Beng Mealea & Koh Ker

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Backpacking Cambodia: Day 03 (14-Feb-2019) 

Beng Mealea & Koh Ker

It was an early day again. By 6:45AM, I was ready to leave. I had bought some postcards the previous evening and they had to be posted. But the post office would open only at 7:30 AM. So I stopped by at a cafĂ© for some tea. Back at the post office, I bought some stamps for  the cards and had them posted. 

I then drove on the highway towards Koh Ker. People drive very slowly here, unlike in India. I decided to take some short cuts and ended up in a deserted unpaved road that took me to some remote areas. To be honest, I was a bit scared but thankfully, nothing unpleasant happened. The villagers smilingly looked at me as I was perhaps the only Foreigner to drive scooter this far. 

I stopped for some refreshments - Sugar cane juice. Commonly sold everywhere in Cambodia are these spicy mussels. People eat it like we eat peanuts in India.

On my way, I came across Beng Mealea, another temple complex in ruins. I decided to go there. I had to return back a kilometre to buy the tickets at the office. Here, I also bought the ticket to Koh Ker. One thing to note here is that all ticket counters are at a certain distance away from the site. So make sure to buy your ticket on your way. If you don’t, then you may end up riding back all the way. Sometimes, it could be a long distance. 

Beng Mealea restores a library and some ancient monuments. It is less popular and still has a very deserted feel to it. Though the site itself is untouched, there is a neatly maintained pathway that takes you into the ruins. Apart from me, there were only Chinese tourists here. I learnt later that only Chinese tourists visit all these lesser known sites.

I then rode towards Koh Ker. It was a long but interesting ride. I passed by a few pepper farms, observed people slicing tapioca and drying them in sun and others working in the fields. It is also interesting to see the houses here. They are built on a platform and the ground level is used as a dining or relaxing area. Also at the entrance (Near the gate, though there is no gate or compound wall) one would find a shelter that they refer to as Verandah. Families relax there and prepare barbecue or drink along with their friends. 

Along the way, I stopped at a small road side shop to buy some bread and snacks for lunch. I liked the delicious dried rice rolls and banana chips. 

Another common site along the streets is shops selling petrol in bottles. You will never have issues if you run out of petrol in Cambodia. There is at least one shop every kilometre that sells petrol in bottles. 

What is strikingly visible is the plastic waste that seems to be everywhere in the country - In Cities, in villages, around a house or a shop. It is no less in India but here, it's found literally everywhere. People just throw plastic right in front of their house. I learnt later that it was  an indication of status that showed that they could afford packed food. Moreover, everyone here rides a scooter since there his no public transport. It was surprising to see kids of around 7/8 years old ride scooter as well on highways. But there is absolutely no rash driving at all, So, in a way, I think it is safe. 

Riding away from the cities is always fun. You get to see the lifestyle and culture closely. Because the weather was so hot, people preferred cold drinks. There was always abundant supply of Ice. Even coconuts were refrigerated. Men chose to relax in their front yard without their shirts on. Another interesting thing to notice here are the weddings. I witnessed several wedding celebrations along the way. They are usually held in the house but could occupy part of the street. In fact, one of the weddings was taking place in a petrol bunk. A shelter would be built and loud music would be playing. Men would be dressed in formals and women would be dressed like barbie dolls. I learnt later that people here give a lot of importance to their appearance while attending a wedding. It's again a status symbol.  

After 3 hours of riding, covering about 120 kms, I finally reached Koh Ker around 2 PM. Deserted unpaved roads takes you deep into the jungles filled with temples in ruins. I skipped most of the smaller temples and directly went to the main attraction - Thom Temple. You cross a temple dedicated to Shiva to reach this impressive pyramid like structure. On top of the seventh level of this temple, once a Shiva Linga existed. I loved this place. It seemed like a Mayan style pyramid to me. Also, there were very few tourists here. 

I met a local driver/guide who was accompanying a group. I got to know some details about their culture from him. He was surprised that I had rode all the way from Siem reap to here. After relaxing there for some time, I began my journey back. On my way, I desired to have some tea. I enquired at many shops. I tried google translate and showed them the translated script to make them understand what I wanted. No body seemed to have tea. As, I am not the one to give up easily, I kept enquiring until at one road side food joint, a girl agreed to serve me some tea. 

It was green tea, very mild as opposed to my preference but it was refreshing. She told me that I could have how much ever I wanted and it was for free. I thought that it was nice gesture. This place was run by her, her mother and her sister. A man, whom I presume to be her father, was watching television outside the house until I was there. 

Touched by their generosity, I decided to  order some food. I used google translate to explain to them that I was looking for vegetarian food. She said that they had no vegetarian dish available there. I decided to have one more cup of tea and leave but by then she had begun preparing something vegetarian for me. She fried some green leaves, vegetables and tossed in some sauce to prepare a delicious dish. Her mother asked me if I would prefer some rice with it. I nodded. The meal was amazing. She handed me a tangy sauce that was delicious. 

When I was ready to leave, I offered to pay for that delicious meal but they refused to accept any money. I was so touched by their kindness that I did not know how to react. I thanked them and left. On my way back, I felt good to have taken this ride along the rural parts of the country, to meet kind and honest locals who unlike the people from the cities are welcoming and are not money minded. 

I rode really fast to get back on time. I had booked the scooter for 24 hours and had to be back by 7:30 PM. The lady had told me that she shuts her shop at around 8:00 PM. I was only 15 minutes late so it was fine. I collected my DL and headed back to the hostel. Back  in the Dorm, I met the German girls, the British boy and the French guy. Each one of us had had a great day. We narrated our experiences to each other. Everybody was so tired that we all went to bed early that night. This was my last night at Siem Reap. I had decided to head to Battambang the next morning. 

My Route - 

Continued Here