Wednesday 7 March 2012

Temples of Angkor - Day 3

We decided to take it easy and hire something motorised for our last day of Angkorian temple spotting. We were bargaining hard with a group of tuk-tuk drivers hell-bent on overcharging us, when Teach turned up from a side street and accepted our offer. Nodding enthusiastically, he whisked us off to Banteay Srei and the Cambodia Landmine Museum. Teach didn't speak much English, but he was a good driver and always seemed happy to see us.

Glad to ditch the bicycles we kicked back and relaxed, our attention less on traffic and more on the scenes of village life passing us by. Large woks steamed away on open fires out the front of wooden houses, groups of children walked or rode bicycles to and from school, mountains of watermelons were being bought, sold and tossed around, and the usual assortment of goods and produce buzzed about, impossibly stacked upon two wheels. One curiosity was a man zooming by with a large pig strapped down across the back of his motorbike seat, four feet in the air. I mused briefly on how comparatively comfortable our travel had been thus far, when we passed yet another man with his pig in a similar arrangement stopped by the side of the road. On this occasion however, the porcine appeared rather content, grunting happily as it received a nice belly rub with a cool splash of water.

Banteay Srei was a temple commissioned not by a king, but rather one of his advisors. Much smaller than its haughty Angkorian counterparts, its claim to fame is beauty rather than size. Elaborate decorations had been carved out of almost every available surface of amazingly preserved red sandstone. The carvings are so delicate that many believe that they could only be the work of a woman, hence the name Banteay Srei translates to "Citadel of Women". The heat and the tour bus crowds were a bit of a setback, but we were still able to appreciate the elegance of ancient Khmer art for the final time before heading off.

Carvings - Banteay Srei

From the glory of the Angkor temples, we stopped by the Cambodia Landmine Museum for our first taste of the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime. This museum was set up by Aki Ra, an ex-Khmer Rouge child soldier whose former speciality was laying down landmines. He had since defected and now leads an inspiring effort to clear landmines throughout his Cambodian homeland and educate others of the pain of landmines and unexploded ordinance still present from the war. Samples of the hundreds of thousands of deactivated devices were on display at the museum, and the life shattering potential of such relatively simple devices was frightening.

Land Mines at the Land Mine Museum near Siem Reap

Gotta admire the fella.

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