After our filling breakfast of Num Banh Chok, and a short stop to check out how palm sugar was made, we were on our way to our next stop, Kbal Spean. Kbal Spean is not a temple in the typical sense of the word. Located about 25 kilometers from Angkor Wat, Kbal Spean is a sacred site in the jungle. As we drove it started to rain fairly hard. This made Narin turn to us and say, "you are good luck, we've been waiting for the rain." After a bit of sliding and mild hydroplaning, we arrived at a large field.
The hike takes about 20-30 minutes through the jungle. The trail was a bit slippery, but except for a few steep areas pretty easy. The humidity and the moisture made me feel like I was back home in Hawaii hiking.
The main feature of Kbal Spean is the river, which contain carvings that have been done in the bedrock. According to some of the literature we read; these carvings were originally made in the 11th century by hermits who inhabited the area.
Many of the symbols are "Lingas", sacred symbols.
And fertility symbols abound.
We had arrived right after a very loud group of Young Japanese Tourists who were making a racket and walking back and forth over the stone carvings. Soon enough, a little Gentleman wearing a blue shirt emblazoned with a badge restored order. Seeing that there would be no more jumping over the rocks and walking across the river carvings the group soon left. The Gentleman, seeing that the Missus was interested in the carvings, gave us a little tour.
It was a neat encounter; neither of us spoke the other's language, but somehow we communicated and understood each other through gestures and sign language. And of course, there are gestures that are universal.....especially the ones used to explain which of the carvings were fertility symbols!
The water that passes over all of the symbols is supposed to be Holy Water. And of course you know the Missus had to get some of that!
The hike down seemed amazingly short, and I felt refreshed by the change of scenery. And so we headed off to our next stop.
About 20 Kilometers East of The Bayon; Banteay Srei is unique for several reasons. The first becomes apparent at first glance:
It's the wonderful red color of the sandstone used for this temple.
Making some of the carvings quite stunning.
The other unique bit of information about Banteay Srei is that it is the only temple in Angkor not built by royalty. It was instead built by two brothers; Yajnavaraha, the court physician and trusted confidant of King Rajendravarman II, who granted them the land, and gave the brothers permission to build, and his younger brother Vishnukumura, who was a wealthy landowner.
Whatever the history, this is a beautiful site, and quite deserving of it's modern name Banteay Srei, which I was told means "Citadel of the Women". The temple itself is small, and can be covered fairly quickly, but chances are you'd want to take your time.
I can't say the same about our next stop.....
This place gave me the heebie-jeebies. It just looked ominous.....and frankly kinda spooky.
The place was also very empty. As I climbed up the temple stairs, I could imagine flying creatures with fangs swooping down to prey upon us from the crumbling spires.
The Missus later told me that the current name, "Pre Rup" means "turning of the body", and many Cambodians believe that cremations and other funereal rituals were carried out here. This story is fiercely debated. But, I can see where the stories come from....
And while the Missus was standing on the third level looking for Angkor Wat, I couldn't wait to get the heck out of the place. As I scurried down the tiny stairs, the Missus had to keep reminding me to watch my step. One false step could be my "Pre Rup"......
We got back to the car, and a more pleasant subject came up. Lunch!
Meet the Prahok:
Unfortunately for us, we stopped at one of the many tourist eating spots that line the edge of Srah Srang (The Royal Bath). We did convince Narin to eat with us. The menu was a uninspired collection of Thai, tourist-Khmer, American, and European dishes. Wouldn't you know that the Missus ordered Fish Amok...sigh.....
I couldn't even bring myself to taste it....
I ordered some very routine Lemongrass Chicken:
What did Narin order? Narin ordered in Cambodian, so it remained a mystery, until it arrived. He had ordered Hamburger and Fries!!! The Missus and I looked at each other in astonishment. It was a platter of mystery meat disks, that by the two handed effort (no buns, Narin held the fork with 2 hands to bite, nay tear a piece off) necessary to eat it, must have been closer to jerky than meat. There were strips of soggy looking shoe-string potatoes on the plate as well. Later the Missus postulated that Narin had never had a chance to have a burger and fries, so he probably took this opportunity to sample "American food". After eating that garbage, I wondered what he thought of the American diet? Regardless of what he thought of what Americans eat, there's no doubt in my mind that he must think we have the strongest teeth and jaw muscles in the universe!
There was one bright spot of the meal. Narin had noticed that we enjoyed eating the local food much more than the tourist food, and brought by a little dish.
It was Prahok, the crushed or pounded fermented fish paste, a staple as important in Cambodia as cheese or butter is here in the States. At first taste, it was very pungent, the fermented fish flavor made me tilt my head back in surprise. But with the addition of some lime juice to take the edge off, I rather enjoyed it on my rice. I mentioned the crunchy texture, and the distinct sour flavor to the dish. This made Narin smile......if you enlarge the photo above, you'll find out why.....
He told us, "it is the ants". Say what? As I focused my beady eyes on the little dish of half consumed Prahok, I could make them out. And yes, there they were, red tree ants, dozens of them in the dish....they were indeed crunchy, and added an interesting sour flavor to the dish. I took one of them out for a photo-op. So say hello to my ant:
One of the good things about this restaurant was that is was right across the street from Srah Srang, the Royal Bath. Not really understanding the magnitude of Srah Srang, we crossed the street, and dodged the grazing animals:
And walked to the edge of Srah Srang:
Boy, this was some bath.......
More like a lake. And the breezes coming off the water gave us some relief from 100 degrees plus temperature.
A few minutes later; sufficiently refreshed, we headed off on the last leg of our tour of the Temples of Angkor........