A Tale of Two Hills

Our team of intrepid explorers were Birdman Nick and Magic Manus with Dean Nicholas Swamp Williams ably assisted by the lovely Lina and his comfortable van.

Dean & Nick atPeurng Ta Khothe amazing cliffs

The vultures* were waiting so we sped onto the river and assembled our bikes by the bridge.

*Motodrop drivers who would take us to the Sra Domrey (read on) on the back of their bikes for a fee.

Dean, Nick & Manus ready for an adventure

On route today to the Sra Domrey, the lions, and Nandi the Bull. The twisting paths through the cashew nut plantations to roadkill chicken at Anlong Thom and our home-stay for the night.

Sheets of rain over the centuries have washed away soil where there were trees to hold it and eroded the sandstone rock, which makes cycling across this ridged landscape challenging. The dry forest that had clung on and the cool canopy of mixed evergreen that enveloped us, made it worth it.

Dean had never seen it before, the location made it all the more spectacular when he did. We left the bikes where the path descends between rocky outcrops and there below us in an arena of rock was an elephant, carved out of the same, standing beneath cliffs.

The Sra Domrey

Manus was on TikTok, I was snaffling Dean’s adventure bars while Dean, in awe of what was before, wandered around the elephant.

Our man was not there but his wife did instead, so the chicken was fried and soup made for lunch in the midday heat beneath a stitched canopy and corrugated iron roof.

Travelling with Dean is a luxury not many get to experience. Aside from the adventure bars coffee was bubbling in the pot while we took stock of the afternoon ahead.

High on a hill above the village of Kla Tmun* a red temple was built a long time ago. So, we set off on our bikes through the cashews to the forest that’s left because JB** has demarked the area around the remaining temples.

*The red temple, Prasat Krahom is an early Jayavarman II 9th century temple

*JB Chevance works with Apsara the temple authority to protect the Angkorian legacy and surrounding forest on Phnom Kulen

More cracked rocks to climb until we spied the 1500-year-old brick and sandstone ruins. The central linga* had blessed the water that descended onto its head from the open roof into the yoni’s that directed it to spurt through spigots that protruded from the temple walls.

Lingas were a phallic symbol that that together with the yoni would bless the water that flowed over them and the people that drank that water

Our long trestle table was laden with dinner between the wooden pillars that supported the room where we stayed above. Cooled down the rain but humid as hell, we slowly emerged the next morning at 6am to Dean’s gently percolating coffee while the village awoke.

Dinner in Anlong Thom

Wherever the Angkorians settled there was water. This time a reservoir half a kilometer from the village. Boys fished from the tall grass but the swirls rippling the surface suggested the big fish were nowhere near the boys hooks.

A lovely ride to Sangke Lak, the least known village on the plateau, then down the near one in one metaled road to Svai Leu, where Lina and his van were waiting for the next adventure.

The Angkorian reservoir near Anlong Thom

Part Two. Phnom T’beng – rears up like a great forested wall as you drive into Preah Vihear Province but is it scrub in the rainy season or forest on top? We also found out it’s 600 meters high, every last step of it. Buckets of sweat flowed freely as our muscles pumped for every meter we climbed. Mr Dong (AKA coconut), our guide seemed impervious, looking at the size of his calf’s he’d probably run the route this morning. 

Chicken wing beehive rafts were stuck to fierce-some rock overhangs –                   

As we climbed past the tops of trees we’d stood next to 40 steps back. It is forest not scrub, tall trees reared high above us when we reached the escarpment with no sign nor sound of a chainsaw, excepting that to build the steps.

Beautiful as the forest is, because the forest is as beautiful as it is, maybe we could go a bit slower? I wondered, and not to get to where it was that Dong was taking us. That even on T’beng it gets dark, it might rain, which together with the steps would make a lethal combination. A council was called and since we could see from the markers along the way that we only had 2km to go we decided to press on to what turned out to be a river that would make a spectacular waterfall when the rain had filled it up.

A forest giant Chambok and Lina by the river, below Lina riding a forest installation.

Dong told us that they’d caught bear, serow – a wild goat, leopard and questionably gaur on camera trap, not only magnificent trees but no hunting. A wonderful place.

Back at base our ‘family’ room was either dark and cold with the shutters closed and the aircon on or light and hot with them open and it off.

We did a turn around the temple city of Koh Ker the next day on the return. Stopped off at another roadkill chicken shack on National Road 6 and got back to Siem Reap in time to plan the next adventure.

Koh Ker and it’s moat.

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