Saturday, 23 July 2011
Temples, waterfalls and a big balloon
After doing the main central circuit on the first day, we spent the next couple exploring the more remote monuments and temples of Angkor. Before setting off, we took half an hour out to take a ride on the Angkor balloon - a fixed line ascent that gives a bird's eye view of Angkor Wat and really allowed us to appreciate the size of the complex.
Moving further into the jungle and away from the major roads and restoration projects resulted in a higher concentration of tree-entangled ruins and moat-surrounded temples. The sites were emptier of visitors, and the soft green of lichen contrasted beautifully with the clearer blue sky that a heavy downpour the previous night had enabled. The number of sites seemed endless - every time we thought we couldn't see anything better, we stopped off and there were root system winding their way through detailed carvings, or monumental towers reaching up into the sky.
Another real highlight for me was the area of Kbal Spean. Although not containing a monument at all, it is home to a number of rock carvings chiselled into a river bed leading to a waterfall. The carvings are reached by a 2km hike through a forest, scrambling at times up rock formations and along paths dappled by bright sunlight piercing the leaves overhead. The hike wasn't very difficult, and much of it shaded from the intense sun, resulting in a relaxing build up to the carvings. There were occasional view points as we climbed higher, and the concentration of butterflies was incredible - so many different colours and sizes fluttering around and on us. The carvings themselves were fantastic, particularly with water gushing over them, and the waterfall allowed us to cool off at the top as we paddled in the cold water.
Back at the bottom, we spent some time visiting the wildlife conservation centre nearby. Built to rehabilitate local animals and birds rescued from captivity or accidents, a very nice guide took us around and showed us some of the residents, and the new larger enclosure for gibbons. Although many of the animals can't ever be re-released, as they are too tame, the breeding programs aim to release young into the wild. What was a real shame was the visitor numbers to the centre. Although there must have been at least 40 people we came across when doing the hike, just in an hour and a half, so many more over the course of just one day, the visitor book showed only a small handful went on to take a tour through the wildlife centre. For a place that relies on donations, it is a tragedy that more people do not make it there.
Driving through the small villages on the way to some of the temples was also a great experience, watching locals working in the rice paddies and cooking palm sugar at the side of the road, and we were really pleased to have taken a couple more days out to make the journey to the outlying sites.