We were up at the crack of dawn on day two as we were going to visit Ta Phrom - the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed. It's amazingly popular and if you want any kind of chance to take good pics then you need to be there very early to beat the crowds. The early start was seriously worth it (not words I say lightly!!) - the temple is just magical!!
It was built in the the 13th century and, while other monuments in the Angkor region have been cleared of the encroaching jungle, Ta Phrom has been left as it was. It is almost exactly the same now as it was when it was found by the French explorers who rediscovered it in the 19th century. It feels a bit like you are walking around in a fairy tale when your going round it - the huge half-crumbled bits of stone covered with tree roots make it feel quite enchanted (I can see why so many people fall in love with it!!). It's also one of the biggest temples in the whole of Cambodia measuring 1 kilometer by 750 meters (and that's not including the moat and surrounding land!!), it was built by King JawavarmanVII in honour of his mother and in the middle of the complex there is an amazing inner tomb that was once decorated with hundreds of ruby's, emeralds and diamonds - you can still see the holes where they used to be!! (It's a pity that all the gemstones have been stolen or removed as it would have been amazing to see it in all it's glory). As we were going round Mr Lee pointed to a chamber and insisted that we go inside and stand with our backs to the wall - Obedient people that we are (it does happen sometimes stop laughing!!) we did what we were told. I admit I felt slightly foolish when he then told us to make a fist with our hand, hit our chest three times and make a wish.......but then......as I hit my chest the most amazing thing happened - the entire chamber sang!! The vibrations from your chest go through the wall and the shape of the chamber makes it sing......it was the most beautiful sound!! We all loved it there and I think we would have been happy to spend the entire day wondering around but Kbal Spean was calling.
Kbal Spean is a 'natural bridge' which takes it's name from the river it crosses. It is set deep in the jungle to the north east of Angkor and it takes about a 40 minute hike through very atmospheric jungle to get to it. (The path is very well maintained but it is steep and there are sections that involve clambering over rocks!!). Having done the climb (and been laughed at by some Cambodian's) we arrived hot and sweaty at the river - OMG it really was worth the climb!! I had never seen anything like it - the entire river bed is covered with sculptures of lingas (Phallic Symbols), and I mean covered with them (It is commonly known as the valley of a 1000 lingas and I can see why!!) . As well as the lingas and yoni (that's the name given to the carvings representing the female) there are various Hindu mythological motifs including depictions of gods and animals. One of the most impressive is the carving of Vishnu on the rocks by the upper part of the waterfall - how on earth the Khmer managed to carve it there is beyond me (but I'm guessing that they did it in the dry season :-D!!). Going back down was a hell of a lot easier than going up!!
After grabbing a quick bite we visited the temple of Bantei Srei which is otherwise known as the 'Ladies' Temple. I have to admit that I don't know much about this temple at all and I couldn't find anything about it online either (Even Wikipedia had nothing to say on the subject!!). It was different to all the others we had seen - the carvings there went much deeper into the stone and the entire temple was constructed from a stunning pink sandstone. I've read that it was inspired more by Indian architecture than anything else but I don't know if this is true or not and I have no idea which King had it built. It was beautiful though - the colour of the sandstone looked amazing in the afternoon light and the carvings were just incredible!! (I did ask Chris if he thought anyone would notice if I tried to smuggle a bit of stone out the temple under my top..... he just looked at me and shook his head......I think that was his way of saying yes they would notice!!). It was quite a small temple so didn't take too long to explore which then gave us plenty of time to get back to the hotel and have a wee nap prior to going out for the evenings entertainment.
Our itinerary said that we would attend a Khmer Dinner and a show - I really should have known!! We were dropped off at what can only be described as a big barn with no walls and a roof. It was cavernous (oops nearly wrote carnivorous!!), absolutely packed with tables and there was a large buffet in the middle of the room......my heart sank!! I have a rather unhealthy hatred of buffets - I have been to waaaaay to many where the food has been absolutely crap and this one was no exception (Think unspecified meat substance covered in brown gloopy sauce, cold bendy spring rolls and hollow chips.......Barf!!!). We ate a lot of bread. The show itself was actually quite interesting - some of it was very similar to the Thai dancing which Chris and I had seen before but the rest of it seemed to be dances based upon the Cambodian way of life and that was really good. (There was a voice over at the beginning of every dance but the speaker system was so bad we couldn't understand a word of it). The dances seemed to involve weaving, baskets and harvesting and although we all enjoyed the show it's not something that we would have chosen to do (I'm going to have a word with the tour operator the next time I speak to him!!). Actually it was quite funny - when the driver and Mr Lee came to collect us he said 'How was the food and the show?' and at exactly the same time all three of us said 'The show was good'. He couldn't stop laughing!!