7 July 2011

Roluos Group
Preah Ko

Drive to Kampong Phluk
Boat onto lake
Bake to Lolei for lunch
Booked ticket to Phenom Penh

Another Early day.  However I have recovered from the outing two days ago!
At 8am our Tuktuk driver ?Peerdon? was waiting outside the hotel.  He couldnt come in as the hotel has a deal going with their own tuktuk drivers.
He was rearing to go, and we stopped off to pick up some water and we were off.

The drive out to the Roluos Group is about 13km.  It is single lane highway, and as the tuktuk was slow he had to drive in the breakdown lane.  It was nice though, he wasnt as gung-ho  as the last driver.  We got to see a bit of the countryside.  Mainly rice paddies, wooden thatched houses with street stalls out the front with the occasional expensive house scattered in between.  We went to Lolei first.  This one is the least impressive and furthest away.  A good place to start.  The Roluos Group is the first major capital of the Angkor Empire, called Hariharalaya.  Dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu, it was completely Hindu.  Started by Jayavarman II around mid to late 9th Century.  It lasted as the capital for 70 years before moving to the Angkor region.  However building still happened here until the mid 12th century.
Lolei:  Built by Indravarman I in the late 9th Century.  It was the last temple built here, but the first on an island.  Originally an Island temple, the area is now dry.  The unique thing about the Roluos Group is that they are made of brick and not sandstone.  Very similar to My Son.  However there is some remains of the stucco that was over the brick and carved into pattens.  There are four towers on a raised up platform.  Right next door is a working Buddhist Wat, and a small village on the other side.  At the front there are the now compulsory stores selling gifts and food.  As we got out of the tuktuk, we were accosted by the kids trying to sell coconuts and postcards.  After getting out tickets checked and going up the entrance stairs, there were two school children trying to raise money for their orphanage/school.  This is happening a lot in Cambodia, well, we have seen it a lot in Siem Reap.

The towers themselves are in very poor condition, with two collapsed completely.  However they are nice in themselves and we would have spent twenty minutes walking around them.  There is not much detail left, but it was interesting to compare them to the Angkor ones.  The only stonework was the carvings of statues, and the entranceway.  However the walls around the complex were stone.

We then drove back to Preah Ko.  Constructed by the same guy (there were a couple of kings that did serious building sprees).  This one is built on a dais,and has six towers.  3 large ones at the front east side, with three smaller ones behind it.  There was little evidence of the buildings that would have been surrounding it, but the original wall was still there.  The outside section is about 500m2.  Again there were the kids, shops and ticket guys.  I know why it is so expensive.  If you have to hire four people for each temple to check tickets…  We wandered around a bit, and got some good photos of the area.  Here the insides were in better condition, and the original wood lintels were still in pace.  Devoured by termites long gone, but still there.  The wells underneath the yoni alters were also not filled in, and you can imagine them full of water, with some mechanism to pump it up through the altar.  Most of the sandstone carvings were in ok shape, and there was faint outlines of the brick carvings as well.  There were also statues of bulls at the front of the complex, although these were badly weathered.  However you could still tell they were Brahmans.  We started to encounter some tourists here, but it was doable.

On the other side of the road there was a carving / sculpture shop.  They had done some magnificent replicas of the temple complexes, so we snapped our best photos of Angkor Wat here!  Plus overviews of most temples.  It was good to see it, and put it in an aerial context.

The last temple complex of the Rolous Group is Bakong.  Again, started by the same guy, but building here went on until the mid 12th century.
This is the best one of the group, and is dedicated to elephants.  There are 5 tiers going up to the shrines, these had elephants at each corner and the staircases in the middle.  Although there were shrines around the outside, there was one major one at the top.  This one is a bit different from the rest.  Well, very different.  It is also in pretty good condition.  However the elephants were in a bit of trouble.  Some had weathered away to their pedestal, and all were missing their trunks and tails.  They also had no ears.  The other major difference is that the complex is mostly stone, more in line with the Angkor region.  It was fun to walk around the brick base shrines, and up to the final stone shrine at the top, over 15m high.  Bakong also had a working Wat next door, and it was playing music quite loudly.  There were kids cycling through the ruins, as well as doing their homework at the top of the complex.  It has a moat around it, which on the quiet side is good to sit in the shade and relax for a bit (It didn’t help, we are both very sunburnt, even with sunscreen!)

