Banteay Kdei and Ta Prohm
23.02.2011 - 24.02.2011 33 °C
23rd February 2011
Ta Prohm, another ruin near Angkor Thom, was our destination today and we had seen many photographs of this place. It looked wonderful, with trees growing unabated through the walls and buildings of this marvellous looking temple. Stew again felt lousy this morning so we had a little lie in before dragging ourselves into the shower and heading downstairs. Jen woke up with a bad back too (a bit worrying for when she would need to carry her backpack in a couple of day’s time!). Right now, though, we were looking forward to our visit but first things first – a late breakfast! Another disgustingly delicious bacon and egg roll from Rosy’s kitchen angels to set us up perfectly for the day, and we sat outside munching away as three tuk tuk drivers stared at us from across the street, no doubt wondering where (and when!) we were going to go today and which one of them would be picking up the ride!! As it turned out two of them disappeared within minutes and left the same guy we’d had yesterday to take us to Ta Prohm. He was upon us the second we crossed the boundary from Rosy’s, which made us smile, and we told him where we would like to go. He suggested we visit another site on the way so we left it to him to take us there. It was yet another cloudless, sizzling sky as we set off back toward the ruins. After around fifteen minutes we had reached Srah Srang, a huge manmade lake built in the 10th century as a Royal bathing pool!
It is some pool, measuring 350 metres by 700 metres! It was modified in around 1200 by King Jayavarman VII who added the landing stage, a series of stone steps leading to the water’s edge, decorated with stone lions and a balustrade of seven-headed serpents and as we walked to these steps we were immediately pounced upon by a couple of young kids, a boy and a girl, pleading with us to visit their rickety, grass-roofed stalls after we had looked out over the ancient lake and, as if to bind us to a promise, a young girl slipped a bracelet over Jen’s hand before Jen could even object! The young lad pestered Stew with bracelets too but after Stew had smiled and said no thanks a couple of hundred times, he got the message! After we had descended the stone steps leading to the lake and taken a few snaps, we made good on our promise and visited their stalls back along the way to Ta Prohm. Their attitude to us westerners seems to be one of complete confidence that once we are in their stall or shop we will definitely purchase something, and this turns to utter disbelief when we don’t!! It really is both amusing and bemusing! We really didn’t see anything we wanted and said our thanks and goodbyes to all before walking to the entrance of the ‘taster temple’ before Ta Prohm itself; Banteay Kdei, a short trek down a dirt path. With the sound of the young girl’s plaintive cries of “I give you good price” fading behind us, we were serenaded down the dirt track by a small band of landmine victims all playing traditional Cambodian instruments. Seeing them with their appalling injuries (landmines and unexploded ordnance still claim victims even today!!) was very humbling and, although they were not begging but were selling CDs of their music, we opted to drop some money in their basket as the sound being made by them wasn’t exactly easy on the ears! (We have since found out that some of the CDs people have bought from bands like this are in fact blank...!). A stone arch greeted us as we neared the ruins and it carried the same serene, stone-carved face that adorns most of Angkor Thom.
A little further up the path was Banteay Kdei and if this was anything to go by, Ta Prohm was going to be very special indeed! A big stone doorway was flanked either side by two long corridors with window openings. Above the doorway danced rows of stone Apsaras (dancing nymphs) while either side of it stood Devatas (female guardians) carved in bas-relief in the stone blocks. There were halls and corridors inside the complex where trees grew unrestrained, green moss adorned the many stone slabs that lay on the floor, adding to its beauty and its decay. It was utterly wonderful, but in a terrible state of repair and has not been restored. Walking out of the rear of the temple we came across a large, shallow lake where three fishermen were up to their knees in the brown waters, hard at work. Two of them were casting a large, white net while the third chewed on a large cigar while wading through the waters, pounding them with a wooden, conical basket, trying to catch goodness knows what!
We spent around an hour and a half walking and climbing around the temple before we felt the need to visit Ta Prohm itself. The band played on as we made our way back down the dirt path and to our waiting driver, who cheerfully took us the short distance to the temple where Angelina Jolie pouted her way around as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider! As we neared it, however, it became apparent that it is an immensely popular attraction as there were many tuk tuks parked up with drivers either resting or chatting to one another. Once again, the second we came to a halt we were surrounded by women and kids trying to sell us water, books, postcards, bracelets and the like. Becoming quite accustomed to this now we just smiled at them, politely said no thanks, and carried on walking to the entrance. They were clearly not allowed beyond a certain point as they called out to our retreating bodies but didn’t follow. We walked the dusty road, really looking forward to seeing this amazing place in all its glory, but were horrified when we turned the corner and saw a coach load of school kids on a field trip all lining up outside the entrance, together with a huge group of Japanese tourists! Once again catching an orange-robed monk we followed him for a few minutes, leaving the kids and tourists behind and walked around. Huge trees grew in, through and over walls and steps, their serpentine roots searching for a foothold in anything around, sometimes splaying across the flattened areas for many metres, down carved steps and across the stone strewn floor. Huge slabs of sandstone lay piled on top of one another, some marked with id numbers ready for restoration work to begin. That is one big jigsaw puzzle! Tree roots split massive slabs as they straddled huge walls and sat on top of crumbling halls, chambers and terraces adding to the amazing sight. Carved doorways led off down passages and corridors and into small chambers or out into courtyards, ornate stone steps led down onto dirt paths or up to stone landings. Some of the walls were shored up with timber as they buckled with age. It was a magical, eerie and mystical place and we finished our two hour visit with the popular photo that everyone has to take before leaving this incredibly beautiful temple!
The sun was disappearing as evening neared and we walked back to our patient, cheerful driver with Jen attracting a persistent, whining young girl on the way who had absolutely no intention of giving in trying to sell Jen a bracelet. She must have said “One dollar” a hundred times and actually started running alongside the tuk tuk as our driver started pulling away! The cooling air revived us a little on the ride back and we rested our weary bodies while our chariot raced home. Back at Rosy’s we were both feeling the effects of the long day and our ailments so had a rest in our room. Deciding we couldn’t manage another walk to the market area, we took the easy option and ate downstairs at Rosy’s place before hitting the net for a little while and then crawling into our bed, closing our eyes and seeing walls and trees and hearing “one dollar” for the next few minutes...