One morning we headed to Kbal Spean, more commonly known as The River of a 1000 Lingas. This site is about 25-odd kilometers north of Angkor Wat by car followed by a hearty hike of about 2kms up to the river itself. Dress appropriately as there is a lot of uphill climbing and bring water.
Lingas are Hindu phallic carvings and the riverbed is littered with lots of little hard-ons. Also present you’ll see many yoni designs (essentially square representations of female genitalia) and many Hindu god motifs.
The site is sacred to Cambodians, even today, and the belief back then – the carvings being from the 12th and 13th centuries – was that the lingas fertilized the water which then produced healthy rice fields. The water becomes ‘holy’ if you will with its passage over the linga – yoni motifs. The river culminates – or should I say – climaxes with a pretty waterfall.
5 & 6) motifs carved along the river
We also stopped at the – in my humble opinion – most beautiful and smallest of the Angkorian temples – the red sandstone Banteay Srei (known as the temple of women). Consecrated in 967AD (do the math … that is over a 1000 years ago) it is unique in that a courtier named Yajnavaraha, not a king, built it. The carving here is exceptional – beautiful high relief depictions of goddesses and guardians.
11) some of the beautifully intricate carvings; 12) Blee heads up the pathway
13) one of the entrance ways; 14) more carving – I love the elephants up top
15) isn’t this stunning? Imagine carving this all those years ago
16 & 17) leaving Banteay Srei we stumbled upon a heard of water buffalos
18) spring rolls at Srey Koulan Restaurant; 19) kids everywhere riding to/from school
22 & 23) as someone who’s done a fair bit of work around landmine eradication in his time, I made a stop at the Cambodian Landmine Museum for a tour. This museum is supported by Canadian funding (with thanks to former Prime Minister Paul Martin who was instrumental in securing the Ottawa Landmine Treaty, which the United States, China and Russia all – to the shame of them and their citizens – have still not signed!)
If you make the hike to the top on the very steep stairs, you’ll be rewarded with a fine view of the Angkor Wat ruins, and Phnom Kulen – the range of mountains associated with the founding of the Khmer Empire when King Jayavarman II proclaimed independence from Java in 802 AD.
A visit to Siem Reap is also not complete without a stop to Beng Mealea, a 40km drive east of the main Angkor group. This Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu was built by King Suryavarman II (reigned 1113-1150) circa the late 11th-early 12th century. What makes it unique is that archeologists have left it pretty much as found – a jumble of tumbled grey sandstones and overgrown by the jungle, in particular massive chheuteal trees. You can really feel like Lara Croft touring here!
29) these hundred year old trees are everywhere; 30) looking along the causeway to the temple