Cambodia, Day Four (Aug. 1, 2007)

It's 4 a.m., and I'm wide awake. Silly me, I didn't think Melatonin was necessary last night; now I'm up listening to a symphony of bullfrogs, birds and insects. The frogs sound like a single note on a cello played over and over again for hours.

Had breakfast at Star Rise again, but this time I had banana pancakes and a pineapple shake. Then our tuktuk drivers* took us to Banteay Srei, a gorgeous pink temple that has the most intricate carvings at Angkor. It was beautiful but claustrophobic. It's an unusual small-scale structure with tiny doorways, and most of it has been roped off to protect the carvings; so we were trapped on the exterior path with what felt like thousands of Japanese tourists.** Big score of the trip -- huge temple rubbing for $8.***

On the way back to town, we stopped at the Land Mine Museum. There were still active land mines on site, and it was a frightening reminder of what the Cambodians live with every day. Aki Ra, who started the museum, has deactivated over 50,000 mines and is responsible for disabling more than half of the mines in the Siem Reap area. He's done this with a plumber's wrench, a vice, and a steam pot.**** The museum takes in land-mine victims -- mostly children -- and gives them an education. They're trying to break the beggar culture; until now, it was the only option for the maimed and disfigured.

We ate lunch at a shack across the street from East Mebon. I had fried noodles with eggs and veggies. Afterward, we walked to the temple, on the corners of which stood giant elephant statues. This place used to be a reservoir for the city, and the temple itself was an island. The setting was beautiful, overlooking the jungle and rice fields, and the design of the steps allowed us to climb all over the structure. I enjoyed visiting one of the lesser-known, distant temples because we practically had the place to ourselves.

Our last temple in Angkor was Neak Pean. It was made up of one large square pond surrounded by four smaller square ponds (one on each side). Each side pond represented one of the elements -- earth, air, fire and water -- which appeared as a stone fountain in an interior altar. The fountains took the form of man (earth), lion (fire), elephant (water),***** and horse (air). We ended the day with a fabulous meal of massaman curry at the Khmer Kitchen.

Brad's footnotes
* That's right. We got back in the tuktuks after the events of the day before.
** She's not being figurative. There were at least a thousand Japanese tourists, and the place was so small that we did feel many of them.
*** Temple rubbing. Not some weird frottage fantasy. It's a big sheet of rice paper with a charcoal imprint of one of the carvings. It's awesome.
**** Full disclosure: Aki Ra was forced as a child to join the Khmer Rouge and plant many, many land mines. That's why he's made it his mission to remove as many as he can now and to help their victims.
***** Yeah, I don't get elephant=water either. Not when there's, you know, fish around.

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