A Blessing from Buddha: Banteay Kdei at Angkor


 Whether one believes in a religion or not,
and whether one believes in rebirth or not,
there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion.
~ Dalai Lama

The Temple's Inner Sanctum

The Temple’s Inner Sanctum

“Come here Lady,” the Buddhist nun said to Jody with an almost toothless smile. Like all nuns of that faith in Cambodia, her head was shaved, just as the male monks do. She was well into her 60s, thin and somewhat feeble, but seemed perfectly and happily suited to be the keeper of her faith at the central Buddhist altar in the Banteay Kdei temple.

Our Buddhist Nun Friend with our Guide

Our Buddhist Nun Friend with our Guide

She reached out her hand to Jody without getting up from the rug-covered stone floor at the base of the statue, and held out two loops of thread, one red and one gold. “Blessing from Buddha,” said more as a statement than a question. How can anyone turn such an offer away?

Blessing Bracelet from Buddha and His Nun

Blessing Bracelet from Buddha and His Nun

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, carved Khmer face WMIt was our third and final day in the Angkor Archeological Park, and the morning had been consumed with exploring the famous, massive and crowded Angkor Wat, a truly moving and spiritual experience for even hardcore atheists. Our Khmer guide had done well in the previous two days, moving from one temple complex to the next in a loose chronological order, approaching each site to both minimize crowds and position light to the best advantage of our cameras. And it appeared that she had saved the iconic tourist site of Cambodia as the climax of our visit to Angkor.

Idyllic Ruins

Idyllic Ruins

But she held back one final surprise. After cooling off and refreshing ourselves at lunch back in the nearby city of Siem Reap, we headed yet again back into the park, to a much lesser known and visited temple called Banteay Kdei.

Like the More Famous Ta Prohm, only BETTER!

Like the More Famous Ta Prohm, only BETTER!

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, doorways WMBanteay Kdei (Khmer: ប្រាសាទបន្ទាយក្តី; “Prasat Banteay Kdei”), means “Citadel of Chambers” (or “Cells”), but is more commonly known as the “Citadel of the Monks.” Built in 12th-13th centuries CE during the reign of Jayavarman VII, the temples’ mixed architectural features are contained within two successive enclosure walls. Within each, visitors will find concentric galleries from which emerge towers. It is believed that the site had been occupied by monks almost constantly since construction through the 1960s.

Still an Active Buddhist Temple

Still an Active Buddhist Temple

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, banded temple tower WMOur guide, like at most of our other visits to the various temples of Angkor, had us enter this center from its rear, where the angled afternoon light danced on the best features of the sanctuary. Compared to some of the other temple complexes nearby, Banteay Kdei is not large, but instead is tightly packed in a series of tight rectangular enclosures. Functioning originally as a Buddhist monastery during, it remains largely unrestored, resulting in an atmosphere similar to the stylistically famous Ta Prohm.

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, tree root HDR WM

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, face-topped gate tower WMBanteay Kdei has suffered more deterioration than most other more famous temples found at Angkor, since soft but easy-to-work sandstone was used in much of its construction rather than the harder stone used extensively elsewhere. 13th century vandalism of Buddhist images is apparent and common here, as the temple and region waffled between Buddhism and Hinduism with the changing decrees of differing Khmer rulers through the centuries. Many of the originally vaulted galleries have collapsed at several locations, putting a good portion of the enclosures off-limits.

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, tranquil wooded ruins WM

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, tree rooted in the ruins WMThe monastery is small and dense, packed in an area of only about 160×200 feet and consists of only a single level, making it easy to explore in its totality. Getting to the central area of the ruins, however, will take a bit time since the outer wall of the complex measures roughly 1000×2300 feet. The temple houses a treasure trove of sculptures in the architectural styles of the Ta Prohm, which it eerily resembles. Except without the paparazzi-like draw of Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider fame of that other hectically crowded place (see Tomb Raiding Angkor for more on Hollywood’s impact on the other side of the globe).

Buddha or the King?

Buddha or the King?

Column Carvings in the Hall of Dancers

Column Carvings in the Hall of Dancers

The smiling faces found here are thought to be of King Jayavarman II, although most visitors seem to be perfectly happy to assume they represent a very happy Buddha. Wall niches are found throughout the facility and many contain figurines of apsara (celestial nymph) and/or devatas (lesser deities) in single poses or in pairs as dancers. The temple is famous for its “Hall of Dancers,” where open courtyards display pillars covered in multitudes of sophisticated carvings of these supernatural females. The temple’s tiny inner sanctum (~9×9 foot square) is flanked by similar carvings and contains traces of long-lost statues. The temple is complete with tumbling and overgrown courtyards, where lichens and defacing oxidation add interesting splashes of color to the already spectacular Khmer architecture.

