24 hours and half a dozen bacons later, I’d find myself in Bantay Srei. I decided to save it for the following day since it’s an hour away from the Angkor Wat complex. Bantay Srei is a small quaint temple whose highlight was its details and its pinkish color.
I liked that much of its Hindu roots have been preserved, since most of the other temples have been built for Mahayana Buddhism. Bantay Srei was built to honor Shiva and retained much of its Hindu roots.
It’s quite fascinating to look at the details of its carvings up close. It’s overwhelming to think about the craftmanship that went with the tedious task of individually carving a religious story on its walls. It’s been said that women artisans may have been responsible for building it because the details could’ve only been carved by the slender hands of a woman.
The pinkish sandstone base so prevalent in making this temple adds an even more feminine appeal to Bantay Srei. Lakas maka-girl power!
I actually passed by Bayon temple the previous day after going through Baphuon, but decided to save it after Bantay Srei. At that time I was almost brain dead from tiredness and hunger. And maybe that’s the right thing to do. Little did I know that I’d need my strength and consciously objective mind as I soak up on something “else” here in Bayon.
This temple is mysterious in every possible way. From afar it would already captivate you with its fiery pointy bits and gigantic smiling faces. The moat that surrounds it also gives the impression of reflecting it upside-down. The words that came to mind were, “as above, so below.” The faces on its walls are still being debated. Is it King Jayavarman II? Is it Avalokiteshvara? Or is it Brahma? A part of me thinks its the combination of the king and Brahma–the god of creation. Some thought them creepy but I personally find them relaxing. Enigmatic, but like Mona Lisa. They know things we can only guess.
In the middle of Bayon lies a prayer altar that’s open to public. I needed to take off my shoes before entering the small area that would’ve been pitch black without some candles and dots of lighted incense sticks. As I stepped inside, the mix of earthy smell, burning incense, and something else that I couldn’t quite describe overwhelmed my senses. It was an energy, or a power, somewhat similar to the one I felt between the two Buddha statues in Angkor Wat. But this one is waaaay beyoooond. Like mercury could burst at the end if we use a thermometer. I willed myself to quit sensing things and stick around for a few seconds before finally leaving. Maybe if there were other people with me at that time, I might have been able to bear it and say a prayer. But the power was too overwhelming for me. At some point I felt scared that I might see whatever force it is if I didn’t leave soon.
I know the power I felt wasn’t bad but it just felt too great to grasp. But the thing is, I felt an immense sense of lightness after I got out of Bayon. Like I was cleansed or something close. It’s like I got a massage but without the lingering pain of dealing with pressure points. Surreal, almost hypnotic, but at the same time I felt so in the moment. And most of all, calm. A content happy kind of calm.
Old Market and Siem Reap museum
2 days are definitely too short to fully experience Siem Reap, but it’s enough time to see the Angkor temples. I ended my second day of temple tours around 2PM and still had enough time to see the Old Market, Pub Street, and even the Siem Reap museum.
The only thing that threw me off a bit in Siem Reap were the very aggressive child vendors. They would flock you and really keep at you even if you try to say no or thank you. But somehow, I find that continuing to say no and thanks while walking deters them. This aggressive behavior also exists in the markets, where vendors would already be the ones offering you a discount even before you ask it. By the way, once you start haggling with a vendor, that’s already perceived as you buying the item in question. So don’t do it if you’re not sure you’d want to buy something.
All in all, my Siem Reap trip is the best solo trip I’ve done so far. I know this will sound weird but, I felt like I’ve learned more about religion that I ever did before. Like all this magnificence holds secrets that we just see as some tourist hotspot, some photo opportunity, just another way to populate our Instagram and use as a profile pic. But honestly, I felt like they can tell us more than we thought we could know. I still couldn’t forget that stegosaurus bas relief at Ta Prohm, nor the vast Hindu and Buddhist traditions that’s also rooted on cosmology showcased on the walls of Angkor Wat. Those powers I couldn’t quite describe that I felt while praying to the Theravada Buddhist relics. I came back feeling renewed. And also looking at Buddhism as more than just a way to zen.