Banteay Srei HINDU TEMPLE
Taken into account by many to be the jewel in the crown of Angkorian art, Banteay Srei – a Hindu temple devoted to Shiva – is cut from stone of a pinkish hue and includes many of the most beautiful stone carving anywhere on earth. Begun in AD 967, it is one of the few temples around Angkor to be commissioned by a Brahman, not by a king, perhaps a tutor to Jayavarman V.
Banteay Srei, which is 21km northeast of Bayon and about 32km from Siem Reap, can be visited along with Kbal Spean and the Cambodia Landmine Museum.
Kbal Spean RELIGIOUS, SPIRITUAL
Kbal Spean,which is a spectacularly carved riverbed, set deep in the jungle about 50km northeast of Angkor. More commonly referred to in English as the ‘River of a Thousand Lingas’, it’s a 2km uphill walk to the carvings. FromKbal Spean, you can work your way back down to the waterfall to cool off. Carry plenty of water.
At the nearby Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity, trafficked animals are nursed back to health. Free tours generally begin at 1pm from Monday to Saturday.
Phnom Kulen SACRED MOUNTAIN
The most sacred mountain in Cambodia, Phnom Kulen (487m) is where Jayavarman II proclaimed himself a devaraja (god-king) in AD 802, giving birth to Cambodia. A popular place of pilgrimage during weekends and festivals, the views it affords are absolutely incredible .
Phnom Kulen is 50km from Siem Reap and 15km from Banteay Srei. The road toll is US$20 per foreign visitor, none of which goes towards preserving the site.
Beng Mealea BUDDHIST TEMPLE
Beng Mealea (admission US$5), was built by Suryavarman II to the same floor plan as Angkor Wat, is the Titanic of temples and utterly subsumed by jungle. Nature has well and truly run riot here. Jumbled stones lie like forgotten jewels swathed in lichen, and the galleries are strangled by ivy and vines.
Beng Mealea is about 65km northeast of Siem Reap on a sealed toll road.
Koh Ker HINDU TEMPLE
(admission US$10) Abandoned to the forests of the north, Koh Ker, capital of the Angkorian empire from AD 928 to AD 944, is within day-trip distance of Siem Reap. Most of the travellers begin at Prasat Krahom, where nice stone carvings grace lintels, doorposts and slender window columns. The principal monument is Mayan-looking Prasat Thom, a 55m-wide, 40m-high sandstone-faced pyramid whose seven tiers offer spectacular views across the forest. However, access to the top of Prasat Thom is currently prohibited for safety reasons.
Koh Ker is 127km northeast of Siem Reap (car hire is around US$90, 2½ hours).
HEARTBEAT OF CAMBODIA
The largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, Tonlé Sap, an incredible natural phenomenon that provides fish and irrigation water for half of Cambodia’s population.
The lake is linked to the Mekong at Phnom Penh by a 100km-long channel, the Tonlé Sap River. From mid-May to early October (the wet season), rains raise the level of the Mekong, backing up the Tonlé Sap River and causing it to flow northwest into the Tonlé Sap Lake. During this period, the lake swells from 2500 sq km to 13,000 sq km or more, its maximum depth increasing from about 2.2m to more than 10m. Around the start of October, as the water level of the Mekong starts to fall, the Tonlé Sap River reverses its flow, draining the waters of the lake back into the Mekong.
This incredible process makes the Tonlé Sap one of the world’s richest sources of freshwater fish and an ideal habitat for water birds.