Apsara and Devatas Everywhere

Apsara and Devatas Everywhere

Within the temple one can find several small shrines safeguarded by female Buddhist nuns, all who offer you blessings and Buddhist-colored red and yellow threaded yarn bracelets, of course all in return for a small donation. We both offered a donation of a dollar or two, received our bracelets, and in return placed a freshly lit stick of incense for Buddha to enjoy.

Incense for Buddha

Incense for Buddha

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, dry fit falling down WMIn close proximity to Ta Prohm and every bit as beautiful (or even more), this temple does not get nearly as many visitors as the former more famous location. Banteay Kdei offers a uniquely quieter appeal than most other Angkorian ruins, a place where a visitor can sense the isolation and oppression of the jungle while they contemplate the many carvings and still-active shrines and altars protected by nuns and often visited by local worshipers. Like Ta Prohm, this temple offers a prime setting for photography, where the scenes are compact and close, and the tourists thin and subdued. In these ways, this set of ruins is the perfect antidote to the crowds suffered at Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm. It is, however, located conveniently close to those “big three,” so it’s an easy addition to most any itinerary, and a site visit that should not be missed.

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, ruins by the jungle 2 WM

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, looker WMThe peace, quiet and solitude found here is alone worth the visit. “Tranquility” is not a word that is often used to describe a visit to Angkor, but it should be and can be found at this out-of-the-way place. It may be best to start your day early at this temple, then visit the other more popular sites in the afternoon when the Cambodian heat and humidity has driven those crowds down to more manageable numbers. The ancient breezeways running through the temple’s enclosures allow visitors to lose themselves, literally, in time.

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, temple passage WM

Similar in layout to Ta Prohm, but less overtaken by the surrounding jungle, the approach to the ruins is shaded and cool, lined with more Cambodian concessionaires than fellow tourists. Some quality merchandise can be found here, from stone rubbings, to wood carvings, oil paintings, and rice paper reliefs. But of course all the other cheap trinkets and unwanted souvenirs you might expect at such a site can be had as well. After the initial asking price tumbled as we politely haggled (the lack of visitors I think helps drive prices down), Jody and I purchased a rice paper relief, something that had caught my eye the day before.

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, wooded ruins WM

I continued to wear my Buddha-Blessing-Bracelet 24/7 after our visit (yarn is very hardy). And only recently lost it when changing out of a wetsuit after a scuba dive. Jody still has hers, but unfortunately can’t wear it to work; worries about possibly leaving it in a patient during surgery or something….

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, one of our favorite temple visits and our last

Even though the physical manifestation of my blessing is gone, the blessing of our visit to the delicate loveliness of Banteay Kdei lives on, in mind and spirit. It’s hard to fathom how anyone could be disappointed by its understated and underrated charms. Make this your final visit, make it in the afternoon, and enter the site from the rear. You will be blessed in more ways than one.

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, dwarfed by tree roots WM

For More Photos of Our Visit, See:  Banteay Kdei on Flickr

For More Information, Please See:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banteay_Kdei

http://www.canbypublications.com/siemreap/temples/temp-bankdei.htm

http://www.travelfish.org/sight_profile/cambodia/western_cambodia/siem_reap/angkor/356

Monkeying around in Cambodia: Flight of the Gibbon


 

The only gibbons we saw were caged in a wildlife rescue center.

The gibbons we saw were in a wildlife rescue center.

flight-of-the-gibbon-logoIn 2007, a group of friends were enjoying one of their frequent rainforest walks in the mountains surrounding Chiang Mai, Thailand, when they came across a pair of Gibbons (a type of lessor ape – no monkey – found in the tropical rain forests of Southeast and South Asia) locked in a roadside cage. They had been abandoned to die a horrible death from starvation and dehydration. Shocked and outraged, the nature lovers immediately rescued these rare, officially endangered animals. While slowly nursing the pair back to health, this group of activists started to develop a plan to create positive ecological change in our world…and Flight of the Gibbon was born.

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Now one of the leading global eco-adventure tour operators in Southeast Asia, Flight of the Gibbon offers franchises in Cambodia and Thailand, all which offer truly phenomenal zip-lines, some of the highest, fastest and longest found anywhere in the world. But it’s not all about thrilling adventures; the organization invests 10% of their profits in primate re-habilitation, re-forestation projects and ecological education programs.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, backscratch for a hairy friend WM

We were not surprised to see that the site in Siem Reap was operated by an Aussie. We arrived very early, hoping to get our morning adventure complete before the oppressive heat and humidity of the Cambodia day set upon us. We arrived so early that we were able to witness just how rigorous their safety checks and “sky ranger” morning brief actually were. As our rangers (guides) told us during our tour, since the jobs created by Flight of the Gibbon pay so well and are considered skilled and “fun,” they are highly sought after. Thus, there is no issue getting the locals to follow the strict protocols for safety, operations and maintenance demanded of such activities.