We then wanted to go to one of the floating fishing villages, so after a brief discussion with the tuktuk driver, as we wanted to change the itinerary, he took us down to Kampong Phluk.  It is supposed to be the least touristy.  Ya right.  We got to the main gate of the conservation area, where we found it was going to be an additional $20 EACH to get in.  Understandably upset, as it was already costing us $20 to get there.  It is only a village after all.  However our tuktuk driver wrangled $30 for the both of us.  This is because you have to take a boat to get there.  5 years ago, you could negotiate with the boats directly,but now it is corporate.  We footed the bill and went down a very rough road.  Almost as bad as Mimili, but not as long.  The end of the road is by the channel, and there are masses of boats there.  Peerdon is not happy about the company, as it put a lot of people out of work, and even negotiating a small price was still more than what the company pays the boats now.  They aren’t bad, a bit more sophisticated than the lao boats.  They even have steering wheels!
We were a bit worried at the start, as it looked like we would be on a boat with a japanese tour group.  This was not to be the case, as the tuktuk driver stepped in again, and we got our own boat.  Cruising down the river, you see all the crab pots, shrimp and fish nets, then there are the old broken boats, moving onto the newer ones, then the floating houses (a boat with a house on top), floating pig stys and more boats.  The village itself is on stilts about 10m high.  Unfortunately the water level was still low, and there was no water near them.  Lake Tonle Sap is tidal, and for six months water from the Mekong flows into it, and for the next six it flows back out.  At the moment it is starting to flow in, but will take another two months until it is that high.
We bypassed the village, with a bit of trouble, as the boat is long, the rudder isn’t the best and the canal is narrow.  There was only one collision though.  Out into the mangrove swamp, nothing like Australian ones, these are proper trees.  The water was starting to flow through there, and we were offered to take a smaller boat through the mangroves, but this cost extra.  Like all of Cambodia so far, there are hidden charges, and you get half way through something then hit up for more money.  We decided not to.  Out to the lake was a pleasant trip, and as you break through the final line of water reeds you hit the lake.  It is quite large and you cannot see the other side of it.  We sat there for a while talking to our boat driver and looking at the view.  To put it in perspective, he is in Year 12.  It costs him $600 a year for school, and to pay for this he works on the boats where he is paid $30 a month.  The rest of the family has to chip in to support him.  The company charges $20 per person, and there were a lot of people doing this non touristy village in the off season!

On the way back we stopped off in the village.  These people are poor.  I know we have seen a lot of it in every country we have been in, but it hit home here.  On the drive in, we saw all the old fashioned well hand pumps that have been donated by people and organisations around the world, and happy to see Aztec from Melbourne had sponsored quite a few.  Here they were bathing in the river, repairing the boats, fish nets or whatever.  We were accosted like usual, but with a difference.  This time it was to buy excercise books and pencils for the school children.  We bought a pack of each, expecting it to be sold to the next tourists, but we were given them.  We had to take them through the village to give to the children ourselves.  This was a bit humiliating, both for us and the kids.  I am not sure what school consists of here, but there were a lot of kids running around in school uniform, and not a teacher to be seen.  However when we went up to the classroom, all the kids ran inside and sat down.  When we went in, they all started rehersing something.  Not knowing what to do, we just started handing out a book and pencil to each one.  We had chosen the primary school, and there wouldn’t have been someone over eight there.  However they all put their hands together and bowed each time.  Once for the book, and once for the pencil.  We soon ran out, and took a few photos and left.  We had only supplied about half the “class”
Walked the rest of the way through town to the Wat, and watched the kids playing.  They had a game where there were three small plastic animals like we used to put in cocktails in the 80’s.  They were taking turns to kick rubber disks off a step to rebound back into the square with the toys, trying to knock one out.  Back onto the boat and off to lunch.  This turned out to be back at Lolei.  The tuktuk driver made it clear that he got a free lunch there if we ate.  He had been good, so we did.  It was $10 for us, and as he pointed out, we could have been their only customer for the day.  However they started packing up in a car, so probably don’t do too badly in the on season.  However they have to pay rent for the sight, and bribes to ticket security to make sure nothing happens.

That was the day, we drove back into town to book our ticket to Phenom Penh, at the drivers ticket office of choice.  There is no real difference, but we hoped he would get a commission.  We couldn’t get the boat there, as there is still not enough water, so had to book the bus.  This is a 6 hour trip, and we decided on the fast one.  No local bus this time.
The driver dropped us off back at te hotel, and was off.  Business done, and onto finding the next customer.
We had tried to talk to him over lunch, with limited success.  We found out that he came from a country province ten years ago to Siem Reap.  Started as a moto driver carrying locals from the markets to home, then bought his tuktuk about five years ago for $300, and a new second hand bike for $200.  Business was good for a while, but now there are too many tuktuks, and more people coming in from the provinces.  He had left his wife and child at home, and only gets to see them for a few days over new years.  It is a hard life for a lot of people out here.

Well, that’s it.


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