Monday, 19-01-2015. Day 152.
Lingas, Lady Temples, & Landmines
I know what you're thinking. What happened to day 151? Not much happened. We did go to the Old Market and buy some scarves then ate a late (big) lunch at Namaste, one of our favorite Indian restaurants.
Then at night we watched Tomb Raider at Angkor Cinema. For $5 per person, you get a private viewing room where you get to watch your selected Blu-ray movie on a projection screen with surround sound. They have hundreds of movies avaialble to choose from.
Angkor Archaeological Park, Day Two
Our man Sen was only available on Saturdays, so we arranged for a driver through our hotel to go out to some of the more distant attractions in Angkor. We wanted a tuk tuk, but the hotel said it was a long drive, so they suggested a car. The price difference was only a few dollars, so we agreed. We met our driver, a nice gent named Dara, at 8:00 a.m. in front of the hotel. We climbed into his car and made the 50 kilometer drive to Kbal Spean.
Kbal Spean isn't a temple proper, but rather a sacred waterfall along a section of the Stung Kbal Spean River inside the borders of Phnom Kulen National Park.
To get to the waterfall, you have to hike up a trail for about a kilometer and a half. There were a few places that that trail felt like we could be hiking in Southern California—and other places that were totally unlike California. it only took about half an hour of walking before we arrived at the sacred waterfall.
The site is notable because of the thousands of sacred images carved into the sandstone riverbed and rocks along the banks of the river. There are so many carvings in and along this small stretch of the river that it's known as the "River of a Thousand Lingas."
But what's a linga anyway? The simplest explanation of a linga is that it is a phallic representation of the Hindu god Shiva. In the riverbed, some of the carved lingas can be found inside and around different yonis, which is a symbol of female power. So, as you may guess, after the water flows over 1,000 carved sandstone lingas and yonis, it's imbued with sacred power.
Besides lingas and yonis, there are also a number of other sacred images, including Brahma, Vishnu, lotus flowers, and many animals like bulls and frogs.
We spent a little time exploring the river and enjoying the cool shade of the riverside paths before we hiked back down the trail to the parking area, which was really starting to fill up. We were glad that we'd gotten an early start. We got back into the car and took a short drive to Banteay Srei, a nearby wat famous for its pink sandstone.
This small Hindu temple translates literally as the Citadel of Women, but there was a plaque at the entrance that said the phonetic translation of Banteay Srei was "Auspicious City." But most people still called it the Citadel of Women, or, like our driver, the Lady Temple.
Now that doesn't mean it was a place where women would hang out to pray. Instead, it supposedly gets its name from all the intricate carvings that can be found on its walls—they say the carvings are so intricate that they could have only been carved by the delicate craftsmanship of a woman. Interestingly,
Dara dropped us off at the entrance and we were immediately swarmed with kids selling all sorts of trinkets, postcards, and copies of Ancient Angkor. The pressure sales here were a lot more intense here than at any temple closer to Siem Reap. There was also more begging, including one woman who had severe burn scars covering her face; she had so much scarring she was missing her nose. She couldn't talk (I don't think she had a tongue, either), but just grunted and moaned at the tourists as they walked by. It was unsettling, especially for the girls.
The wat itself was quite spectacular. The reddish or pinkish sandstone really gave it a unique look. It was well-preserved, and the restoration work that's been done to it made it look like it was almost new. The buildings were a lot smaller than what we'd seen at other temples like Bayon and Ta Prohm. Although it was dedicated to Shiva, it wasn't built for a king, so it would have been disrespectful to make it larger than a wat commissioned by royalty.
We walked back to the parking lot, dodging the begging woman and politely refusing the youthful dales associates.
The Landmine Museum was started by a former child fighter named Aki Ra. He fought for the Khmer Rouge until he switched sides and fought for Vietnamese, then the Cambodian National Army. He says that in his time as a soldier, he placed a lot of mines in Cambodia (he claims to have laid thousands). And now he's on a mission to remove all the unexploded ordnance from Cambodia.
The museum is dedicated to showcasing the dangers of landmines and the horrors of war. There numerous examples of unexploded (but deactivated) mines and bombs throughout the museum, some diagrams of the different types of mines, and a chart displaying the proper way to disarm a mine (don't try this at home). There are a few different displays, and one picture was particularly gruesome, but it got the point home. There's also one wing that's a timeline of war in Cambodia that's not very pretty—this small country has seen a lot of strife and violence.
The museum also acts as a home and school for Cambodian orphans, primarily those injured by mines. Some of the kids are even going on to university.
When we left the Landmine Museum, we had to go looking for our driver. I read somewhere that Thais can sleep anywhere. I don't know if that's true, but we did find Dara catching a snooze in a nearby hammock as he waited for us.
On the way back to Siem Reap, we saw a lot of these two-wheel tractors on the roads in the Cambodian countryside. Two-wheel tractors have been around since the early 1900s, but here in Cambodia they're really put to good use. Not only are they used as a great labor-saving tool for plowing, but we often saw them on the road, pulling a loaded wagon.
Around twilight we got close to Siem Reap, we crossed the Siem Reap river and Dara pointed out the fishermen in the river. There were a lot of them, and they almost all used large nets they'd cast into the water waith a two-fisted overhand throw. They stood in the water spaced just far enough apart that their thrown nets didn't run afoul of each other. Dara told us that a lot of the fish they caught would be on sale at the various markets around town in the morning.