From Siem Reap, I set off with Victoria, the adventurous French woman I met at the market my first day in Cambodia. It was now Wednesday June 15, 2016, and after a day of rest after Monday’s long but exciting day, I was eager to get out into nature and see some beautiful sights. Victoria is a history buff, so our speed of exploring was more leisurely and thorough. With a nice Tuk Tuk driver, we headed about an hour and a half (about 50 km) north of Siem Reap to find Kbal Spean… I was super excited when we were talking about our plans, as she was keen to go find Kbal Spean, too! Meant to be. It was a bit of a hike into the ruins, so it was great to have company. I had been warned that dry season was just ending, so there may not be any water, but the idea of Kbal Spean is that the small river or stream cascades over the ruins, making it even more remarkable and beautiful than one can imagine.
We got to the area and decided to stop at Banteay Srei, first. It was on the way, and is the Women’s Temple, or the Citadel of Beauty. Beautiful with a large, expansive grounds.
We headed around the grounds, as signs pointed to a lake with boat rides and a botanical gardens. On the way to the lake, I made a mistake. Now, I haven’t mentioned much the flavour of the touting… People constantly are requesting you purchase a guidebook, hire them as a guide, buy some scarves or pants or tshirts or paintings or fruit or a cold pop, or a beer, or a coconut, or….. the list goes on. Well, at Banteay Srei, I didn’t even think about it, I just bought mango. From a boy. Well… his friend was also selling mango, but decided to switch to postcards when mango wasn’t working. This little boy, probably about 6 or 7 and his 4 or 5 year old brother followed us for about forty five minutes. And he was quite whiny. If I’m honest, I did worry he’d get beaten by his family if I didn’t buy something from him but bought from his friend (brother?) by his scared expression. They followed us to find the boats, down a bit further exploring, then back to try to find the botanical gardens. His little brother was smiley and happy and happily tried to converse with us, but the little salesman was just on a one-minded path. He tried to count to 10, as he had ten postcards for a dollar, but he got to about four and then they just became mumblings until ten. “One, two, three, fhmm, hmmm. bluuuuu, seeeeee, aaaaa, nnnnnn, ten. Ten for one dollar.” Repeatedly. I remember my brother at the age of 6 telling a Mickey Mouse knock knock joke over and over in the car on the 30 minutes drive to school every day and it was mind numbing, but at least it was funny and he giggled and we all giggled with him, in between moans and protests for him to stop. This kid just wouldn’t quit. Finally, another boy came and spoke a little English to us and eventually another tourist came exploring, so he got distracted… but, what a mistake! We asked why he wasn’t in school and told him to go to school and just kept saying No. But it didn’t seem to work. My mistake – won’t buy anything again. Now, I also understand that the parents keep these kids home from school to make money and even one dollar a day can be motivation enough to keep them out of school – never again will I buy something from a child. I just tell them to go to school! (And they seem to respond that they go in the afternoon… even if it *is* afternoon!)
Tried in vain to find the Botanical Gardens, but found two cute baby birds in a tree. Spoke to a few of the tourists to leave them alone and not touch them so their mother would still accept them and they wouldn’t die. Not sure it worked as we left and more were approaching….
Off we headed to Kbal Spean…. a great hike through the woods and a then we found them. There aren’t alot of ruins, but they are really neat, just part of the river rocks. I am so curious as to why they were built here….. I’m not sure, but it is dedicated to Shiva, a Hindu God, and there are many Hindu gods and symbols, plus some animals. Its truly beautiful. Of course, there wasn’t water when we were there… I think the timing was better than overflowing river and not being able to see the carvings at all, which can happen in the height of rainy season; though, I suppose the hike there would be difficult at that time, anyhow.
The hike there above, and the ruins below… You’ll have to imagine the water cascading over it, as I did.