|Indy and Lara Croft territory|
|Cheekie chappie hitches a ride from his brother|
|Yum, crunchy beetles for lunch!|
Beuk picked us up as usual for our final day of touring some of the temple sights. Our first port of call was Prasat Kravan, a small site with a few brick built towers. Next up was the more intriguing Ta Prohm. Like Preah Kahn it was mostly overtaken by jungle but it has now been cleared, except for the trees that are now supporting structures. Many people are familiar with this temple without realising it as some of the scenes from the Tomb Raider film were shot here. One of the gates into the temple had a little help from Hollywood’s scenery teams to hide the decay and damage it has suffered over the years.
From the work that Beuk has done with a Japanese photographer he knows some really good places to take shots of the temples. The only problem was waiting for the hordes of Korean tourists to pass by and leave them free of people. Stef started to get a little wound up by them as they seemed to have no idea that there were other people around and kept walking into his line of shot.
From Ta Prohm we went on to Banteay Srei, a small and compact site but one known for the quality of the carvings on the lintels and pediments. It was also unique because it had been constructed by a wealthy and powerful priest not a king like the others. It is about a 20km trip out of town passing through rural villages and scenery along the way. The tourist trade has probably been key to the road being improved last year from a pot holed rough track to a good quality tarmac road. Not so long ago the road was bandit country and before then it was part of the territory of the Khmer Rouge. Beuk told us about a group of backpackers who were attacked and killed along this road a few years ago.
After Banteay Srei we stopped at one of the small rural houses along the road. Most of the houses have a small stall outside from which they sell very sugary sweets wrapped in banana leaves. We watched as the lady of the house transferred a huge wok style pan from a fire, where she had been melting a concoction of sugar and fruit sap, to a cooling stand. She then has to sit and stir it non stop until it cools and thickens and the sweets can be made. We tried some of the warm liquid which was incredibly sweet and bought some sweets before we left to thank them for letting us see what they did.
We headed next for a local silk farm passing some fantastic scenes of normal daily rural life along the way. A chap cycled past us with a pig strapped onto the back of his bike. The pig was pretty well trussed up and seemed to have given up all attempts at a struggle. No doubt it could sense its imminent fate. There were people working in the paddy fields, boys taking a bath in the local reservoir and one poking his head cheekily out of the basket on the back of yet another bike. All typical scenes here but very remote compared to what we are used to at home.
Our next stop was at a silk farm. The farm has been set up to help people in the local villages to acquire new skills and to become self sufficient in producing and weaving silk. They have a range of different type of mulberry bushes that they are growing which presumably produce different qualities of silk. The leaves of the bushes are the staple diet of the silk worms that grow very quickly changing in a few days from tiny worms to big fat juicy ones. When they make their cocoons part of the crop continue on to become moths and continue the reproduction cycle but about 90% are taken to make silk.
The cocoons are boiled in water to start the process of silk making. Raw silk is the outer layer of the cocoon and is a coarser silk. The fine silk comes from the inside of the cocoon. Various stages are then followed in the process to spin the silk into thread, dye it using natural dyes to produce a wide range of colours and then wind it onto bobbins ready for weaving. With some of the patterns they make the skein of silk is dyed with different colours so that when it is woven a pattern emerges. Its pretty clever stuff.
People from the local villages spend a few months here learning every stage of the process. The finished products they make are available in a small shop on the premises and they range from cushion covers to bed spreads, clothes, bags and all sorts of other bits and pieces. The profits are fed back into the scheme to again help the local villagers.
From the silk factory Beuk took us to the western edge of the Western Baray another huge reservoir. A huge dyke was built around the reservoir, and the eastern reservoir which we passed yesterday, to retain the waters from the wet season. It is now a huge flat lake which partially dries out during the year. On the western edge there is a small beach lined with snack stands and places where you can rent a hammock for the day or a large inner tyre to mess about on the water. Stef tested the water and as it was warm was happy to paddle for a while.
A girl came by selling what Beuk tried to make us believe was a tasty local snack but it’s not one that he chooses to eat himself! She has a plate full of dead beetles and despite her best efforts we declined the opportunity to taste them, it was too far a stretch of the getting in touch with the local cuisine for even Stef to give them a go! Beuk told us about a Belgian wrestler who was once a guest in his restaurant and who, fuelled by several beers, munched handfuls of these beetles.
Beuk dropped us off at our hotel where his nephew in law Mark was waiting to meet us. Beuk has lined him up to be our tuk tuk driver for tomorrow so we had a chat over a drink to agree what we wanted to do and what time Mark should pick us up. True to the family mould he was very friendly and welcoming and spoke good enough English for us to communicate easily with him. We said our farewells to Beuk giving him a few small gifts to show our appreciation for all that he has done for us over the last few days as well as a tip that he seemed embarrassed to receive. He is certainly someone we would recommend to anyone going to visit the Angkor sites.
In the evening we made it out into the town for dinner a little fed up of eating in the hotel. Our tuk tuk took us to the main street that Lonely Planet recommends for eating and drinking. We opted to get away from there pretty quickly and found a quieter bar just around the corner, still geared up totally to tourists but away slightly from the main drag. A few hours later another tuk tuk took us back to our hotel tired and ready for bed after another very enjoyable day.