We returned to Siem Reap in the evening and stopped at a new resort outside of town, that was renting out their high-class rooms to very low prices. It was gorgeous, there was a swimming pool, sunshine, flowers everywhere. After 48 hours of almost non-stop sightseeing, we decided to have a lazy morning the next day, sleep in and relax at the pool. Unfortunately we had made our calculations without the neighboring villages. Some major celebration was going on and after the music had finally stopped at 2am, it started up again at 6am… Cambodians really value their parties, we could hear people singing along, laughing and chatting. There was no way we could sleep in under these circumstances. So we resigned and got up, trying to make the best of the situation. Apparently not everybody was as mellow as us and we instantly got excuses from the hotel staff and their sincerest apologies for the noise even though we hadn’t even planned on complaining. As we were up we decided to plan out the remaining days in Siem Reap, there were a few temples we would like to revisit after seeing them already before such as Bayon and the terrace of the leper king. There were other that we hadn’t seen yet, such as Phnom Bakeng and Phonm Krom and there was a very old Buddhist temple in Siem Reap we wanted to see: Wat Bo.
Coordinating and grouping these sights proved to be more of a challenge than expected, but we made it and the next day we set of to enter the Angkor Park one last time. We headed straight for Bayon, the temple with 216 faces. It was built by Jayavarman VII in the 13th century and is widely considered proof of Jayavarman’s egomania, as all the faces are supposedly his. Whereas the gigantic faces are Bayon’s defining characteristic, they weren’t the most impressive part of the temple. The temple’s outer gallery (and the inner one as well) is completely covered in bas-reliefs showing historical events and mythological stories. We spent over an hour just walking around the temple to see the reliefs. From the bayon we walked on the elephant terrace and the the terrace of the leper king. The name stems from a statue discovered there in the 15th century which was overgrown by moss giving it the typical aspects of someone who has leprosy. We would be seeing said statue in the national museum in Phnom Penh later, but it has since been cleaned and restored and gives no impression of leprosy whatsoever anymore. The terrace is most famous for the reliefs surrounding it, hidden behind another wall. Why they were hidden is unclear, my personal favorite is that since the reliefs are depicting the underworld, they needed to be fenced in and cut off from the real world.
After having revisited the places that we had seen too briefly before we turned to the many small temples remaining. We saw almost all of them, or rather we saw very little of them, as most are more or less collapsed. Among those the Northern Kleang and Preah Pithu, directly opposite of the terraces stood out. They are quite well maintained and very isolated even though they are easy to reach. The Preah Pithu group contains a Buddhist temple where a few of the Buddhist reliefs have been conserved. A rarity in Angkor.
We finished that day on Phnom Bakheng the famous sacred hill in Angkor. However we stopped by way before sunset, as the platform gets very crowded then and access is restricted. The views were very nice, one could see the Western Baray and, obviously, Angkor Wat in the distance. Unfortunately a fire had been lid somewhere between us and Angkor Wat, so that we almost couldn’t see it.
The next day we set out to climb Phnom Krom, another sacred hill close to the Tonle Sap. The most amazing thing we saw there was the migration of a village.. On our way up, we stopped to enjoy the view and came to realise that people were lifting up their bamboo houses by the stilts and carried it over to greener pastures. It was one of the most intriguing things I’ve seen. The larger and heavier houses were lifted onto a truck and driven over to the new location of the village. We stayed to watch this move for a while, I’d never imagine a whole village could reallocate with such ease. Finally we climbed on to the top of Phnom Krom, which wasn’t very high up, all said. At the top remain a few small Prasats which are still used today by the Buddhist temple next to it as places of worship and must be housing about a million bats. The noise (and smell) coming from the Prasats was almost terrifying. From the top we could also see the famous floating village Chong Kneas. They were building an enormous parking lot there, that could easily hold a few hundred buses and even more cars. Khompong Phluk might not have felt entirely authentic, but just from what we saw from our hilltop we were very happy we had gone there instead of Chong Kneas.
We spent our last afternoon in Siem Reap, first in the impressive and peaceful Wat Bo, then doing some shopping and a good bye dinner. Wat Bo is one of the oldest pagoda’s in Siem Reap and is about 400 years old. The central hall has paintings that are over 200 years old as well. We were expecting it to be one of the typical Wat’s we’d seen so often in Laos and in a sense it was, but totally different. The entire pagoda was decorated with mythical animals and creatures I couldn’t have come up with in my dreams.. Everything was decorated in this fashion giving the temple a shamanic appearance in parts. The backyard was completely filled with golden and silver stupas and groups of monks, that were curious enough to come and talk with us and unlocked the pagoda for us to go take a look at the drawings inside. Shortly after we entered the pagoda, the drums started beating, calling the monks to their assembly. We took a final look around and left as we did not want to disturb any ceremonies.