Route 66 was the ancient highway connecting the cities of the Angkorian Empire and is still marked on modern day road maps though in reality is little more than an overgrown sandy track for much of the way. From Banteay Chma in Odar Meancheay Province near the Thai border in the West to the temples of Angkor itself and East to Preah Kahn then North to Wat Phou, the largest archeological site in Laos on the Mekong. This was the main route East to West in South East Asia and so it was no accident that Angkor was founded as a taxation point between the natural constraints of the Tonle Sap Lake to the South and Phnom Kulen then the Dangkrek Mountains to the North.
A friend of mine who’s a pilot had taken guests from Siem Reap’s most exclusive hotel for picnic’s by helicopter to Banteay Ampil, a small temple that must have been situated on a section of Route 66 that today is a rough oxcart track. We were determined to find a route by dirt-bike and after a bit of scrambling past Andong Pei Village, there it was hidden in a patch of recent forest.
We followed our noses and emerged out of the forest into a clearing with the temple in front of us. There’s little to find out on the web except a brief description noting the large laterite wall with sandstone gopura or entrance surmounted by a tower engraved with intricate carvings. There is a substantial central tower with a porch that looked like it was about to collapse and entrances to the East and West. What the web listings didn’t describe was the feeling we’d stumbled into the ruins of a lost kingdom, which I suppose was just what we had done.
We headed back along the mud walls of the paddy fields in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid getting our feet wet and through the back yards of simple Khmer houses built from a few poles of wood and covered in mats of dried fronds. The countryside was pretty, small fields interspersed with sugar palm and native trees, stretching to the Kulen Hills in the North.
Closer to the temple the trees were taller including 2 towering and twisted strangler figs that had long since seen off their host. The Eastern section of outer wall has gone but ahead of us was Chau Srei Vibol a small 11th Century hill top temple with a sanctuary and 2 libraries identifiable as well as Wat Trach, a modern day and still used pagoda beside them. Surrounding the hill were Angorian structures in various stages of disrepair but just as interesting. We walked round the hill to the South Western corner. A small deep and well preserved pool or reservoir, was shaded by giant wild mango trees. It was at this moment Sokun, our tuk tuk driver made his heroic entrance with cold beer and lunch.