Do you like Cambodian food?
Before traveling to Siem Reap, I had never really heard of Cambodian food. Unlike Thai cuisine which has permeated American culture with infamous dishes like pad thai, Cambodian (or Khmer) cuisine is relatively unknown. Well at least it was unknown to me!
By the time I sat down to some Amok served in a coconut at a local restaurant in the Angkor Thom complex, I was excited to eat. I love coconuts, even if they don’t love me back. Amok is a curry and coconut milk dish cooked in banana leaves and resembles Thai red curry. The fish amok was delicious and reminded me so much of my beloved Thai and Indian curries. I was sold. Now that I know that Cambodian cuisine is another wonderful spin on curry, it is on my list of favorite food cultures!
After that amazing lunch it was time to continue our jam-packed day of sightseeing at the major temples in Siem Reap. We had already seen the magnificent Angkor Wat complex and the amazing ruins of Bayon and Baphuon Temples.
Next on the list was Banteay Kdei, a small and decrepit temple hidden in the encroaching forest. Banteay Kdei means “A Citadel of Chambers” or “Citadel of Monks” and was occupied by monks at various times since its construction in the mid-12th to early 13th centuries. Today the temple is pretty dilapidated due to poor construction and sandstone quality. However, I found it only added to its charm as a lost temple hidden in the forest.
Most of the roof had collapsed, allowing the sun to beat down on our backs with incredible force. Now I understand why most tourists return to their hotels to rest during the early afternoon to escape the unbearable heat. There really is nothing pleasant about exploring stone blocks while plagued with heat exhaustion. But I did appreciate the openness of this temple with its layers of corridors and stone archways. Although it was difficult to imagine the temple in its original glory, I enjoyed seeing a once magnificent structure stripped down to its bare bones. We all return to the earth in our own time, don’t we?
Like every temple before, the interior was remarkably cool and pleasant. I could imagine many monks finding peace in these jagged corridors. They must have been very nimble as well to navigate the varying size and shape of each doorway. But I appreciated Banteay Kdei as it is today with trees growing up along ancient walls and staking their claim in the earth. It was quite exciting to see strong roots bursting through the floor and becoming one with the temple. I think the Buddhist monks would have approved.
Back down the dirt path and across the busy street lies Sras Srang, an enormous reservoir that can be viewed from a stone platform along with stone serpents peering out over the water. We tried to rest on the burning hot stones for a few minutes but were accosted by friendly girls enticing us with free bracelets. How can you say no to these charming young ladies? We walked away with bottles of water and harem pants from their shops.
You can never have too many pairs of harem pants. Especially when they tend to rip in unfortunate places.
We found our tuk-tuk driver and were whisked away for one final temple, the coolest one of all. It was time to get our Angelina Jolie faces on and raid some tombs.