Our journey begun in Srah Srang, a reservoir located exactly in front of Banteay Kdei. If you take a one-day tour for a double trail (big circle and small circle of the Angkor Wat complex), the journey usually starts here. According to its modern name, Srah Srang means ‘royal bath’. Although the name means that, please don’t be fooled like I was. This wasn’t a real pool or swimming pool. In the past, the water was stored for the benefit of all creatures, except the elephants. Why not the elephants? I have no idea. So, they used to use this water not only for swimming and bathing, but also for drinking (I assume).
The view was truly amazing. As you climb the small narrow steps up to the terrace, you will find a tranquil vista overlooking the huge reservoir. If you want to go further, to visit the part that leads down to the water, please be careful when you step down the stairs as they will probably be very sandy and slippery. One slip and you will be sent directly into the water.
There are entrances for Banteay Kdei. However, since we came from Srah Srang, we simply crossed the road and started our exploration through the west gate. Banteay Kdei is different from the first building. It is of medium size, so it is much bigger than Srah Srang, but more modest compared to Ta Prohm or Preah Khan. Over the years, Banteay Kdei has been a dance hall, and a library. Ideally, you will need 30 minutes to an hour to fully explore and enjoy this area. From the west entrance, as you come through the gate, you will be greeted with a mix of the modern and the ancient. The modern aspect comes from the small souvenir kiosks that stand around the empty, sand-covered, field. You will see the ancient aspect in the laterite-and-stone moss-covered sanctuaries. The most iconic feature in Banteay Kdei is its big gopura (gate) that once guarded and enclosed the city. The stunning gopura shows Buddha with 4 faces.
Also, don’t forget to explore the Hall of Dancers — an open-roofed building with four courtyards. From there, you can climb up the stairs and enter the main building with the libraries.
As a state temple, Pre Rup has more than one tower and each one houses a statue of some God and their consort. For example, the southwest tower houses a statue of Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu, while the northwest tower houses a statue of Uma, Shiva’s consort. In addition, as in the picture, there are two lions that guard the staircase.
After climbing up the narrow and possibly slippery staircases, you will find yourself in a medium size terrace with small temples on each corner. Be careful as the area is sometimes windy (I am paranoid that wind could blow me somewhere else) and sandy. Even though you can take some cool we-fies or selfies, please pay attention to the signs in case you are not allowed to explore the area because of its condition. The entrance is easy to find since the tuk-tuk drivers will always drop you there. Otherwise, just ask somebody the location of the east entrance. It’s right in front of the souvenir kiosks!
As a neighbor of Pre Rup, East Mebon, I would say, shares a certain similarity with its neighbor when we look at the structure of the towers. Like most brick Khmer towers, the superstructures are built in four tiers of diminishing size, an intentional effect to give a greater appearance of height. What an amazing way of thinking they had in the past!
In total, East Mebon is home to five towers. But, unlike the previous tower, at East Mebon you don’t need to climb too high to reach the top.All you need to do is go up through the central platform to reach the towers. So I would say it’s a much less fatigue inducing building. The main highlights of these ruins are the elephant sculptures that you can find on the second level of the building. Unfortunately, I didn’t take enough pictures here.
If Banteay Kdei’s size is more modest than Ta Prohm, then Ta Som is just a miniature version of both. But, It doesn’t mean that it is less charming or less interesting. Its remoteness and semi-ruined state will likely enchant every visitors to explore this ruins. Thanks to its size, ideally it’s enough for you to spend around 30 minutes.
Like its two big brothers, Ta Som is also decorated with four faced tower gopura that will greet you on the entrance. According to the book, there even was a large strangler fig which enclosed one of the gopura gate, creating an attractive scene on it. Unfortunately, the tree died in the 1970’s. So, my mission to take a picture like Tomb Raider hasn’t been accomplished yet.
This temple has become my favorite one, not only because it doesn’t have long stairs to heaven, but also because its incomparable uniqueness has successfully enchanted me. It’s different from the other temples situated in higher places. Neak Pean is actually an artificial island with the Buddhist temple on its circular island. The name itself is derived from the sculpture of a snake (naga) that runs around the base of the temple structure. ‘Neak’ is the Khmer word for ‘snake’ or ‘naga’.
To reach this medium-size artificial island, you need to walk across the wooden bridge on the lake that is just wide enough for two people. The view really is amazing, but don’t forget to mind your step so as not slip into the water.
Talking about history, Neak Pean was built for a medical purpose. Some ancients believed that the water in the pools had an ability to cure any disease, while some historians believe that Neak Pean represents a mythical lake in the Himalayas that does the same: the water can cure whatever disease a person has (except laziness).
Although Neak Pean is categorised as a Buddhist temple, the design was made according to the Hindu belief about balance. Therefore, you will find four connected pools that clearly represent water, earth, wind and fire.
The ideal time to spend here is about 30-45 minutes.
Preah Khan, a.k.a Royal Sword in Khmer, was our last destination on the BIG CIRCUIT TOUR. We still had some grotesque temples to visit afterwards. Preah Khan itself is a huge complex that originally served as Buddhist monastery and school. Its area also contains the Hall of Dancers and some libraries. Due to its size, unfortunately, the area hasn’t been fully restored, so you may see numerous trees and other vegetation growing among the ruins.