In Search of Cambodian Temples – 1,000 Kilometers by Motorcycle (Part 3 of 3)

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I leave Preah Khan with a sense of accomplishment. It took me a year to finally make it there, although not along the dirt track I originally thought I would use. Now I look forward to Preah Vihear and Anlong Veng, two more places that have always been on my to-do list.

Seima Temple

Seima Temple – Not Too Much Left

The road from Preah Vihear City to Preah Vihear Temple is a nice stretch of two-lane pavement making it an easy trip. Missing is the ubiquitous Cambodian dust that fills my nostrils and ears on many of my rides. Ahead of me are one-hundred-fourteen kilometers of uneventful riding. There are two remote temples I attempt to find on my way. One, Seima Temple I am able to locate after finding the correct cow path to follow. This is one of those temples that offer little to look at in the present but was probably spectacular in the past. The second temple, Aur Krauch Temple remains something for me to pursue on a future trip. As close as I came I never found a path that would bring me to the temple. One out of two – I accept those results given the challenges I face.

The town of Sra’aem, about thirty miles south of the temple, is the closest place to stay when visiting Preah Vihear Temple. A pretty good size town that seems to have everything I need. I spot a laundry in the center of town which comes at a convenient time. No need to wash clothes in the guesthouse sink tonight. One dollar per kilogram – what a deal. Based on the looks I got from the ladies in the laundry I would guess they don’t get a lot of business from foreigners.

Preah Vihear Temple has been difficult to visit up until very recent times. For a few decades there were issues with lingering Khmer Rouge making it dangerous. There has also been a longstanding territorial dispute between Cambodia and Thailand. Fighting only recently subsided. There is a definite military presence here. A palpable presence. Cluster bombs where dropped by Thailand in the beginning of this decade leaving more unexploded ordinances in a country with more than its share with past conflicts.20161208_Scott_Sharick_untitled shoot_67657

Preah Vihear is a temple that sits high atop a mountain where you can see for miles. Everything I have read up to today said that I would have to hire a van or moto to take me to the top of the mountain. Around the ticket window at the bottom of the station there were plenty of options waiting for me but I saw that no one payed me any notice. I asked at the ticket window if I could ride my own motorcycle up to the temple. The Khmer woman inside said I could but warned me of the steep, scary road to the top.

I consider this a bonus. I don’t get to do much climbing in the mostly flat area of Cambodia that I call home. As I make my way up and around the mountain the only thing going through my mind is how benign the climb is. If this is steep and scary I must be a well-seasoned driver I thought.

And then the road turned left. Way left. And up. Way up. Holy shit this road is steep! I want to stop to take a picture but I am sure I can’t park my motorcycle on a grade this steep. It is actually pretty fun chugging up this steep road. The asphalt is deeply scored to give tires a little more grip than smooth asphalt would. The steep part doesn’t last long and soon I am parking near the security booth.

At the top there are quite a few food stalls and places to get drinks. Lots of security milling about as well as the temple workers to make sure no one ventures where they shouldn’t be or does something they shouldn’t do. People don’t always use common sense when visiting sacred sites.

Preah Vihear Temple is at the peak of the mountain

Preah Vihear Temple is at the peak of the mountain

Preah Vihear is big. Lots of walking but the number of people here is not overwhelming. Many, probably most, people make this a day trip from Siem Reap. While I think I could also do this in a day trip on my motorcycle my ass objects at the mere thought of the possibility.

As far as temples go I am not a fan. Not because Preah Vihear isn’t beautiful but because it is beautiful. It is very clean with nice green lawns found in every direction. Up to this point I have seen over two-hundred old temples in Cambodia. My favorites tend to be the smaller, less-visited ones that are covered with foliage. There is something I like when I walk away from a temple with blood dripping from my arms and legs after foraging through the dense brush just to get a good view and a picture.

Preah Vihear is manicured. Too clean for me. That isn’t a bad thing.It’s just not the kind of thing that is top on my list. Am I glad I came here? Of course I am. Would I recommend it to others? Of course I would. Would I come back again. I sure would. Just because something isn’t a favorite of mine or at the top of my list in no way means it is bad. The view up here is spectacular. If not for the haze I would be able to see forever looking south as I stand at the edge of the temple on the top of the mountain.

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Now it is time for me to head to Anlong Veng. The border area here has little to offer most people visiting Cambodia unless you are interested in the history of. It is here that some of the Khmer Rouge had their last stronghold in Cambodia until the late 1990’s. It is also where some of the leadership spent their last days.

The town itself is a nice enough. Just over two hours north of Siem Reap and twenty minutes south of the Thai border there are adequate guesthouses and restaurants to keep me settled for my short stay here. There is no night life to speak of and consequently once it gets dark most shops and restaurants close up for the night. I find that I sleep pretty good on these trips because of the lack of distractions that normally confront me at home.

Here is a short video with footage around Anlong Veng:

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot (Brother Number One) and Ta Mok (Brother Number Five) had hideouts close to the border of Thailand just in case anyone got too close to them. Because their hideouts were literally right on the Thai border they could escape Cambodia in an instant if they felt their capture was imminent. But even with their dark history it seemed many of the people of Anlong Veng had no ill feelings towards them which allowed them to live their lives relatively peacefully.

Ta Mok lived in Anlong Veng beside a lake he had created just north of the town itself. The house and grounds are available to visit for a small fee. Children from the area will happily accompany you and smile for pictures as you walk through the old house remains of one of the most brutal murderers in history.

Ta Mok's Lakeside Home - Anlong Veng, Cambodia

Ta Mok’s Lakeside Home – Anlong Veng, Cambodia

Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge, was responsible for the death of millions of Cambodians. Starvation, overwork, execution and disease took their toll during his Communist takeover of the country in the 1970’s. Under his rule money, books and owning property were outlawed. People were sent to the rice fields to work as their former lives were ripped from them and dignity and hope were a thing of the past.

Two local girls pose at the final resting spot of Pol Pot - leader of the Khmer Rouge.

Two local girls pose at the final resting spot of Pol Pot – leader of the Khmer Rouge.

Pol Pot died in 1998 without ever being held legally accountable for his crimes. His body was unceremoniously burned on a pile of tires not far from the Thai border. A ‘memorial’ stands at the spot where people can pay $2 to see where and how such a powerful man came to rest.

A few miles south of this spot is the final resting place of Ta Mok, Brother Number Five also known as ‘The Butcher’. A nephew of his thought it was fitting to have a more respectable final resting spot for his uncle so he had an unmarked memorial built in a local Pagoda.

A young monk smiles at the grave of Ta Mok, Brother Number Five.

A young monk smiles at the grave of Ta Mok, Brother Number Five.

Traveling in this area has been a wonderful experience. The roads have been great and the Cambodian people possess that friendliness and the inherent smiles that drew me here to Cambodia. The open road is always a great place for me to be whether that is in America or Southeast Asia or maybe another country I haven’t yet explored.

Until next time……..

 

 

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