It is hard to choose which temples were my favourite when I visited Cambodia recently. Especially as I am such a temple freak. I love them all! Each one has something special about it. Some tend to be more the structures that attract, whereas others – it is because of the detail of the stonework. Banteay Srei would definitely be one of those temples that amazes you with the detail that has gone into the stonework design. I seriously, cannot comprehend the minute work that it involved and the time it must have taken. On many of the panels, within the block of stone, there are layers or levels of detailed carving that defy belief. The name Banteay Srei – citadel of women could relate to a number of aspects of the temple. The delicacy of the ornate decorations, the diminutive size of the temple compared to others or the many carvings of the devatas. Our friend and guide Mickey’s explanation was that it was named so because the delicate work required the tiny hands of women to create it. I quite like that story. Whatever the lost story is, citadel of women is a very apt title. Of all the temples, it has an overwhelming sense of femininity about it. Like all the temples though it would have been lovely to wander through on ones own. The fact that the temple is so small makes it feel even more busy than it is. While you could certainly find an outside corner to yourself, the most interesting sections and carvings, were, as you would imagine, the busiest. Even to the point of squeezing past to get through. Can’t imagine what it would have been like in peak season.
I’m sure I am like many people who visit these places – I love a moment, or two, or three of solitude to just stand there and soak it all in. Close my eyes if need be and try to imagine when it was alive with people of the era. In the larger temples, I was able to do this but found the bustling of tourists a little too distracting in Banteay Srei to vague off into my own little world.
Ta Prohm, I would have to say, was one of my favourite temples to visit at Siem Reip. Although all of the temples have undergone some sort of rebuilding, Ta Prohm has been allowed to stay in a similar state to how it was found – in that the jungle that has grown in and around it and has continued to do so. Having said this though, there was quite a lot of scaffolded work going on. The problem with the jungle doing what it does is that as it grows it causes more and more instability in the ground underneath the structures and growing branches putting more and more pressure on already collapsing blocks. So that these areas can still be visited and viewed by tourists, support poles have been erected underneath various window and door openings. To be honest I don’t know how else they can do it – it’s certainly not appealing to the eye but would imagine it’s either that or let it collapse and close it to the public. Fig, Banyon and Kapok trees grow in around and amongst the ruins and if you are lucky to visit when there aren’t too many people around there is a magical feeling to it. It was built about mid-12th century to early 13th century (1186) by the King Jayavarman VII, dedicated to the mother of the king (Buddhist) . It is carved and decorated in the Bayon style.
Rather than visit Angor Wat first to see the sunrise and therefore travel around with the bulk of the tourists throughout the day, we visited Ta Prohm first which besides it being a lot quieter, chronologically fitted in better. Normally when we travel, we tend to get to places on our own steam by organizing various modes of transport and then visit without a guide. As we had a very limited time in Cambodia, a huge list of temples that I wanted to visit (to feed my archeological lust) and two teenage boys travelling like this for the first time, we decided to use a taxi guide. Basically Mickey would drive us from temple to temple giving us a run down of each temples history and leave us there to spend as long as we wanted and would wait for us in order to take us to the next. He had a rough idea of how long long each temple took and he was pretty much right on the ball. While we still had the freedom to visit at our own pace, it was great to get the rundown on each temple. I am positive that I would have needed to give in to tired and slightly templed out sons much, much earlier had we not enlisted the taxi guide. Beside the history lessons we received, Mickey was always full of local news, Cambodian lifestyle information and the latest on what was going on in the rest of the world. $30 for the day was money well spent and Mickey was a gem of a guide.