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Doorway of Roots

Feb 6, 2003 - 50km northwest of Siem Reap is Kbal Spean, I had to negotiate with my moto driver for this trip. We had decided to make our way out to Kbal Spean and work our way back towards town. On the back of a little moto it was a long dusty, bumpy and uncomfortable road trip. We changed our plans and stopped at Banteay Srei (32km from Siem Reap) to break up the trip. Banteay Srei or “Citadel of the Women” is a small but elaborately carved temple. At the entrance was a beggar suffering from leprosy, this really shook me up.

The guide book describes Kbal Spean as a short hike with a rewarding waterfall and spectacularly carved riverbed. When I finally got to Kbal Spean I was covered with a fine red dust from the road. The parking lot was full of tourist buses. My moto driver parked under a shady tree and seemed to fall asleep instantly in a much practiced position balanced on the moto seat; as I set off down the trail, happy that our timing left me alone and in peace at the trail head. The hike was along a river bed with natural scenery, a nice change from the city, but, disturbingly empty of anyone. Eerily empty. I felt that I should see someone else on the trail. Anyone would have confirmed that I wasn't wandering off into a field of landmines. After all the guidebook warns “Landmine Warning: do not stray from the path at Kbal Spean”. Where was the horde?

When I got to the carved riverbed I knew that I was on the right course, yet I was still alone. It wasn't the peaceful kind of alone, it was more like the eerie – “Did the world end and I didn’t get the memo?” kind of alone. I consulted the guide book for trail descriptions and followed the spectacularly carved riverbed to the waterfall.

“Hmmm, no one here either.”

None of my shots at Kbal Spean are what I would call keepers... I wonder why? I hiked out along the way I came and didn't pass another soul. Most of the tourist buses were still at the parking lot. I don't really have an explanation for the emptiness of the trail, except that no other tourist wanted to make the 1.5km hike and instead everyone was picnicking under the shade of trees near the parking lot.

We made our way back to Siem Reap and ended the day at the highlight Ta Prohm. Called the “Jungle Temple” by local guides it has been left in the state it was found in with the jungle taking it back as its own. It was impressive and I spent hours here.

Note: I saw almost every site in the guide book during my short time at Angkor. It was an overwhelming experience to all my senses. When I re-read my journal it is filled with mundane details that at the time seemed so important but I could have easily written 'stuff happened'. So I recreated the order based on my memory, but when I reconcile them with my photographs they appear in a different order. I know I was at Ta Prohm at sunset yet those photographs were taken before Banteay Srei and Kbal Spean. Probably insignificant but I've made an effort to be accurate.


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