The alarm clock sounds at 5:15am; it is still dark despite the curtains being drawn. I’m not a morning person by nature, but by now – our sixth day on the trip – I am used to our departures at dawn… And, moreover, I understand their importance in our constant struggle to beat the crowds of tourists on site. In truth, the crisp morning breeze against my face has become a refreshing comfort, as I know well that the coolness will quickly dissipate with the midday sun.
The hour drive through the country east of Siem Reap reveals a stunning landscape, providing us a window into the everyday life of the villagers. Our destination is Banteay Srei, a 10th century temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. It is a unique Khmer structure by contrast to those we have seen so far on our trip, for a number of reasons. For starters, it is small. When measured by the standards of contemporaneous construction, the buildings
here are miniature in scale. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in outstanding artisanship. Literally every surface at Banteay Srei is intricately carved, making it what many consider to be the crown jewel of Angkorian craftsmanship. Because it was built out of rose-colored sandstone – another of its unique
qualities – the exquisite details of the statues, bas reliefs, pediments and lintels are a cacophony of color that have become more pronounced over time… And the light at this hour only helps to illuminate the adornments at this ‘citadel of beauty.’ The crown jewel of Angkor!
As we reluctantly exit by the causeway, I gaze over the lily pad ponds and see a stream of tour buses arriving. Looking down at my watch, I realize that the day is just beginning. Already the anticipation builds for our next stop and adventure.
Travel to Cambodia and Laos with Dr. Damian Evans, January 4 – 20, 2016.