The next day we decided to take a break from the temples, well almost. We wanted to see the huge lake Tonle Sap and the famous floating villages and stilt houses. We had done quite some research on these beforehand, the most famous town is said to be completely overrun. We saw the parking lot built for it a few days later from a nearby mountain and it was gigantic. It was easily decided not to go there, the next chosen location is Kompong Phluk, a little further away and less visited with the added benefit of being close to some of the oldest ruins in the Angkor area. However, what was once an isolated village has already started to turn into the next big tourist magnet and it shows. Our research showed that a 20$ entry fee would be levied from each person wanting to visit the village. There were many extra charges, eg when you were asked to take smaller boats to tour the mangrove forests. 20$ is quite some money, but it’s not the real issue. The real issue is that of these 20$ about 1$ goes to the village you visit, while the remaining 19$ disappear to go somewhere else.
We had seen reviews saying one should drive directly into town, as it was accessible in dry season and have a local person drive you around… So we thought about doing that. In any case we decided we wanted to see this village, as it was less visited and that we would turn down all extra offers to spend some cash. We arrived at the entrance and they demanded the 20$, after a short look down the road with nobody driving on to get into town, we decided to pay the asked sum and shortly thereafter we were off on a boat. The boat was incredibly loud, but we had it to ourselves and we only saw a few other boats on our trip. We can’t say it was overrun, which was a definite plus. Shortly after we left the road came back into view and it very quickly became obvious why nobody was driving on it. Dry season or not it was still very flooded on large stretches. The village was only reachable by boat.
The houses are fascinating, built on stilts about 8-10m high, the houses lie way above you, when we visited. But in the rainy season, when the Tonle Sap fills up, the houses will be almost on the same level as the water. We drove through the village and saw many fascinating things: A floating pig shelter, a floating garden, the mangrove forests and not least the endless width of Tonle sap. The best part however was when we turned around to drive back. It was shortly past 12 and the school had ended. Bathing & playing kids everywhere. They were adorable to watch!
Refreshed we set out to visit the three temples in the close by town Roluos: Bakong, Preah Ko and Lolei. They predate Angkor by several centuries. Bakong, for instance, was the first pyramid-style temple to be built. The mount created by the temple is meant to represent the holy mountain Meru on which the gods lived. It was dedicated to Shiva. Preah Ko was also dedicated to Shiva, although to a different reincarnation. The temple predates Bakong by a few years only and is the only place where I actually saw some remains of the stucco on the walls. In most of the temples only the holes in the wall remain that were used to attach the stucco to the wall. Our last stop was Lolei, which mostly impresses by its history. The temple itself is quite inconspicuous, but Lolei was the first island temple in a Baray of almost 4km x 1km length. The Baray is the oldest such water reservoir, but unfortunately it wasn’t visible to me. It has long since dried out and while I did try to make out the remains of the walls of the Baray in the fields, I just couldn’t see them. The temple itself was also already quite decayed.
The Roluos-group is important historically, but I particularly liked the visit because it showed me something new I hadn’t seen before even after 20 temples: The stucco.