Toppled ruins of Koh Ker and Beng Mealea

Trip Start Feb 04, 2010
Trip End Feb 12, 2011

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Flag of Cambodia  , Siĕm Réab,
Saturday, July 10, 2010

After a restless sleep, we awoke at dawn to gather our things for a 6 am departure to Koh Ker to wonder around the sites in a relatively cool morning sun.  Slightly disturbing was the sight of a tiny black scorpion casually making its way across our bedroom floor, stinger cocked and ready to strike.  We drove eight kilometres north to Koh Ker to view Prasat Krahom (or "Red Temple"), the second largest structure at Koh Ker, named for the red bricks used in its construction.  We walked through stone archways, along a causeway with fallen pillars, past worn stone remains of lions whose features were now slightly muted and looking like a blurred image of its former self.  The principal monument, Prasat Thom was a 55m-wide, 40m-high sandstone pyramid, something we envisioned we would see in Peru rather than Cambodia.  We viewed numerous smaller temples around the Koh Ker complex, some having Shiva linga symbols.

As was the case on the previous day's drive to Prasat Preah Vihear, our driver continued to have taxing conversations with us.  On arrival at Koh Ker, we asked him to grab breakfast whenever he wanted so as not to wait for us as we were keen to explore Koh Ker in the cooler hours of early morning.  After exploring Prasat Krahom for about 45 minutes, we found him laying on a hammock and asked him to drive us onward to the next temple complex a few kilometres away.  When he proceeded to ask if we were eating breakfast, we reiterated our plan "Later, we want to see the temples while it was still cool".  He groaned that he was hungry and wanted to have breakfast, so we asked him to promptly grab something from the food stalls outside Prasat Krahom, amusing ourselves by quickly visiting a few insignificant temples just across the road.  Perhaps he was waiting for us as a courtesy or perhaps we was looking to get a free meal if he brought us into an establishment.

Enroute to Beng Mealea, our trusty driver suggested in so many words that we bypass the main Beng Mealea ticket office and purchase our entry on arrival at the temple complex from a person manning the ticket checkpoint station.  By avoiding a trip to the official ticket office, he would simultaneously avoid paying a five dollar road toll and further maximize his profits from this outing.  His plan was that we would pay the normal ten dollar entrance fee to a guard, and while we would not receive an official ticket in return, we would be permitted to enter as apparently no one thereafter would ask us to produce a ticket.  We argued that we preferred to have an official ticket in the event we were checked, as remote a possibility as this was, and thought the five dollar road toll should have been figured into the $140 fee previously agreed upon.  This conversation was re-visited and re-explained to us five more times enroute as he was perplexed by our desire to not bribe our way onto the site, monies effectively going directly into the pockets of the guards, and thereby saving him an expense that he would otherwise have to incur.  The previous day over dinner he was very talkative, stating that he deplored the corruption that existed in Cambodia as the masses remained poor while corrupt politicians and officials became richer, students were given poor grades if parents did not give "donations" to the teachers and a university degree could be purchased for the princely sum of $1,500.  In his discussions to avoid the road toll, we reiterated his previous days dislike with the corruption in Cambodia, thinking our paying monies through inappropriate channels clearly contributed to the matter.  However, our rationale was promptly ignored or not comprehended, rather our refusal to take part in his scheme likely seen as a personal snub against him.  As we approached the main ticket booth, he slowly pulled over to the shoulder of the road, parked and tried one final time to avoid the road toll.  Our insistence to properly obtain a ticket led him to become silent and he grudgingly drove over to the ticket office, pointing to "Buy your ticket there".  He got out of the car, walked over to the road toll booth to deposit his five dollar fee.

Beng Mealea was built by Suryavarman II to the same plan as Angkor Wat and had some amazing carvings amid a largely collapsed pile of stone blocks, foliage growing all around the complex and vines strangling the colossal grey stone walls.  Young men were standing near the entrance to guide visitors through the complex, over piles of fallen stone cubes, under collapsed debris that used to be hallways, taking us through seemingly impassible corridors to point out detailed carvings on stone blocks that lay where they would have fallen or destroyed by Khmer Rouge troops, untouched to this day.  We continued through now barren rooms into the northern courtyard near the back of the complex where a pillared bridge remains.  Heading back inside, we walked past the eastern entrance, a smaller library, then climbing man-made wooden stairs to get a bird's eye view of the complex from high above where its larger libraries could now be seen.

After an enjoyable visit to Beng Mealea, the highlight of the day, we dozed heading back to Siem Reap and awoke just outside the city limits.  Upon seeing us awake, our driver started up his usual banter, brushing upon such subjects as what we planned to do next in Siem Reap, presumably in order to ascertain if he could offer his services thereafter.  His narratives of former customers that generously tipped any Cambodians that were encountered fell on deaf ears, as did his jokes that if we were not going to buy anything at the souvenir markets "You can buy me a souvenir!", all the while his warm smile radiating.
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