Siem Reap: there was more!

For our third and final day in Siem Reap, our hotel booked us a car and driver (US$70/day) for a trip to the reclining Buddha atop Kulen Mountain in Phnom Kulen National Park. Tuk-tuks can’t handle the steep grade so we piled into the well-worn Lexus for our two-hour journey. Used or stolen cars such as this are shipped en masse to developing countries where they enjoy long, productive second lives. Our driver told us that most Chinese tourists insist on Lexus and that nothing else will suffice.

The reclining Buddha was quite a sight, carved into the mountain peak and covered by a lovely roof. We had to forego our shoes for the long walk up a stone staircase and there were several ladies who made their living by keeping footwear safe for people making the climb. A steady stream of visitors paid their respects and the Buddha was decorated with patches of gold leaf many had left behind.

Next up, so to speak, was a quick visit to the River of a Thousand Lingas. These 11th century carvings are perfectly preserved under cool, flowing river water and are a unique sight. I was reading up on this after we returned (as is my habit) and discovered that this area had been heavily mined and it was advised to stay on the trails. Presumably that has been fixed. Presumably.

We headed down the mountain with a nice view over the area that had served as a quarry for most of the Angkor temples and then headed to the Kulen Mountain Historical Resort for a US$20 per person swim at the base of a waterfall. I found it a little too refreshing as the water was occupied by the tiny sharp-toothed fish used in the pedicure business. They took a liking to my nipples and what might have been a treat in other circumstances was a definite negative with fish. I beat a hasty retreat. There were several young guys who have a business photographing tourists as they frolic under the spray. Their computer and printing equipment was set up under a rock outcrop and it was an impressive operation.

We had not yet run out of temples — Siem Reap has an utter embarrassment of riches — and our driver saved the smallest and loveliest for last: Banteay Srei, also called the Women’s or Pink temple. Unlike the others, it is made of red sandstone and covered with tiny, delicate, beautifully detailed carvings. You can read more here but the pictures speak for themselves.

We finished up at dusk, closing time for most temples, and headed back to Siem Reap for dinner at the first-class Neary Khmer Restaurant. It’s in a modern building with indoor and outdoor seating, excellent local food and great service. Overall, our brief experience in Cambodia makes us recommend the country highly. The food is good, the hotels are good, people are friendly, costs are low and there are no obvious security issues. There’s a tremendous variety of things to see and do ranging from world-class archaeological sites to wonderful beaches (so we are told). We regret not having stayed longer and hope to return for a month-long winter getaway.

But that was it for this time. Next morning was our flight to Hue in central Vietnam.

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