After exploring Bayon temple, we cycle northwards in the Angkor Thom city complex, passing the enigmatic Prasat Suor Prat towers. There are twelve of them, mostly identical, and nobody knows what they are used for. As well, they don't share the same characteristics of the rest of Angkor, making them a bit of a mystery.
The original function of the towers is a matter of debate but in the 13th century classic, "Customs of Cambodia," Chinese emissary to Angkor, Zhou Daguan, gives a romantic but dubious first hand account of their function. He wrote that the towers were used to settle legal disputes and matters of criminal justice. The belligerent parties were kept in the towers for a few days. The one to emerge in ill health was declared the loser, guilty by divine decree.Canby's Angkor Temple Guide
I can't decide if the towers look hyper-real, or fake like painted foam on a movie set. The structures are so eerie that walking around them genuinely evokes the sensation of being in a dream for me. By the time I manage to tear myself away, I've shot an entire roll of film on the structures using my medium format folder, a Belca Belfoca.
These fantastical buildings, looking like wizards conjured them, inspire another round of pop culture memories. This time, I'm reminded of the movie Labyrinth. Instead of David Bowie popping out from behind them, though, a few Cambodian children playing in the water around the towers come over to say hello.
Cycling onwards, we stop at a few minor temples on the way around the site. Over a tasty lunch of noodles at a stand across from the pyramid-like Ta Keo temple, we talk about what we want to do with the rest of the day. Though it's only 10AM, our lack of sleep is beginning to catch up to us; it feels like late afternoon.
We're tempted to go back to our hotel and pass out, but we want to make the most of our time here. So, we order another round of iced coffees and take a quick look through our guidebook, deciding in the end to ride 28 kilometers to the far-out temple of Banteay Srei.
The trip will mean we'll be cycling over a hundred kilometers on our rest day (whoops), but we're unloaded and don't mind a bit. It turns out to be one of the best decisions we've made here.
Cambodia is the land of interesting things along the roadsides, and the road to Banteay Srei is a quintessential example of this phenomenon. There are so many cool things to see as we pedal along, from old men weaving baskets, to little girls selling whistles, to bicycles loaded as heavily as ours with everything from piglets to firewood.
We can scarcely believe our good fortune at having randomly picked this awesome route!
By the time we arrive at the temple, it's noon, and the sun has come out in full force. As well, we realize, as is so often the case: it's the journey we care about, not the destination. We enjoyed the ride so much that we're a bit nonplussed about the mostly restored temple and the crowds visiting it.
We also don't like being told what to do and where to go:
…so, we invent a fourth way just to be contrary.
It involves going past a band of landmine victims playing traditional Cambodian music. This group of people includes one man who sticks a leaf between his lips and plays it like a kazoo! I love the goofy sounds of the band, but Tyler thinks the leaf is the most obnoxious noise he's ever heard. Good thing we recorded it and I can play it whenever I want just to taunt him.
Our detour has lasted just long enough for the tour group clogging the tiny temple area to disperse. Seizing what will surely be a short moment of peace and quiet, we go for a quick walk around to admire the impressive stonework.
Then, feeling complete with our visit, we grab our bikes from where we've locked them by the visitor's center, and take to the road once more. The 30 kilometer ride back to the main temples passes easily, and we share the road with many a Cambodian cycling home after working in the fields. Sometimes their fully loaded bicycles make ours look ultra-light!
Back on the main temple grounds, we cycle by Ta Promh, the temple featured in Tomb Raider. When we reach the famed location, with its octopus-like trees growing over everything, devouring and yet supporting the crumbling ruins, we can't resist taking a peek even though we'll be exploring it extensively in the morning.
How cool is that!? We have a sneaking suspicion that this temple will be our favorite.
On the way out, we spot this six inch long spider!
Riding back into the Siem Reap as darkness falls, we're fading fast, growing sleepier and hungrier with every aching pedal stroke. Our night isn't over yet, though; we have a another feast of pizza and beer to look forward to! Though it's a bit touristy, we love this easy-going town and all of the western restaurants in it!