- George Moore
Banteay Srei is about 37km Northwest from Siem Reap, about 50 minute's travel by car or 75 mintues by tuk-tuk. Banteay Srei, meaning "Citadel of the Women " is in a ruined state, but displays some extremely inticate carvings - the quality of the Banteay Srei carvings has caused it to be described as the little jewel of the Angkor temples. A Banteay Srei plan is here to help you identify the highlihts of this temple, which can appear to be a jumble of deeply carved pink sandstone.
Kbal Spean, properly "Steung Kbal Spean", is a tributary of the Siem Reap river (Steung Siem Reap), and the site is about 47kkm from Siem Reap, a little over an hour by car. Kbal Spean highlights include the scenic waterfalls and pools, where it is possible to bathe, but the river is famous for its riverbed carvings of Hindu mythology, and particularly its many lingas, giving it the name Sahasralinga, or River of a Thousand Lingas. Kbal Spean is best seen during and just after the wet season, when water flows over the lingas and other river carvings.
Phnom Kulen, or Kulen Mountain, is considered a sacred mountain, and refers to both the mountain itself and the national park that surrounds it. Phnom Kulen was the home of the first Angkor kingdom, although relatively little remains of this first capital, and many of the remains are in thick forest, some areas of which are not de-mined. The Phnom Kulen waterfalls are a beautiful spot to bathe, and is popular among local (and not-so-local) Cambodians as a picnic spot. Many visitors come to the reclining buddha carved into the top of a large monolith near the mountain top, but there is also a linga-carved riverbed to rival that at Kbal Spean, and which is better seen when water levels are lower.
Beng Mealea is often included as part of a tour of further afield Siem Reap temples - a good (although long) day away from the town is to visit Banteay Srei, then Phnom Kulen (which is privately run, and road access is not possible after midday) or Kbal Spean and Beng Mealea.
Chau Srei Vibol is about 24km West of Siem Reap and is a very rarely-visited ruined temple, which can be a peaceful and rewarding place to visit, if returning from Beng Mealea, or exploring the West side of the Tonle Sap lake. It is a large site, and you are free to explore the laterite walls and partially collapsed inner walls and gates while shaded by the encroaching forest before exploring the buildings and statues near the top of the hill, and enjoying a picnic under the lone frangipani tree near the summit.
Phnom Bok, or "Ox-hump Mountain" is about 10km from Angkor Wat and is visible from many of the temples on the west side of the Angkor Archaeological Park. The hill is high, with over 600 steps leading to the top, but the climb is rewarded by some spectacular views over the plain below. There are three temples on the mountain, to Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma, and the largest (sandstone) linga in the region is to be found here, now on its side, which weighs in at nearly 10 tonnes.
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