The Gateway to Angkor Wat

Flashback March 2016

Banteay Srei, the Citadel of Women, is a 10th-century Cambodian temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Built largely of a hard red sandstone that can be carved like wood, the structure features detailed reliefs and carvings.

stone detail

The complex feels like the Brooklyn Botanical Garden with landscaped walkways and pools of water. As I stroll through the nature preserves, I revel in its simplicity. At the midway, I am accosted by a mother and her children pestering me to buy postcards or give them money. This is a common sight in Cambodia and all the tour books and guides warn against giving money to these children who have been pulled out of school to beg for their parents.

The ride to Banteay Samre passes through pastoral surroundings of rice paddies and local villages. One home was airing laundry on the fence of their farm, brightly colored flags in turquoise and amethyst. Sok stopped on the route to East Mebon for me to taste palm sugar, a sweet created from the sap of the palm tree.

East Mebon, another 10th-century temple is also dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and honors the parents of the king. The structure is filled with doorways metaphoric and real, framing images of the forest, where you can imagine parallel universes and time travel. There is one area that was once a causeway over a now barren moat, that feature faceless guards, who dare I say ‘had back.’

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Sok brings me to the Pre Rup temple last to view the sunset. The temple is undoubtedly majestic. The temple blocks are humongous in comparison to Angkor Wat, and it’s hard not to feel like a child climbing a giant’s staircase to the summit where hundreds of people have gathered to watch the sun’s descent. The temple’s name translates to “turn the body,” and refers to the Cambodian funeral rite where the body is rotated in east-west-north-south directions before being cremated.

Hundreds of people gathered for the sun’s descent. I overhear a group of senior citizens, their New York Jersey accent jarring in my head. I decide to climb back down and view the temple as the sun descends from below. I walk through the crumbled hallways and bask in the beginnings of twilight.