Siem Reap, Cambodia

Free day today for the group to go on our own. In other words, it's J.P.'s day-off being our tour leader. I've decided last night to go with Jane, Trish and Jessica to visit some more ruins in the recommended list. There's plenty to choose from yet we only have a limited time to really absorb all that historical details. I'm afraid I might even develop temple fatigue.

As the temples we were planning to visit were too far apart, we thought it's best to arrange transportation. Luckily, the owner of Victory Guest House was willing to drive us around in his car for $25. That's truly a bargain, getting a car and a driver this cheap. What we were expecting for this price was another ride in a tuk-tuk.

On top of our agenda was Banteay Srei, a 45-minute drive from the guest house. Others refer to the ruins as the "Citadel of the Women", a rather modern appellation probably due to its exquisite carvings and distinct pinkish color. It was built sometime in the late 10th century. Jane was particularly pleased we went there as the temple is indeed a sight to behold. It is not too big as to intimidate the senses, rather its relative small size enable one to appreciate one of the finest examples of classical Khmer art in not-too-hurried fashion.

We drove to Banteay Samre, another ruin built around the same time as the Angkor Wat and whose beehive-like towers actually look like that of the Angkor Wat. We didn't spend much time in Neak Pean - a small island temple in the middle of a reservoir - but the nearby Preah Khan truly amazed us with its sheer size. It used to be a monastic complex that in its heyday, housed more than 1000 monks. It is interesting to note that most of the buddha carvings here have been vandalized and carved over with Hindu bodhisattvas at the time when Hinduism replaced Buddhism.

With its hilltop location, Phnom Bakheng was perfect for panoramic vistas of the other temples below it. After several minutes of clambering up an incline that really tested Jane's knees, we were treated to a spectacular view of Siem Reap, Tonle Sap lake, the jungles and Angkor Wat itself. The experience was all the more rewarding as we were the only tourists up there at that time.


After lunch, we met J.P. again and rode on the tuk-tuk to the Angkor Hospital For Children to donate blood - a medical necessity in this country. Five of us donated blood - Jessica, Jane, Alison, Tanya and me. It felt really good doing this for a good cause as most Cambodians are too poor to afford decent medical attention.

Before dinner at a funky Khmer restaurant (where we had to walk barefoot to our tables), J.P. brought the whole group to a small theater in the old market where Cambodian kids offered a touching presentation to narrate through singing, dancing and role-playing the turbulent history of their country. It was a moving experience as another long day in Siem Reap, Cambodia is about to end.

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