03 July 2012

Lost in time - Sambor Prei Kuk

Muddy road leading to the site
Far from Phnom Penh and also far from Siem Reap lies this isolated place in the Cambodian jungle. Sambor Prei Kuk, or Isnapura, the city of Isana, dates back to the early seventh century A.D. 

Monument in the Northern group
We decided to visit this remarkable site as part of our day tours from Phnom Penh, and it did fill the entire day due to the distance and the road conditions we had to deal with. Rainy season was just about to begin, and we had some of the worst road conditions of our entire trip. Luckily the heavy rain started to hit after we had just made it back out of the muddy road with connects Sambor Prei Kuk with the main highway. Otherwise we would surely have been stuck there for a while. 

Once one of the largest capitals in the region, my tour guide told me that the ancient Chinese documented this site as the ancient capital of Zhenla, which of course was way before Angkor. 

Lintel of the "Lion Temple"
I did not know what to expect, only that it would be an awesome site to visit (and an expensive trip). To my surprise we were the only visitors to the huge site and we were told by the locals that only 8 people had visited on that day in June. The hordes of children selling scarfs and other things were obviously very eager to make a sale and would not leave until I just bought a few from each one. One of the boys actually walked with us the entire way through the monuments without ever speaking a word. 

Lions guarding the entrance
I had my tour guide but another self-proclaimed tour guide walked along with us. Another way for the locals in the forest here to earn a living. My tour guide was actually nice enough to explain him a few things and teach him how to act a bit more professional. Some of the monuments in the Northern group were under restauration and blocked off, so we could not really get too close to them.

Temples in the Southern group
Sambor Prei Kuk is set up in three different areas which are all spread out in the forest. The Northern group, the Central group and the Southern group.  There are no signs pointing the way, so this site is impossible to explore without a guide. 

Overgrown gateway
My guide also explained that this site is the place of temples in octagonal shape, though we did also find square and rectangular buildings. There are some remarkably carved lintels and beautiful door frames and columns to see, besides the whole setting of temples in the jungle. 

Overgrown tower

A few of the gateways and towers have been overgrown with trees and were more picturesque than those sites in Angkor Wat which are filled with hundreds of tourists. The only people we saw here were the little children which kept coming out of nowhere to sell their products. They were all nice and friendly though and in the end they all earned some money. And they were the complete opposite to some of the kids we faced at Ta Prohm temple south of Phnom Penh.

Interestingly at this site I was confronted with the corruption of officials working in the monuments. The entrance fee of 5 U.S. $ was waved when I asked for a ticket and replaced by 2 U.S.$ which immediately disappeared in the pocket of the guard. I don't know if this is a standard procedure or just an exception, but salaries our here are obviously not very high, so people try to make some money.

Friendly kids all over

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