I decided to stray away from the usual temple trail and head a little farther out to Koh Ker and Beng Mealea. The only problem with that is that the temples are 130 and 100kms away respectively. Thankfully the road is paved, well, mostly paved. By motorbike it took me three hours to get to Koh Ker. By the time I arrived, my ass was very sore and much flatter, if that's possible. I was, however, rewarded for my long journey by being the only tourist there.
The Khmer capital was briefly moved to Koh Ker during the 10th century. Prasat Thom, the main temple, rises 30m from the jungle and is constructed in the Mayan pyramid fashion (unusual for this area). The wall of the temple is covered with hundreds of lingas (Hindu phallic symbols) and many smaller temples housing giant lingas inside surround the main temple. I think someone was compensating. I'm looking at you Jayavarman IV. Very little has been done in respect to restoring the temple. With many of the towers collapsed you can see the kind of havoc time and the jungle can do. Riding around this immense site with no one else was was great. I didn't have to wait for people to get the hell out of my way to take pictures but when I arrived at Prasat Thom all the touts and stall owners came to me in a big swarm to try and sell me everything and anything. A little overwhelming. It's a good thing that Cambodians have little legs and I easily out ran them.
Because it took so long to get out to Koh Ker I was "only" able to visit 10 of the 44 monuments but I think I got a good feel for it.
Back on the bike and an hour later I was in Beng Mealea ("lotus pond"), one of Cambodia's larger temples. Again, I was the only one there. Unlike Ta (Tomb Raider Temple), this temple has had no restoration done and all the vegetation is still there twisting its way through stone and rock. The temple has become part of the jungle as it slowly swallows it whole. I felt a little like Indiana Jones discovering a new temple. As you walk over collapsed walls and giant tree roots you stumble across collapsed lintels and columns with exquisite carvings of Shiva, Apsaras, Buddhas and monkeys. After exploring the site for about an hour, clouds began to cover the sky, thunder began to crack and lightning struck just outside the temple (scared the shit out of me). I thought now would be a good time to leave. Just as I turned a corner to exit the temple, Belloq was there to steal the idol I had just.... Wait, no, that was Raiders of The Lost Ark. Either way the atmosphere was very convincing and it made me feel that I was the first one there in centuries to lay eyes on Beng Mealea. Very memorable. Angkor Wat was great but it was nice to lose the crowds for a day, even if it meant riding for six hours to get to the temples and back.
Later that night I went to Tee's house for dinner. Tee was my tuk-tuk drive while I toured Angkor. Once there, he introduced me to his lovely family and then we ate dinner on the floor of his very small bachelor apartment (one bed for four people). While we dined on Lok Lak (barbecue meat with delicious seasoning), rice, prawns and vegetables on ice, Tee became increasingly drunk. I ended the evening sooner that I wanted fearing that he would become far too drunk to drive me back. Nothing like a little road swerving to end the night.