We took an all day minibus tour of Angkor’s Grand Circle which includes Banteay Srei, aka the woman’s temple, and other neighboring temples. Afterwards we saw an amazing performance of Phare The Cambodian Circus performed by former street kids trained in circus arts.
We started with breakfast at the Sarai then we got picked up by our tour service Siem Reap Shuttle Tours. There is an overwhelming number of tour services available in Siem Reap, our hotel concierge recommended a private tour that starts at $55 per car plus $55 for a certified tour guide to tell you about the sights. I looked through TripAdvisor and this was not such an inflated rate, $85 per day seemed reasonable across the board. By chance, I saw an ad for Siem Reap Shuttle Tours on a free map given to us by the hotel. They advertised a minibus tour for up to 11 people with a certified tour guide for $13 per person for Angkor Wat and its surrounding temples and $15 for Banteay Srei and its surrounding temples. Works for me, yesterday I booked the Banteay Srei tour online for today. And if today’s tour is enjoyable we planned to take the Angkor Wat tour tomorrow.
Through some slowness on our part and perhaps a misunderstanding on the tour staff’s part, all three of us sat in the lobby for 30 minutes not realizing we were all there ready to go. We apologized and got on the packed tour bus where other tourists looked at us disapprovingly for taking up 30 minutes of their time.
We first got dropped off at the tour company’s office, where we paid for the tour and switched buses, making sure we were on the one going to Banteay Srei. Since it’s the less popular option, we had a smaller van and only eight tourists including us onboard with the driver and guide.
Very close by was East Mebon which is located on an artificial island inside the East Baray reservoir (which has now dried up). Pre Rup and East Mebon are considered twin temples since they are similar in size and layout and are only 1200m apart. East Mebon has unique free-standing sculptures like these two lions guarding a gate at the top tier.
And this elephant. There is one elephant guarding each corner of the two lower tiers.
Next we all got back on the van and drove to Ta Som, a small late 12th century temple. We liked the gate with its four calm, smiling faces pointed at each direction, very much like Bayon which we saw the next day.
The temple was left mostly unrestored until 1998 and many parts contain just piles of mismatched stones. Don’t worry, Maurice is here in the courtyard helping reassemble the stones.
Our guide shown here is explaining one of the reliefs.
The fourth stop on our Grand Circle tour was Preah Khan, like Ta Som, it’s another 12th century temple left to fall into disrepair until restoration efforts started in 1991. Unlike the other temples we saw today, this one had a moat.
Similar to Angkor Wat, the walkway is lined with gods and demons at their eternal tug of war game.
Similar to Ta Prohm (aka the Tomb Raider temple), overgrown trees have climbed over and destroyed many parts of the temple and its gates.
Dead tree trunk atop section of the wall.
I like how this tree looks like a tall, elegant brontosaurus.
Two trees attacked this section of Preah Khan. It’s sort of beautiful in a way to see nature fighting with man.
Preah Khan has this unique two story structure that is unlike any other Angkorian temple. Its purpose is still a mystery.
Looks like someone in the past did some “tomb raiding” here as the lintel and pediment are missing.
We had lunch before visiting Banteay Srei at a restaurant chosen by the tour company. The restaurant unfortunately was very expensive for a casual restaurant in Cambodia. Each dish was at least $5 and our fried noodles and fried rice were only tolerable to mediocre. Maurice and I talked with two young solo travelers: a French-speaking Swiss guy and a British girl working in Hong Kong during our lunch break. The girl and I started talking about financial risk management since she also works in the field and this got tiring after ten minutes because I’m not in Cambodia on sabbatical to talk about work!
Our final stop was at 10th century Banteay Srei meaning “Citadel of Women.” The temple is constructed of red sandstone which gives it its unique reddish color.
An example of the intricate carvings.
Getting lost between towers at Banteay Srei.
I love the texture of these different columns.
Here we’re facing the central tower of Banteay Srei which is only 9.8m tall.
More towers in the compound.
The guide pointed out the “Mona Lisa” of Banteay Srei. This carved relief shows a young woman with a mysterious, slightly mischievous smile like her Italian Renaissance namesake.
When we finished with the temple, we walked back to the bus. On the way we passed by this band of landmine victims playing traditional Khmer music.
The minibus dropped all of us off either at the center of town Pub Street or our hotels. We opted to return to our hotel. From there we relaxed for just about an hour, dining on crackers and wasabi nuts. I checked my email to see if Tepsavon, the English teacher from the school we visited yesterday, had confirmed he would pick us up from our hotel at 5pm today to see the class in session. He did not. As we feared, the village school was an incredibly elaborate scam preying on the kind hearts of foreigners, the worst kind of scam! We took it as a lesson to be much more cynical and wrote off the $40 as a very expensive slum tour.
We then hired a tuk tuk to take us 15 minutes out of town to the Phare circus tents.We bought the cheapest C tickets and since we arrived 30 minutes early (which wasn’t early enough) we had seats on the side somewhat obstructed by a pillar. The performance follows the story of a Cambodian village where a disabled boy is an outcast who is unable to join a group of cool kids.
Phare The Cambodian Circus was founded by Phare Ponleu Selpak, an organization first established in Battambang to train street kids in circus arts, music and other performing arts.
The acrobatics were intense and impressive. Here’s just a sample of what we saw.
Jumping over and rolling under a flag.
This guy climbs a faux coconut tree like I have never seen.
The fire jump rope.
The epic seesaw.
After the show, we met up with our tuk tuk driver who drove us back to the hotel. We wanted to get a good night’s rest before our full day tour of Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm temples.