Saturday, July 16, 2011

Getting Eaten Alive, Chanting Monks & Beng Mealea's Unreconstructed Splendor

Seventy five kilometers from Siem Reap lies the huge temple of Beng Mealea, a temple almost as big as the Angkor Wat, mixed in with the left-to-nature sensibilities of Ta Prom, i.e. overgrown trees taking over the temples, stone rubble piling up in wild abandon covering what could have been a dramatic set of lotus ponds flanking each side of the temple

But gone are the flowers and the waters have dried up. Mosses dramatically shroud the rectangular slabs of stones. You have to skip through them to get your way around. And I was pretty excited with all the possibilities.


This would be my first time here so I was pretty excited. Sana and I left at around 8:15 then took the national highway. The trip took close to 2 hours so by the time we got there, it was already 10:15AM. I got my $5 entrance ticket then was deposited right at the entrance.


There's a causeway that leads to the front (the south gate). By the time I took the stairs, someone was already following me - a nice guy named Kak. He would also become my unofficial guide as I navigated the 3 concentric areas within the temples, now basically temple rocks strewn all around the grounds. It is not an easy feat walking through these uneven stones, at any time, one could easily fall off and hurt your self.


I was careful, and sweating profusely going through windows and following Kak's lead. He would point at the special carvings and I'd take snaps. There were ponds, moats within these concentric areas - "lotus ponds" which is how "Beng Mealea"is translated. There were also 4 "libraries", mostly closed. Some wooden walkways have been constructed around the area. According to Kak, these were part of the concessions during the filming of "Tomb Raider". Hollywood filming has its pleasant use after all.

There is a need for these unofficial guides - mostly locals - if you were to make your roaming around meaningful. In my case, I didn't pick Kak, but he was just tentatively showing me around, pointing to where I should enter (through a broken window) to get inside the first concentric area. Before I knew it, he was already hopping in front of me, and I didn't mind because it was hard to know which way was the right way, and making mistakes will not just cost you time but so much effort jumping on one stone slabs to the next. He would stop me every so often and ask me to turn around, "This is a perfect stop for a good photograph," he would say. Then he would point to slabs of stones with bas relief or exquisite carvings just lying down the floor which I would have otherwise missed. Kak had been a great help and by the time I finished the whole arduous visit (not for the frail or elderly), I realized that i would have indeed missed most of my photographic pursuits had Kak not been there. After the temple round, I headed into a kubo (a shed) to catch my breath while Kak joined me. I voluntarily and willingly handed $6 for Kak's help (which, I have to tell you, he never imposed).

The ride back from Beng Mealea was relaxing, but upon arrival in Siem Reap, there was a torrent of rain that soaked Sana (my tuktuk driver) and made muddy puddles around Siem Reap. It must have rained for a couple of hours while I recharged and took a nap inside my room.


Later that day, I roamed around the city and found Preah Prohm Rath Monastery, Siem Reap's biggest and oldest. I chanced upon chanting monks. I just stood in front of a huge open door, gazing at a half dozen monks kneeling down the floor, singing what would be dissonant sounds. I got goosebumps listening to them. These sights never fail to transport me to a dream land.


As I winded down my Siem Reap visit, I chanced upon a Fish Massage shop (they call it "Fish Spa"in Bangkok, 150 baht for 15 minutes) along Pub Street (Siem Reap's Eastwood City). And I had the most ticklish encounter as I dipped my feet in an aquarium of hungry garupa (grouper fish). The sensation is out of this world as you feel their toothless mouth sucking away your dead epidermis. Hordes of them coming on to you! At $2, I had my feet devoured by a pack of ravenous fish while I was sipping my Coke. At another shop, they had to put a sign that says, "These are no Piranhas!" Haha. But they might as well be! It is such an experience being eaten alive.

What more could you ask for in a day?

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Ta Promh: nature vs. man-made temples.

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