen.  It's known as Kbal Spean and it's not a temple, but a river way up on a mountain side where a thousand years ago carvings were made in the river bed and on big rocks on the river banks, including 1000 lingams (phalluses).  This was all done to make the water flowing down to Angkor fertile and holy.  
I'd actually seen this in a DVD at my hotel, and it was recommended to me, otherwise I might have given up on the incredibly long and steep climb to get there.
No one had actually mentioned a climb.  It was 1800 meters actually.  They'd posted signs every 100 meters, which might have been encouraging?  I'm not sure they really had that effect on me.  I almost never sweat, but it was brutally hot and humid and my shirt was drenched by the time I got there.
And there was most definitely a "there" to get to.  Thankfully there was a wonderful english speaking guide just waiting for me.  I would have missed a lot, or most of it really, without his help.
The lingams in the water were amazing.  1000 is a lot of them!  They went on and on down the stream bed.  Our tour ended at the base of a wonderful waterfall where I stripped down to my shorts and bathed.  It was wonderful!
Of course it's always pretty grand bathing next to a waterfall.  Especially a tropical waterfall when it's super hot.  But for the real deal, make sure the water is flowing over 1000 lingams.  Unless you're trying not to get pregnant!
The spine rattling trip back was grand.  School kids in uniforms on bikes, people in their stilted house compounds, rows of women stirring huge woks making palm sugar on the side of the road, big white cows, endless rice fields, jungle and weird farm vehicles called 'buffalos' pulling wagons loaded with firewood, bags of rice, whole families.  
I feel like I finally 'get' Cambodia now.

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