Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Been a while since Tater last visited Kuala Lumpur. He was in town for a series of meetings that got turned around. Dinner was sheduled for 7:00 PM at Ichi Zen but both Tater and KH were late. While waiting for them, I roamed around Tokyo Street, looking at the Chibi Maruko-chan Land that was set up to celebrate Tokyo Street's fourth anniversary. When they finally arrived, we quickly ordered. Seems that all the prices had increased. Tater updated us on the ups and downs of his business. Also revealed some of his alternate plans if things don't start looking up in a year. He also told us about ZR's recent visit to Bangkok. In return, we told him about our vacation in Siem Reap. Tater also hoped that we would make a visit to BKK soon. My last visit to the capital of Thailand was in 2008, guess it is high time that I made a 'pilgrimage' there.
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
The third and last day of our temple crawl left us with a choice of whether to visit Tonle Sap Lake or not. The Roluos Group of temples was very near the largest fresh water lake of South East Asia so Nat asked us if we would like a visit. After some deliberation, KH and I decided not to go for it. Our first stop was Preah Ko, the first temple built in the ancient city of Hariharalaya. Built in the 9th century, its older than all the other temples that we had seen in the last two days. Preah Ko means Temple of Sacred Bull and rightly so with three statues of Nandi, Shiva's sacred mount facing three of main brick towers. Behind those three towers are another three smaller towers. Like all the older temples, this temple had decorations using stucco. Although old, it had beautiful sandstone carvings on the lintels. Although small, it was beautiful to look at.
Second temple of the day was Bakong, the first temple mountain of sandstone built by Indravarman I. It is said to be similar to Borobudur, but truthfully I do not get the feeling. Like the other temples, it has elephant statues at the corners and stone lions guarding gateways. Nat liked to joke that legless statues were landmine victims. There were also several brick towers surrounding the central temple.
Lolei was the final stop of our great temple crawl, however the most unimpressive. Very small compared to the rest and under heavy restoration. The whole temple was covered by scaffolding. But what Nat wanted to highlight to us was the exquisite sanksrit inscriptions on one of the doorways. Extremely clear, like it was carved yesterday. Built very close to the site is a modern Buddhist monastery. One could see monks going about their daily chores. We went into the temple to look at the paintings that depict the story of Gautama Buddha that cover all the walls and the whole ceiling.
Since we had half a day left, we convinced Nat to bring us to Psar Leu, the Upper Market. Unlike the Old Market, Psar Leu is for the locals. Very much like Malaysian wet markets, with a whole lot of hustle and bustle. Vendors sells everything from fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood, home wares, food to clothes. Interestingly, they actually sell gold in the market, without the need for any security guards or grilled display cabinets. KH and I were adventurous enough to wanna try some of the local food but Nat shaked his head rigourously. He was convinced that our tummies were not fortified enough. But he did let us try a snack of grilled glutinous rice with banana. Although there was a lot more to see, Nat ushered us to the car pretty quickly. We only managed to buy a packet of banana chips that was quite yummy. We also made a short stop at Angkor Market, a supermarket that stocks plenty of imported goods. I was impressed by their selection of condoms. All the Trojans and Magnums were available for their XL tourists. LOL.
Nat and Dar dropped us off at the hotel and we made the payment for their services. Back in our room, KH did some research and decided on our lunch venue, Kanell. It was walking distance, just had to brave the sun and dust. The place is a bungalow with a huge garden. Several gazebos were built around the compound with lots of greenery and decorations. One can even use their pool. Foursquare recommended that we try the Discovery Plate for USD12. The appetiser was crackers with bean paste followed by banana flower salad and butter chicken with rice. The main had a creamy flavour with a tinge of sourness. Dessert was sankhya lapov which is steamed pumpkin with coconut custard. In addition to this, we also ordered stir-fried calamari with Kampot peppers. Felt so stuffed.
