It’s a pretty drive to Banteay Srei, initially through the Angkor Park past the jaw dropping Prey Rup Temple, then typical Khmer wooden houses, rice paddy and the blue line of the Kulen Hills to the North.
June and July are good months to visit Angkor as there are not many tourists in Siem Reap and the heat is attenuated by frequent showers that make for wonderful cloudscapes as a back drop to the temples.
Indochine Exploration is not about Angkor Wat but the Apsara pass allowed us to accompany Vic and Ruth, our guests around Banteay Srei, which no matter how many times you’ve seen it before always leaves an impression. The rain has revitalized the countryside, the rice paddy’s are a brilliant green and the trees seem fluffed out. The Banteay Srei moat was full and studded with lilac lotus flowers. The surrounding tall dipteropcarp trees dripped foliage, framing this the prettiest of all temples.
Kbal Spean, our destination lies at the Western end of the Kulen massif and the point where the Western branch of the Siem Reap River reaches the plain. Kbal Spean literally translated as head bridge or bridge head in English. We were following the temple trail up the hillside to where a thousand Lingas are carved into the riverbed watched over by Hindu deities engraved into rock faces. Apsara does a good job maintaining the trail and keeping the magic of the tumbling stream descending through the forest washing over these ancient symbols.
The fun for me started when we left the tourist trail and headed off into the jungle. There’s a bit of bush-bashing at this time of year as the vegetation crowds onto the path but that added to the adventure accompanied by the liquid calls of unseen birds and the cacophonous scream of cicadas. To have a chance of seeing mammals in the forest you need to go on a night-walk but the explosion of butterflies at every watercourse and weird diversity of insects was diversion enough. Virulent black and yellow orb spiders had spun insect traps across the trail, slowly gorging on the prey at the center of their webs.
Indochine’s expertise in Kulen is due to the biodiversity survey Alistair, my business partner, had managed. The survey was focused on bats, identifying a possible new species for science, 2 new species for Cambodia and 3 new national park records. In the process camera traps also captured Silvered Langurs, a type of monkey that was thought to be expedited from the Park. This spectacular discovery has lead to additional funding, which Indochine Exploration is excited to be involved with and gives our guests the chance to contribute directly to the conservation project by helping to place and pick up the traps. In the process they will have the excitement of checking the camera to see what it has caught.
After a couple of kilometers we emerged from the forest beside the river where it flows over wide open ledges of rock with plunge pools scoured by a thousand years of revolving pebbles. The Team consisting of the Ministry of Environment ranger, the policeman, the Apsara guard, a man from the local village and a dog with no name so we called him chkai, which means dog, were waiting for us.
This was Amansara so there were bottles of iced homemade lemonade, flasks of proper coffee (unfortunately a nicely chilled Chablis seemed to be missing), beautifully presented lunch boxes of cuscus and hummus, salads and prosciutto sandwiches. Fruit kebabs and crispy crumbly ANZAC biscuits to go with the coffee but top of the list was submersion in the cool, clear plunge pools.
Alistair had cut a trail through the forest to the back door of The Angkor Center for Conservation & Biodiversity (ACCB) and Dave the Project Manager was waiting to take us on a tour of this wild animal sanctuary and rehabilitation center. ACCB’s residents are rescued from the illegal bush meat, traditional / Chinese medicine trade. ACCB is also a last refuge for the cute cubs and pups captured as pets without understanding that they grow up as potentially dangerous animals.
The reclusive stars of The Center are the pangolins, nocturnal scaly and fussy anteaters who only eat ants, not easy to find a constant supply. ACCB may only represent the tip of the iceberg as most animals will be long since consumed before they get there but it was encouraging to hear of the police who confiscated 4m long Reticulated Python that Alistair who used to work at ACCB was called to rescue from a police cell last weekend.