Jan 3, 2004
along the Angkor Highway Part 2 Samrong to Sisophon Via Banteay Chmar

Phillip and I got an earlier start and headed west out of Samrong towards the site of Banteay Chmar under overcast skys. The road is relatively good hard pack with some pot holes, but there are a lot of dangerous wooded bridges along the way. We passed 4 military guys on 2 motos and we would stop and they would pass us and eventually we would catch them again. I had a bottle of water wedged between my bungie cords that eventually fell of some where. I had written it off, but when the military guys had passed again and I recovered a hat from one of the guys, I received my bottle of water they had recovered in the exchange for the hat. We made another stop along the way where villagers were pulling fish from a mud pit that was once a pond. A small boy shared his catch of baby snakes he had in a half shell of coconuts. We snapped a few shots and exchanged some words with the locals and made our way to Banteay Chmar.
Arriving in Banteay Chmar I stopped to get a few pictures of the Temple from across the moat. Banteay Chmar wasn’t on our itinerary this time as I had made a visit last November with Jake doing some finishing touches on his book Adventure Cambodia, and Philippe had also previously visited the site. Banteay Chmar is a fantastic site and is worth visiting with its similarities to the Bayon in Siem Reap. Walls with fantastic relief work surround the temple. Inside the walls buildings adorning Apsaras, Vishnus and Nagas sit adjacent to towers with the 4 headed Bayon Faces. Entry to the site is negotiable from 2-5 dollars. Looters have ravaged this site but there are efforts to preserve much of the fantastic carvings that remain there.
I met up with Philippe at the market at the corner of Banteay Chmar. We had some fruit and shared some hospitality with the vendors. A group of girls challenged me to participate in Klah Klok, the board gambling game with six pictured squares in which you place your money. They laughed at this barang knowing the names of Klah (tiger) and the Dtray (fish) pictures on the board, however the girl running the game became scared when my initial 500 riel turned into 3000 riel. Luck was on my side, but wanting to get out of there alive I made an effort to gamble it away back to the house. The girl was relieved and I tipped her 200 riel for the enjoyment.
Back in discovery mode Philippe and I headed beyond the local wat and down a country road. Where is the Prasat we asked the villagers. They told us 500 meters up the road. 500 meters turned into a kilometer before we figured we missed the exit and turned around. Some guys on at trailer towed by one of those multi purpose tractor/plow pieces of machinery said no go farther up the road. We turned around again and cut left on a trail the first chance we got. Out of the trees a wall of laterite stones appeared. This wasn’t just a small wall, this turned out to be walls of a massive baray. No wonder we missed the Prasat as it sat dead center of the dried out baray easily over a couple hundred meters from us. A couple of boys pointed out the cluster of trees in the center of the baray and said the prasat was in there. “OK, show us!” As one thing I learned on this trip, employing the help of the locals really saves a lot of time.
We parked our bikes and hiked into the bush. We walked over a levee that revealed another large dry moat, crossing a second levee there was another small moat and then the Prasat. The boy called it Mebon. I contemplated if this consistent with prasats in barays being named Mebon such as the Mebon in the west baray at Siem Reap. Mebon was shrouded in those thorny vines. A series of small rectangular structures with carved relief work made up this site. Ornately carved cross legged seated wise men with beards were a dominate theme here. After investigating this site we tipped the boys for the tour and watching our bikes and moved on. We made an effort to follow the baray completely around the site but the trail became thin and started to cut through high sectioned rice fields with little clearance for our bikes. We turned around and made our exit back into town through the wat across the street from Banteay Chmar. If you have the Gecko map and locate Banteay Chmar, you will see a square section of water. This in fact is the man made baray. I suspect if this season had not have been as dry as it was, we would have had to cross water filled rice paddies in order to reach the temple.
When you arrive at Banteay Chmar from Sisophon following the road straight at the big sign marking the site instead of going right, there is a school project on the left that teaches the traditional silk weaving. We made a brief stop there and spoke with a French woman running the school and some of the students. It is worth a visit and there is some nice pieces available for sale. Twenty dollars well spent we took off to the south on the road to Sisophon.
About 7K south of the sign marking the Banteay Chmar site on the east side of the road is a laterite sign in Khmer marking the turn off to the site of Banteay Toup. We made a left turn and on a high levee road, we traveled another 2K. There Banteay Toup sits across rice fields with its 3 towers reaching for the sky. Along the road to the base of the temple we could see the wall construction that made up the outer walls of a moat. A couple of terraced walls created the pedestal for the temple grounds. One of the towers has partially collapsed and another appears to be leaning. What an architectural feat to construct massive tower over the large arches that make up the towers. Squared off columns with headers that stood alone surrounded the site and at one time must have made up a series of promenades. We spent a good hour and a half at the site marveling at its construction and wondered what it must have been like when it was active centuries ago. The clouds gave way to some sun light and blue skies creating a great photo opportunity.
Banteay Toup was the icing on the cake for a trip that rewarded us with more Prasats and Speans that we had imagined. The rest of the journey to Sisophon is on decent road and one can easily make the journey in a hired taxi. The rest of my journey to Sisophon was highlighted by smiling girls on bikes transporting large plastic containers of water and a moto driver transporting a pig twice his size on the back of his moto. Moreover this was topped when I stopped to photograph and oxcart in a pool with a motorized pump pumping water into a rice paddy. A guy on a moto pulls up and says “Hey you want to buy an eagle?” He pulls out a baby eagle from a krama around his waist. “No I’m not in the market for any eagles today.” And besides my bikes too loaded down to transport him.
We pulled into Sisophon before sunset and secured a room at the Phnom Svay hotel. Aircon, cable and hot water will run 10 dollars and the booked out fan rooms run half that. Over the bridge on the road to Battambang we had dinner in one of the few Preak Leap style restaurants that are springing up. A nice meal and a few beers later I hit the rack.
We left Sisophon about 11:15 AM under drizzling conditions. Donned the raingear on when it seemed eminent that the weather wasn’t going to cooperate. The road to Battambang is nicely paved. We passed a nice temple site with a Buddha on a hill but will make that stop another time. 45 minutes later we were in Battambang where Philippe made a brief stop and I continued on. The road to Battambang from Phnom Penh is pretty much completed. There is still work taking place between Pursat and Kampong Chhnang but it was a lot closer to completion than it was last November. We made an hour stop in Kampong Chhnang for dinner and made it to Phnom Penh around seven PM just in time for the Saturday night dahling traffic all the way down the riverfront.