It was early and a bit cloudy when we left on our second day in Siem Reap. We were back in the tuktuk with Rin, but this time we were ranging much farther: at least 20 km out to Kbal Spean. I didn’t know much except for what our trusty pocket guidebook said: we would be hiking a bit toward a river, which had some carvings. Normally, I am not a huge fan of hikes, unless I know exactly what we’ll be seeing and whether that sight will be worth the effort. However, sources claimed that this would be fairly easy, and it would be a nice break from the temples.
The ride was pleasant and Rin was able to pick up some speed, since the roads weren’t too busy. Still, it was at least an hour, closer to an hour and a half, before we made it to the little parking lot where the trailhead was located. There wasn’t a lot of people, which is probably to be expected since we were a bit off the beaten path. They had fairly clean restrooms, you just had to show your park pass to get in. We checked our water supply (glad once again that Rin kept us stocked up!) and we started down the path.
The trail was indeed pretty easy, though it would probably not be fun had it been raining. We started out in a woody area, then crossed a wooden bridge, and into more woods. The path is easily followed and there are
mile kilometer markers, though in some spots we did have to climb over some tree roots or boulders. There was also a steep set of stairs at some point.
Butterflies abound, much to my delight. A few kilometers in, there was a little deviation from the trail, which led to an overlook. Not much of one, but it did impress on us how high we were in general, even though the elevation change was pretty mild. We rested a bit there before continuing on. We eventually came upon a big boulder that looked like it was being held up by sticks (a good indication that you are nearing your destination). We could hear the sound of water and sure enough, we eventually reached the river.
It might have been better to visit when the weather is a bit drier; there was a lot of water flowing which obscured much of the carvings at the bridgehead itself. Still, it was impressive to see the carvings and wonder how the ancient Khmers got them there. We walked up the river a bit and got our feet wet with a bit of wading, then realized that the trail actually led downstream.
Then we came upon a nice, unexpected surprise: a small but pretty nice double waterfall! It was quite unobstructed and if you got to close, you’d actually get pretty wet from the spray. You could probably attempt to walk underneath, if you wanted to risk life and limb — best not to try.
We followed the trail from the waterfall and found ourselves on the main path back to the parking lot. Along the way we encountered groups of people heading to the bridgehead. Looks like Kbal Spean is pretty popular as a Sunday afternoon picnic spot. We were glad to have started earlier and gotten the trail mostly to ourselves; we like our quiet!
I made friends with some butterflies, on whom my Deet seemed to have no effect whatsoever. Better them than the mosquitoes (that still managed to bite me, Deet or no).
After that little forest interlude, Rin drove us another fifteen minutes or so and we ended up at Bantay Srei.
They call this the “Temple of Woman”, claiming that the carvings were too delicate to have been done by men. Delicate they are indeed; the intricacy and detail are exquisite.
There are arrows that show the path to follow, but we really just meandered along. The red stone of the temple was unusual and made it easy to spot pretty spiders, geckos and dragonflies. Right before heading out the outside wall, we veered left along the grass between the moat and wall. There was a lovely spot for photos, with the temple complex in the background.
Bantay Srei isn’t majestic like Pre Rup and East Mebon, or simply awe-inspiring like Bayon or Angkor Wat. But it is the most beautiful of all the temples we saw.
As we headed on, we had the option to stop by the Land Mine Museum or the Butterfly Centre. Unfortunately, I was starving. It was about 2 PM by the time we left, and we still had unfulfilled cravings for that roadside BBQ! And when food calls, all else is less important. So back we went to the main Angkor temple area, where Rin obligingly stopped where we asked. We got a coconut, some BBQ chicken, BBQ frog and some random pastry-looking things.
Post-temple Siem Reap explorations
Back at the hotel, we enjoyed our belated lunch on our balcony. The chicken was a bit dry, but went well with the sweet vinegar-y sauce that it came with. Frog was tasty! They had stuffed it with some tasty spices and who knows what else… David’s theory is that they took out the insides, cooked them, and stuffed them back in, which might be true for all we know. I couldn’t eat too much of it due to the little bones I kept accidentally biting on.
Back to the pool for a bit, and then to the Night Market. There, we checked out one of the popular things in Siem Reap: fish massage! Basically, for an agreed-upon amount of time (we did a half hour for $1 each), you sit on a bench, dip your feet in a pool of water, and fish will swarm you and supposedly eat the dead skin off you. Definitely not something you’ll find in the US, I think… The verdict? The first ten minutes tickle like hell. It was a struggle, and those who are extra-ticklish will probably want to abstain, or at least have a drink or two first (some places offer a free beer). You’ve also gotta wonder whether that’s actually a safe thing to do… the fish don’t nibble hard enough to break the skin, but David had some cuts from his shoes, and had to get a Band-aid on them because the fish were agitating the wounds. Otherwise, we’re not sure anything really happened. Did they eat the dead skin? Some of it for sure. My feet felt smoother after, but that could’ve been because I’d soaked them for a half hour. Either way, it was a unique experience and I’m glad I tried it, though it’s one I probably won’t repeat. One last caveat: check the state of the tank, you don’t want to dip your feet in dirty fish-poopy water!
We also tried a regular massage at the Night Market Massage, $8 for an hour. They led us into a small room just big enough for 2 pallets side by side. It was dark, slightly relaxing, but nothing to write home about. It was actually a bit odd for me because my masseuse did some work on my chest… I’ve never had that happen before.
Finally, after a bit of shopping, we ended up at the Baray Spa, where we got mani-pedis for $4 each. Can’t really beat a price like that. They even had OPI nail polish. Sadly, my toenails didn’t quite dry enough before I went to bed, but oh well. Another successful vacation day, and tomorrow would be for shopping and eating!