Banteay Srei turned out to be anti-Angkor. It was everything that Angkor Wat was not.
First off, Banteay Srei was remote, even by Cambodian standards. It took more than 30 minutes by tuktuk from Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. Making the trip cost an additional $20 to the tuktuk per-diem rental. Despite the distance and the added cost, the rewards of visiting Banteay Srei were manifold.
Angkor being Khmer for “capital city,” it was not surprising to know that it was the largest ancient city with an urban sprawl of 3,000 square kilometers, almost half the size of New York City! A thousand years ago, Angkor must have been the NYC of that era, what with its kingdom’s power and influence on Southeast Asia and its massive monuments and temple-mountains forming that uniquely jagged Khmer skyline.
AJ was in Ta Prohm, a ruined ancient temple within Angkor Archaeological Park. I wasn’t only referring to yours truly but also the famous AJ: Angelina Jolie. The actress-humanitarian-mother shot some scenes for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in the Angkor complex, most memorably in Ta Prohm.
Pop culture would have us believe that enlightenment looked like the gaunt, hammy seriousness of Keanu Reeves in Little Buddha. But for the ancient Khmer, it was the face of Jayavarman VII, still revered in Cambodia as the greatest Khmer king. Continue reading The Bayonic Man→
I found myself alone in cloistered hallways. Only whispering zephyrs were within earshot. The moment conjured up the centuries past. In the silent, stone-dead here and now, I sat still on ancient landings, imagining what it must have been like 900 years ago. This gallery must have echoed the pitter-patter of scurrying monks. This courtyard must have seen bare-breasted women dancing as apsaras or performing rituals as devatas. This terrace must have borne the pomp and power of King Suryavarman II himself, the builder of Angkor Wat.
Siem Reap was the gateway to Angkor Wat. Tourists and archaeology aficionados would descend on the town before embarking on their Angkorian adventures. The daily influx of foreigners and their money had resuscitated this little backwater town into an oasis of modern (read: Western) trappings in the middle of the dust and poverty of Cambodia.
Even without the obligatory border check, you would know that you have entered Cambodia from Vietnam. Lush vegetation petered out to sparse shrubs in an arid landscape. Rolling terrain leveled off to a horizon-bordered flatland. This was my first impression of Cambodia, a country I would soon fall in love with.