Our evening's activity was a traditiona Khmer massage before dinner. KH chose Lemongrass Garden that was located at Sivatha Boulevard. I was given the job of navigating. Halfway there, we passed by Hatha Spa. The banner out front made me look twice-- pretty boy on pretty boy with bedroom eyes! That was definitely a gay spa. Anyway, we went on our way and found our destination without much fuss. We paid USD15 for a ninety minute traditional massage. Some parts felt like traditional Thai massage, but most of it involved much sweeping motions that didn't quite do it for KH and I. Although the front desk was a bit cold, at least the place was clean and professional. Didn't really know what to have for dinner. Actually walked into KFC, but walked out soon after. Ended up back near Pub Street. However, we chose another local eatery that served white porridge with stewed pork. Cheap and nourishing. Went to the night market again to buy some last minute souveniers. Then walked into Pub Street and took in some of the night life. Noisy bars and benches full of gweilos. Not quite our thing. Sat down at Nai Khmer Restaurant and Bar for a farewell drink and ordered a plate of lotus root salad (the thinnest variety I ever saw!).
The next day, we took a tuk-tuk to the airport. A final experience of the wind, dust and rain in our faces. Would we visit Cambodia again the future? A visit to Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville perhaps? We shall see...
Sunday, September 20, 2015
On the second day of our temple run, we started at the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom. This gate is the fifth gate into Angkor Thom in addition to those at the four compass points. Its identical to the other gates, but moss covering the face towers give it a whole different kind of look.
The first temple of the morning was Preah Khan which translates to "Royal Sword". Another project of Jayavarman VII, but dedicated to his father instead. Much of the temple was not restored leaving it with touch of vegetation and trees among the structures as in Ta Promh. Large Spung trees embrace the stone, shining silver in the sunlight. The temple is flat with galleries all around and a stupa in the middle. Strangely, it had a two-storey building with round columns (so far we had only seen angular columns and single storey buildings) with an unknown purpose. Nat guessed that it housed the "Royal Sword". It also had dvarapalas guardians and garudas holding nagas. And there was a dancing hall with loads of apsaras. Caught sight of one female PRC tourist who was performing all sorts of wild poses in the open, like some sort of drunken apsara.
Next up was Ta Som which wasn't far away. Also built by Jayavarnam VII for his dad. Pretty small compared to the rest and very much in ruin. The only thing interesting was a well-preserved lintel carving of a reclining Vishnu and the third Eastern gopura that is caged by a strangler fig.
East Mebon was where we went after that. It was older, having been built by Rajendravarman in the 10th century. The attraction is that it was built on an artificial island on the now dry East Baray reservoir. More than a thousand years ago, people arrived in boats to get to the temple, but no such thing to be seen now. At the corner of the tiered temple are stone elephants. And East Mebon is different because stucco was used to decorate its walls. Amazing that the lime-based plaster could survive the passage of time.
The highlight of the day was Banteay Srey, a beautiful temple built from red / pink sandstone. Compared to the grey sandstone, the red is easier to carve hence Banteay Srey was intricately decorated. Due to this, it's dubbed as the "jewel of Khmer art". We actually stopped there for lunch where we had sour soup with morning glory and curry. During lunch, I was harassed by a one-eyed cat who had no qualms about pawing my thighs to get some food. Thank goodness I was wearing jeans.
With our bellies full, we started the tour. All the buildings seem to be well-preserved with impressive lintels and pediments. Plenty of images from Hindu mythology and the omnipresent apsaras. We would definitely have spent more time there if not for the unforgiving sun.
Moving on, we went to Pre Rup, a temple mountain of brick, laterite and sandstone. It is believed that funerals were performed there as there is a cistern there where the ashes of the dead were thought to be washed. Also a crematorium with slits in the wall and a soot-blackened wall.
Our last stop for the day was the small and very old Prasat Kravan. Just five brick towers with most of them missing their tops. Unremarkable except for the excellent bas relief carvings inside the towers. Vishnu and Lakshmi were directly carved out of the brick in great detail. A masterpiece. Nat and Dar dropped us off at the hotel.
In the evening, we were too lazy to go far, so we went to First Love Cafe just a stone's throw away. When we arrived, some guy with a guitar was already singing up front. Obviously a place more popular with the locals. Luckily they produced an English menu but it was very limited. Got ourselves some beef lok lab and grilled chicken wings. Perfect to go with some draft beers. We saw the table next to us order grilled fish and we asked for the same. It was quite yummy. Even got another round of beers to wash it down. Ahhh...