Lost in Cambodia (p.2)
4. Prasat Preah Vihear: the military in the mountains
Tourists were not unauthorized to visit this temple, this temple has been the cause of tensions and major conflicts between Thailand and Cambodia: located just at the border, the two countries claim it as national heritage. The withdrawal of the troops was decreed only in July 2011.
The military presence on the site gives a particular character to the visit: they are at the entrance of the site, and some also walk between the ruins, sometimes having fun to follow the tourists of (very) close for no apparent reason, then leave to join the monks laughing. Finding yourself at the edge of the trenches is impressive especially if you imagine the conflicts raging here. The region is still mined: be careful not to walk anywhere!
Perched at 625m, it offers a view of the Cambodian plains below. Dedicated to Shiva, this temple complex is built along the length, along the North-South axis (which is quite unique as a configuration).
Going here is an adventure itself: the cars stay at the parking below and only the 4 * 4 of the army and motorbikes can climb the steep slopes that lead to the feet of the temples. The journey remains a memorable moment, between laughter, disbelief and fear of falling during turns, or even slip during the climbs. A small question crossed my mind at the back of the bike: “How that the driver has a helmet, him, and me not? »…I particularly liked the doors and windows of this site, or the longitudinal progression makes us discover the temples one after the other, as we open Russian dolls without knowing when it’s going to stop.
Budget and route
Price: Arrived before dawn and departed on arrival of the first tourists on the site, we did not pay entrance for this temple.
Route: The nearest town is Sra Em (or Sre Am, Sra’aem), more easily accessible from Kampong Thom (but possible also from Siem Reap). From Kompong Thom to Sra Em, we drove the day, but stopping on the way to visit Preah Khan.
At the bottom of the site, take a motorcycle ($ 5 round trip); some drivers are military on leave who round the end of the month.
Note: The site is always closed to tourists on the Thai side.
5. Koh Ker: the Mayan pyramid
Behind this name hides an immense set of temples, long considered inaccessible and therefore not very touristy. 42 temples are distributed over an area of 9km over 4km.
Ancient capital of the Angkorian Empire, each temple that makes up the city to its peculiarity: its color (red stones, blue stones …), its sculptures, its trees between the stones, … Beautiful sculptures have been found here, including the huge Geruda, which is now in the lobby of the National Museum of Phnom Penh.
The most emblematic temple is without a doubt the pyramid of Prasat Thom (or Prasat Kompeng). With a small air of Central America, this pyramid consists of 7 levels and measures 40m high and 55m wide.
The towers of Prasat Bram completely trapped, wedged between the “paws” of the trees.
Food: small tourist stalls are installed at the foot of the pyramid site, and one of the “restaurants” offers typical Khmer cuisine: one of our best meals in Cambodia!
Budget and route
Price: $ 10
Itinerary: We visited Koh Ker from Sra Em (less than 2 hours by car). The site is located 2h30 from Siem Reap (130km). No public transport is the desert, and the nearest town is Srayong, 10km away.
6. Beng Mealea: the temple of lost children
Last but not least, Beng Mealea is at the top of my list of favorites. Real secret garden, lost paradises, fairy world or still animated Miyazaki, this temple fascinates me. If it’s an overgrown temple that you want to see, look no further: Beng Mealea is probably the best!
Arrive early allows to visit the place not have many tourists, making the scenery even more wild and magical. On the other hand, it is impossible to avoid the escort of children-guides, who proclaim themselves “passers of walls” and quickly impose on you “the” path to follow. Contrast to see these peaceful temples through the ages, welcoming lush vegetation as if the weather was stopped here … then to see children teeming in all directions, climbing the creepers, jumping from stone to stone. Of course, they know the ruins like their pocket, know where to find the beautiful engravings, even know some words of English to describe the temple, but they have a little invading side … Not to mention the tip repeated over and over again from half of the visit!
I have loved almost everything in this temple, from the climbing necessary at times to continue the progression, to the high reliefs of a beautiful delicacy, to the walls invaded by the lianas through the play of light of the early morning through the foliage of the trees.
Budget and route
Price: $ 5
Route: From Koh Ker, 1-2h drive, but there is nothing around: apparently not possible to stay in the village of Svay Leu. From Siem Reap (70km, 1 hour by car), it is possible to combine an excursion with Koh Ker or Banteay Srei (remote Angkor site which I will talk about again).
6 temples, 4 days: 1,000 hits!
In conclusion, we visited these temples mainly by tuk-tuk and by car, allowing us to discover these 6 sites in 4 days.
Of course, the car is a luxury and ease solution, and ultimately a big time saver. Everyone has to adjust according to their capital budget and time. The ideal is always to arrive early on the sites and / or visit them during the breaks and meals of tourists: it is always more impressive to feel the atmosphere of a virgin temple of all human life!
Cambodia is so much more than Angkor: hundreds of temples are scattered over this beautiful country and waiting for Indiana Jones or Lara Croft in you!