Warning: this blog post contains one disturbing image from the Cambodian landmine museum.
Our final day of exploring the temples of Angkor took us further afield to visit Kbal Spean and the River of a Thousand Lingas, Banteay Srei (the City of Ladies), the Cambodian Landmine Museum and finally, Ta Prohm, which featured in the Tomb Raider movie.
It took about an hour and a quarter to reach our first destination, Phnom Kulen national park. Entrance to the area was covered in the three-day visitor pass that we had bought earlier in the week. Our driver gave us some water as we set off which was very welcome as we walked along the 1.5 km path to the waterfall. It was quite a gentle incline, with a few steep bits, but the path was basically a river bed so very uncomfortable to walk on. It is definitely not a route for pushchairs or wheelchairs.
Finally, we reached the Kbal Spean, the River of a Thousand Lingas, which is an ancient Angkorian site dating back to the 11th century. The site stretches for 150 metres and the riverbed is covered with hundreds of lingas (a symbolic representation of the Hindu god, Shiva) alongside depictions of Hindu deities which have been carved in the surrounding rock.
We got a good view of the carvings as we were visiting in the dry season so the river was low. The first section didn’t have many lingas; you had to walk up and down the stream to find the more interesting carvings, which would be quite easy to miss. We just followed everyone else! It wasn’t too busy but there were enough people not to feel isolated.
We walked back and had an ice cream before heading off to our next destination, Banteay Srei, the ‘City of Ladies’. The 10th century citadel is renowned for its intricate decoration carved into the pink sandstone. It was very beautiful and quite different from the other temples we have seen. Unfortunately, there was very little shade so we were forced to walked around it quite quickly.
This was the first temple in Cambodia where begging was prevalent. The children were extremely persistent and not taking no for an answer, trying to sell us ten postcards for a dollar. There were signs everywhere telling visitors not to give the children money as it encourages them to stay away from school. It was pretty hard to say no to them as they were very sweet and not asking for much but we recognised that it wasn’t a good idea to give in.
Cambodian Landmine Museum
A short distance away from Bantay Srei is the Cambodian Landmine Museum. The entrance fee is $5 which is used to help children living at the museum, who are either victims of landmines or come from very poor families. The charity helps them to get an education and was set up by a former child soldier from the Khmer Rouge who used to lay the landmines and is now an expert in removing them. It was very interesting, not least because I didn’t realise how small landmines were and so easy to disguise in the leaf-covered jungle. They are designed to maim rather than kill putting more pressure on the other side to look after their wounded soldiers. The charity offers volunteering opportunities. Visit http://www.cambodialandminemuseum.org for more details.
We passed lots of villages on our drive back to Siem Reap. In many areas, there were signs indicating that the house had been built by donations from the West. It made you realise how heavily these communities rely on foreign aid. Everywhere we went, the children laughed and waved at us, which was nice.
Ta Prohm (main picture)
Our final stop of the day was Ta Prohm, which is really best done alongside Angkor Wat and Bayon as part of the short circuit. This is a jungle-covered temple which has been intentionally left as it was found to demonstrate how the trees have wrapped themselves around the ancient ruins. The temple was built in 1186 and one of the carvings is of a dinosaur, which makes you think: how did people know about dinosaurs in the 12th century?