The past three weeks have been among my most fun here in Cambodia, which is almost entirely related to the fact that my husband was here for a much-needed visit. This was his first trip to Southeast Asia and I had a lot of fun showing him around as well as exploring some new places together. The next few posts will be more travel related than archaeology related, but hopefully interesting nonetheless. Lots of info and photos after when you click below.
Paul at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok
First off: Bangkok!
Visiting Bangkok from Phnom Penh is like walking into an air-conditioned store on a really hot day. PP has its charms but Bangkok is a real city, with efficient public transportation, tall buildings (more than 4 stories), and lots more diversity. I arrived a few days early to do some research at Silpakorn University (I may post about this later) and when Paul arrived I switched to tourist mode. We stayed at my usual joint the Federal Hotel (recommended although they haven’t caught on to the whole free wifi thing yet). We checked out the usual tourist spots: Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Pho and the giant reclining Buddha, visiting Jim Thompson’s House, riding on the river boats, zipping along on the Sky Train, and eating delicious food. My previous visits to Bangkok have not fallen on a weekend so I’ve completely missed the wonder that is Chatuchak market- what has to be one of the largest open-air markets in the world. We finally got a chance to check it out on this visit and it is by far one of my most favorite parts of our trip. Anything and everything is there for purchase. Clothes? Check. Food? Check. Decorative furniture and accessories? Check. Bunnies wearing clothes? Check (of course).
And beads? Check. TONS of beads- thankfully most of it new and in hundreds of varieties (glass, stone, metal). I was scoping out the shops for evidence of some antiquities and thankfully saw very few pieces that looked like they could have come from Cambodia or other Bronze/Iron Age sites in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately almost all of the ancient/antique materials I saw looked like they came from Central Asia, most likely Afghanistan. My heart is really breaking over that, I can’t imagine there are very many intact archaeological sites left there.
After a few days in Bangkok we made our way back to Cambodia where we headed immediately to the South coast and beach area. Of course the bus broke down for about an hour on the way. The driver was pretty efficient at getting it back up and running thankfully.
We then took the G’day Mate bus from Sihanoukville and Kampot (about 2 hours) where we stayed at Rikitikitavi for 2 nights. We really enjoyed our stay there: friendly staff, tasty food, a nice room and a great location. I had really hoped that we would be able to head up to Bokor Hill Station from Kampot but it is apparently closed until September; no one would take us up for love or money. I guess I’ll have to try again on another trip in a few months.
Instead of heading up to Bokor we just spent our time relaxing in Kampot, a sleepy little town with a nice amount of Western comforts (for me this means internet and Indian food). Kampot is situated right along the Kampong Bay river near the Elephant mountains, and has lots of lovely French colonial buildings around town, some in better condition than others. It seems to be less of a touristy place than a nice get away for Expats and people hoping to get up to Bokor.
Bikes outside the abandoned market in Kampot
Nicely restored French Colonial building
Paul relaxes at a riverside cafe in Kampot
Sunset along the river in Kampot
Sunset in Kampot Town
Another morning we ventured out to check out some caves located near Kampot. The closest set of caves is part of a limestone outcropping known as Phnom Chhngok. The countryside around Kampot is breathtakingly beautiful; I could’ve spent all day just traveling around taking in the scenery.
Limestone outcroppings like the one above are common in Kampot
When we first arrived at the caves we were greeted by several kids. As with almost any provincial tourist stop, kids are your unofficial tour guides. They will follow you around, surprise you with the amount of English they know (“mind your head!”) if you speak Khmer will provide you great conversation practice, and explain whatever site you are visiting. We had a friendly band of 3 or 4 boys who immediately took us into a large cave where we were going to “play music.” This wasn’t mentioned in the tour guide but Paul and I went with the flow. Soon we were slipping, sliding, falling, and crawling over rocks and through tiny holes almost too small for Paul’s Western stature. The cave was pitch black but the kids knew the way and held our flashlight as we tried to navigate from one rocky precipice to another. We finally made our way to the bottom of a tiny chamber with several stalactites hanging down from the low ceiling (we had to crouch just to fit). One of the boys picked up a stick and began banging on them playing a small song with a sound reminiscent of a xylophone. They invited us to play but one look at Paul’s face said “get me the f*&! out of here!” We learned an important thing that morning- neither of us are fans of spelunking.
Our cave guides at Phnom Chhngok
We finally made our way out of this cave and the boys showed us to a second cave nearby that had been the initial reason for our visit. Within a more open cave (that had cement stairs leading up and down) is a fantastically preserved 6th or 7th century small brick temple. This falls right into the latter end of my research time period so seeing this cave was very exciting.
You can see the small brick temple here on the left side.
Here we are in front of the temple, note the profuse sweating!
Aymonier and Lunet de Lajonquiere (among others) both visited this site and described a stele with an inscription. I did not see this there, which means it as probably removed. Aymonier says they described donations to the gods (a common theme for these inscriptions) and was in the “vulgar language” (Khmer I assume?) and Sanskrit. Inside the temple is a small linga, indicating this was a temple devoted to Siva. I’m not finding much else that has been written about this temple. I’ll have to keep digging and see if I can dedicate a later blog post to it.
Dripping in sweat we made our way back to Kampot for lunch, a nap, and more relaxing. The next day we took a tuk-tuk on the 45 or so minute drive to the nearby beach town of Kep. Along the way we made another quick stop at a different set of caves called Phnom Sasea. These caves were also conveniently retro-fitted with stairs and a handrail. They didn’t include any temples but did have some interesting limestone formations, most notably in the shape of an elephant.
The other cave has home to several bats that we could hear squeaking as soon as we walked in. One of our young guides scrambled over the rocks to a dark chamber where the bats apparently liked to hangout and he took some photos for me. All those little bright dots in the photo below are their eyes!
We spent only one night in Kep for a variety of reasons, but there are many lovely abandoned villas in Kep which warrant their own separate post. That, along with our trip to Siem Reap/Angkor will follow in the next few days.