Breakfast at 6h30am and on a tuk tuk by 8h00, we headed north off the beaten path (actually this was the beaten path!!!!!) 30 km north to Sambor Prei Kuk, a cluster of pre-Angkorian ruins/temples that were heavily bombed by B52s during the civil war of the mid 70’s. There is truth in what one says ” it is the journey that counts, the destination is less inviting”. The journey to Sambor was an adventure. Again, being the ONLY tourist in sight added and subtracted to and from the adventure. Deep into the countryside away from civilization as we know it, we were surrounded by stretches of rice fields speckled with a few wooden huts, groups of Khmer ankle deep planting rice, fishing in swampy muddy waters where random lotus flowers bloomed from beneath. Absent of any noise, trash or chaos life in the country seemed peaceful… where the time stood still.
The burnt orange stained dirt road to Sambor was heavily damaged with potholes larger and deeper than one could imagine. We passed through 2 villages of a dozen wooden shacks before arriving at the entrance in the middle of nothing but a free standing shed with a rusty sign ”tourist office” 3USD a person. Again, we were the ONLY tourists (slow season they said) and therefore greeted by a dozen local children each with a bundle of Kramas or scarfs in hand, all had exactly the same print and all selling them for the same price. How does one choose? We preferred their company and conversation in Khmer, French and English (they learn quickly picking up a phrase or two here and there from tourists when they do pass by. They even have the capitals of each country down to a T.)
The thickness of the forest made it difficult to find the ruins without the help of a guide who had worked extensively at the Angkor Conservation Centre (same as the Frenchman François Bizot whose life was spared by Douch during the Pol Pot regime). Although his English was still in the ”learning phase” we got the essential.100’s of small temples scattered through the forest yet only 3 are available for visiting as the remainder was damaged by heavy monsoon rains and bombardment by the Americans leaving crater like marks in the ground and remnants of brick and sand stone.The temples were dedicated to Shiva, Bhrama and Vishnu, Shiva being the most venerated. HAving studied a bit of Sanskrit, we all enjoyed finding Garuda, Nandi, Naga, Vishnu, Hanuman, Rama, Sita, Teo (simba), Govinda and learned that the lions (teo) used as gargoyles in front of the temple doors were only found on the east, north and south side- never the west as those that have died are buried with their heads pointing west and therefore absent of the control of the lion or mind/body.
A heavy rainstorm broke out keeping us from carrying onwards so we sought cover inside Shiva’s temple. The rain dropped from the sky falling like heavy beads flooding the grounds within minutes. And then, as fast as the storm had come, it quickly disappeared leaving a freshness in the air and pockets of blue sky. We regained our tuk tuk, had already said ”lia hao-y” to the groupies and the guide and expected to take off. The tuk tuk spit and puffed inching its way forward. With a good hour ahead of bumpy muddy roads and little life, Noa and I gave each other one of those looks. Thanks to Vishnu for preservation,Lakshimi for luck, Bhrama for creation and Philippe for restoration we were on our way careless and happy all the way home.
We arrived in Kompong Thom covered in mud, our hair (Noa’s and mine cause Philippe’s is just a wee bit short) matted and tangled from the rain and the wind, thorns adorned our baggy pants poking the skin but we didn’t care. We just wanted to make our friendly bus Capitol, the local local bus to Siem Reap and were so grateful when we did!. We were a sight and lucky that they let us board the bus.
Off to wondrous Siem Reap housing Angkor Wat, others worth gold and most of all our all time favorite BAYON which ironically symbolizes “between heaven and earth, Entre ciel & terre!!!!!”
Lia hao-y and be grateful for everything!!!