After visiting Angkor Wat, and before heading to Angkor Thom we stopped at the Phnom Bakheng. It was once the state temple of the first Khmer capital in Angkor and was built in late 9th century. Climbing the hill to reach the temple supposedly rewards with views towards Angkor Wat and all the area around. In my opinion however, it was way too far, to actually enjoy any views of the temple complex. Adding the heat while climbing (it could also be climbed by an elephant ride) and the serious construction works happening on site, plus the high impression we already had from Angkor Wat, Phnom Bakheng was kind of a let down. I could totally skip it and not feel a regret about it.
It was around noon when we left Angkor Thom to go to Banteay Srey. The drive (by tuk-tuk) was around one hour and we got to observe the country-side life in Cambodia. Architecture was very similar to the one in Sok San village and life seemed to go slow. People were selling clothes, souvenirs, fruits and vegetables by the road and sometimes were waving us "hello" as we were passing.
Banteay Srey, also known as the Citadel of Women dates from the second half of 10th century and is not a royal temple, as all the other monuments in Angkor. It was built by Hindu priests and is famous for its exquisite carvings of Shiva, Parvati, Krishna, the monkey-king Hanuman and the demon-king Ravana in the pink sandstone.
The temple itself is not big, but the walking path requires time to go around it. Despite the heat and hunger, we still had strength and will to sit and listen for a while the traditional music, played by victims of land mines. And also got to spend time with some local kids, trying to sell us Angkor post cards. They were so cute counting to ten in english, showing us all the different post cards included in the package they were selling. At the end of the path there's a restaurant where we finally had lunch. It was already around 2 p.m. Those spring-rolls and fresh drinks really tasted like a special delicacy. Oh, we were accompanied by a kind of strange, but totally awesome-looking, grey-ish coloured cows around.
After the really pleasant time on a shadow, tasteful lunch and some fresh drinks we headed back to Angkor's temples. Ta Phrom (and all its crowds) was awaiting us. Originally a buddhist monastery, built by King Jayavarman VII, today it is one of the most visited temples in the area. Once a wealthy temple complex, it stored more than 35 diamonds and 40 000 pearls, but this is not the reason for all those tourists visiting and trying to take the perfect photo. Nowadays, the buildings are literally smothered by the roots of giants banyan trees.
At last, we did a quick visit at Banteay Kdei. We were already tired and overwhelmed with experiences, heat and stones.
This long, incredible tour could not end on a better spot than the west terrace of Stas Srang, just in front of Banteay Kdei's exit.
The scenery was spreading only peace and serenity.