WARNING: video "intense" blog, FIVE OF THEM!
Our 4th day in Cambodia was pretty intense too. Actually, the whole trip was SO intense, I can't believe how you could do all in a quick weekend trip to Siem Reap... for us, 5 days were JUST enough, like, barely!
So, our 4th day started with... a balloon ride! About 1km from Angkor Wat, a huge yellow balloon rises high up, giving you a wonderful 15 minute ride. We were pretty excited about this thing, and even though Angkor Wat was not that easy to see in the distance (especially with all the sunlight, even early in the morning), the views of the green lush ground below, with the water shimmering and bright thanks to the sun, and just that moment of... peace, contemplation and excitement once above was well worth it. Truly awesome. In the video, Angkor Wat is exactly in the middle (not sure the quality will let you appreciate it, though).
Once we were done with that, we headed for Cambodia's most sacred mountain, Phnom Kulen, through long and winding jungle roads. The goal: a reclining Buddha inside a temple atop the mountain. To be honest, we have seen our share of reclining Buddhas, and sacred mountains, and truth be said this one was neither particularly impressive nor beautiful, though of course that doesn't make it any less sacred for Cambodians. The place was hot, the dirt road leading to the temple gave the place a dry, unkempt appearance. Some stray dogs added to the roughness of the scene. We enjoyed the visit, but what made it special was, when leaving the temple where the Buddha was, going down the steps leading down the temple to the ground, there were these old women, beggars, sitting, waiting. And amongst them was an old man, blind, who apparently could sing. So we asked the guide to ask him to sing something (we felt that giving money for a song was a bit more dignified than simply throwing bills into an extended hand). The song was... well, you better hear in the video. It moved us, even without knowing what he was singing. Anyhow, we figured that it was probably just some religious song, or a traditional one, or maybe one about the sorrow of not being able to see. But when we asked the guide to translate, he said the old man was asking Buddha for him to be born, in his next life, blessed with sight. Wow. We didn't expect that, and it did provoke a sudden and unexpected pang (because it was painful) of compassion.
Once we left the temple, we headed for a more "watery" part of the tour: the Thousand Linga River, or Kbal Spean. When you approach, you just see an average sized river in the mid of the jungle. Even when you get close, you don't quite see what's so special. And then, your eyes adapt, they get used to the patterns the water creates, and you see them... row upon row of lingas, Hindu phallic symbols, covering the whole riverbed! And you know, the symbols, in and of themselves, may not be that impressive, but in toto, when you see them as part of a gigantic effort to cover the riverbed, and representing one thousand phalli exploding and releasing their energy into the river flowing downhill, THAT's impressive (and marvelously worded, as the same could be said in a most uncouth way, of course!).
Finally we headed for our last stop: the waterfall of Phnom Kulen. Not to big, but definitely very refreshing, as the temperature was still damn high. And nature, and Buddha, decided to give us a parting gift for our last stop. What nature gave us was, besides the lovely setting, butterflies! so many of them! and we happened to take a break right next to a boulder where water had formed tiny "ponds" where the butterflies would go and drink! It was such a spectacle, so soothing, so hypnotic... We stared quite a while, enraptured...
And what Buddha gave us... another kind of show alright: one by one young monks, in bright orange and red robes, appeared and made their way jumping from boulder to rock to clearing to make it to the waterfall, and enjoy a refreshing day out! It was really cool watching these young monks just having fun and enjoying "a day off at the waterfall", a real surprise!