Getting to Bantaey Chmar
Getting to Cambodia was no mien feat. On a bus from Bangkok to the the Aranyapathet-Poipet border was a long and uncomfortable ride, and crossing the border--let's just say it was a hassle. From there, rather than the usual tourist route to Siem Reap, I headed to Sisophon, a nondescript Cambodian city where I stayed in a basic guesthouse for $3 a night. The real reason for heading there was the temple complex of Banteay Chmar, literally in the middle of nowhere 60km north of Sisaphon. Far off the beaten track, I had a feeling that it would be up my alley and would offer a contrast to the tourist herds I knew would be teeming through Angkor and Siem Reap. I was not disappointed.
The day before I wondered around looking for a tour company. I had wanted to arrange an overnight stay with a local family and thought a tour group could set it up. There was no tour company to be found. In fact, there wasn't much to be found at all. So, I had dinner and headed back, but I was pretty sure as long as I left early I'd be able to find my way there the next day.
|Cambodian Gas Station|
Aranyapathet-Poipet Border was great--wonderful, in fact, and I knew it was deceptive. I've spent too many years in South and Southeast Asia to expect many roads outside to be like that. After a couple of kilometers my intuition was proved correct and the pavement ended. It was still a beautiful if somewhat bumpy ride. I loved it: being in the open air, the wind in your face, the feeling of being unseparated from your world--it was like finding out an old painting in your closet was worth a thousand dollars. I can only imagine it being better if I could have rented a bike and driven myself, but to be honest some of the road was like a dirt bike challenge course, but still, if I could have I think I would have. It would have been worth it. We passed fields and fields dissected by dirt mounds and flooded with water: paddy fields. It really reminded me of the lower Deccan during monsoon season (it was, incidentally, the lighter part of monsoon here in Cambodia).
th-13th century temple of Banteay Chmar, built in the Bayon style. We were the only people there aside from two local tourists and the few people working there in a very slow-moving restoration project. It was beautiful. The temple is in disrepair. Most of the jungle has been cleared from it, but the task of putting it back together is still years and years from being complete. There are ancient halls, partially standing, pillars rising up from tumbled down stones, reliefs carved into standing walls and scattered about where other walls have fallen, pushed out of place by roots and time. As such, it provided a glimpse of what Angkor and surrounding temples might have been like before their 40+ year restoration process. There were tumbled down towers, ancient halls