This morning was not quite the early start of yesterday (sunrise at Angkor Wat: mission complete!). We drove out of town to see the unrestored temple Beng Mealea – the “practice one” for Angkor (built just before the iconic UNESCO site). On the way, we drove through small villages, saw numerous ‘motor cows’ (a cross between a tractor and a rotary hoe), plenty of motorbikes carrying pigs on the back, and oodles of local ‘taxis’ (with 30 people in a 15 person vehicle). The more people the taxi driver can squeeze in his vehicle, the more money he makes, but with people riding on the roofs of cars and trucks, it’s no wonder the death toll on the roads is as high as it is – as many as 8 people a day nationwide!
On our journey we stopped on the side of the road to walk out into a field to talk to farmers harvesting rice. They invited John to have a go, and his efforts had them giggling like children. People in the one village all help their neighbours when it’s time to harvest their crop. They work across the field in a slow moving line, bending and slashing and gathering the stalks in bundles. They are a hard working people with a wonderful sense of humour, and they couldn’t believe that in Australia all planting and harvesting was done by machine, they just shook their heads. I told them it was because Australians harvest like John, and they laughed.
Beng Mealea lies 60km east of Siem Reap, and is still in the same unrestored state as when it was discovered by French archaeologists in 1944. On the long, straight approach to the temple, our guide told us that it was as recently as only 18 months ago that the last of the land mines had been removed from the land on either side of the processional way. The motto of ‘don’t stray from the path’ can be literally life saving in Cambodia.
On the way back to Siem Reap we stopped at side of the road at a sticky rice stall. Cambodian sticky rice is made with black soy beans and sold in sticks of bamboo that you peel away and eat with your fingers or a sliver of bamboo. Delicious! (And it was only 2500 reals – 60cents!)
One unpleasant piece of information was imparted by our guide after my questioning him about the misshapen, shortened and bent tails of the cats we saw running around – their tails have been disfigured by their ‘owners’ so as to know which cat belongs to them! Why not train them to come when they are called???
On the way back into town we visited the 3 temples in the Roluos Group – Preah Ko, Lo Lei and Bakong. These temples are some of the earliest monuments of the Angkor period, and are still in remarkable condition considering their age. At the third temple, Bakong, we climbed the many stairs to the top for the magnificent view and found a little boy sitting all alone, very quiet and pensive. He looked about 8 years old (but was about 11). I greeted him in Khmer and our guide translated a conversation for us. He had just left his family in the countryside and moved to the monastery at the base of the old temple (he’d only been there 4 days), and he said he came up to the top of Lo Lei every afternoon. He was about to begin his theological studies in Buddhism, and was not missing his home at all. I fell in love with this child immediately, for his ‘old eyes’ and his calm manner and his sense of being happy in his own company – he will make a good monk, and he brightened my day just by looking at me and smiling!
We called it quits early in the afternoon and had a couple of hours to enjoy our haven at Pavillon d’Orient Hotel. Caught up on some writing and photos and had some late lunch in the garden restaurant by the koi pond. The evening then beckoned and we had our trusty tuk tuk driver take us in to Siem Reap for one last time before our departure in the morning. We went to the Foreign Correspondents Club for some happy hour drinks and some snacky-type dinner options. Were excited by the ridiculously cheap price of the Johnny Walker Blue and Hennessey XO – only $5.50 each, (when a glass of the Hennessey at the Mercure Sydney Airport was $34!!! Glad I didn’t have it there!). A short tuk tuk evening tour ensued, and we headed back for another peaceful night’s sleep.
Tour guide information:
Sopheap Brem – Angkor Sopheap Guide Service, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com