Visited December 2011
Day 4: Preah Vihear & Beng Mealea
During my research on the Cambodia trip, I came across Preah Vihear by chance, and thought that it would be nice to visit the area. Little did I know that it was to be a long 3-hour car ride from Siem Reap, and we had to leave before the sun rose. As usual, being the piggy that I was, I fell asleep for 80% of the journey.
Thanks to our careful tour guide who had to navigate in the dark, we made our way safely to Preah Vihear, a UNESCO site along the Thai-Khmer border. When we alighted, it was like stepping into a mini war zone, with armed soldiers stationed all around. In all the research that I did, I had no idea that Preah Vihear temple is a disputed area between the Thais and the Cambodians, and that they had had past clashes over the sovereignty of the World Heritage site.
Starting from the entrance of the temple, we began our tour around the place, going through the 5 levels before coming to the top of the world.
The view above, was simply breathtaking. It was a view that made the 3-hour journey all worthwhile. With no barriers between us and the cliffs, we made sure we had to thread carefully to avoid taking an express trip to ground level. And amid the military tensions, to our relief, nothing happened while we were there, although one of the guide’s friend/relative who was a soldier there, received a bit of a notice to stay on alert while he went along with us for a short while.
On our way back, we made a detour to Beng Mealea, a temple left in total ruins. Despite the lack of restoration works, we had to pay an entrance fee. The sight that greeted me was really different from the other temples that I’ve been to. While most of Siem Reap’s temples had decent steps, probably 60-70% of Beng Mealea was in dilapidation. As we explored the grounds on the dirt track, it wasn’t for long before we started climbing on board the large fallen stones onto the building pillars. At one point, it felt as if I was at least 10m above ground!
As this was my first time experiencing such an adventurous trip, thoughts of a missed step, of falling to the ground, crossed my mind at least a couple of times. This was definitely not for the faint-hearted. For the men, years of training in the army probably helped, as my partner knew where to step, how to balance himself. For my guide, he does this for a living. For me, I was trying my best to live up to my belief that I was a ladylike-but-rugged-enough-girl to go through this. And I was glad that I did manage to get through it all, with some help from the men now and then.
Although our time spent there wasn’t long, it has left a lasting impression on me. I likened the experience to that of Indiana Jones, less the drama and intensity. And if there was ever a chance for me to do something like that again, I’ll have to make sure that I am wearing shoes of better grip, without any cumbersome bags in my way. After all, I had an ideal to live up to: ladylike-but-rugged-enough girl.