Cambodia 2015, Flight of the Gibbons Zipline, Kevin and Jody

Likewise, it’s no surprise that the courses were designed and engineered to exacting standards by a world-class international team of experts in Europe. Structurally speaking, Flight of the Gibbon uses the safest zip-line engineering methods used anywhere in the world. At the same time, however, the zip-lines are constructed in such a way to avoid harm to the trees which physically support the course.

Cambodia 2015, Flight of the Gibbons Zipline, smiles

Cambodia 2015, Flight of the Gibbons Zipline, zipping through the jungle 2 WMCambodia 2015, Flight of the Gibbons Zipline, Kevin hooked upThe group of like-minded thrill-seekers we were supposed to fly with were running very late, and after chit-chatting with our new Aussie friend, he decided that we would go as our own group as soon as morning checks were complete on the course. Not ten minutes later we were gearing up with our own private “sky rangers,” two young men in their very early 20s who spoke fairly decent English. The Sky Rangers are not just there to help ensure everyone’s safety. They also act as eco-tour guides, explaining various aspects and elements of the jungle as you move through the upper reaches of its canopy.

Cambodia 2015, Flight of the Gibbons Zipline, Jody on the way down WM

Cambodia 2015, Flight of the Gibbons Zipline, Kevin zipping through the Angkor jungleCambodia 2015, Flight of the Gibbons Zipline, kiss on the honeymoon lines 2Flight of the Gibbon in Siem Reap is unique in another aspect: it is located within the UNESCO World Heritage Site Angkor Archeological Park. Located minutes away from the majestic Khmer temple of Angkor Wat and massive complex of Angkor Thom, it easy to combine a couple of hours swinging in the jungle with an afternoon of touring the local pagodas. Your reservation comes with roundtrip transfer, park entrance (if you don’t already have a pass), bottled water, and a rustic Cambodia meal, and is currently $109/pp. That price also includes a full $20 credit to be used in the on-site store, a fantastic marketing ploy. We walked away with two rather high-quality tee-shirts and a couple of drink koozies.

Rest Break high up in the Treehouse!

Rest Break high up in the Treehouse!

Cambodia 2015, Flight of the Gibbons Zipline, Jody on a long-line WMI have been ziplining around the world, from sites in the American Rockies, to mountain tops in Costa Rica, to Japan (see Zip-a-dee-doo-dah for the experience available on Okinawa). I have more than a few experiences under my belt. The course at Angkor is mid-sized, consisting of ten ziplines crisscrossing over and through the jungle canopy. There are also four hanging bridges, a rest break at a treehouse perched high above the surrounding jungle, and an 150 feet rappel descent at the very end. But what makes this adventure so spectacular is the shear height of the course, most of which occurs well above 125 feet. The view from and cool breeze found at the treehouse is exceptional, and is exceptionally located at what we were told was a full 70 meters off the ground!!

Course Map

Course Map

Cambodia 2015, Flight of the Gibbons Zipline, zipping through the jungle WMCambodia 2015, Flight of the Gibbons Zipline, high treehouseAlthough new to Cambodia, Flight of the Gibbon was quick to introduce their first reforestation project in Cambodia by planting 5,000 new trees within the Angkor Park in 2015. And they have even bigger plans when it comes to apes: the white-handed gibbon has been lost to the forests of Angkor for decades now. But in 2013, Flight of the Gibbon helped fund the reintroduction of a pair of mating gibbons within the jungles of the Angkor Archeological Park. Their first babies have already been born, the first live, free births in those forests in almost a century. Although the website talks about a chance to see the wild gibbons, don’t count on it. Those apes have no need for ziplines, and no doubt stay well clear of most of humanity.

Off on the Double "Honeymoon" Zipline!

Off on the Double “Honeymoon” Zipline!

Cambodia 2015, Flight of the Gibbons Zipline, Jody bridged WMCambodia 2015, Flight of the Gibbons Zipline, kevin bridged WMBut what about those abandoned Gibbons found roadside in Thailand? After their rescue, Tong Lorde (“Golden Straw”) and Tong Dee (”Good Gold”) were rehabilitated and re-released in Thailand, but only after having been taught how to look after themselves in the wild. They too have had their own babies, born free in the wild. And maybe one day soon, we all will be able to hear their calls and even catch a glimpse of them swinging through the rainforests of Angkor.

Cambodia 2015, Flight of the Gibbons Zipline, Kevin on the way down

For now, Flight of the Gibbon is as close as we can get. The eco-adventure is well worth the cost and a visit!

Cambodia 2015, Flight of the Gibbons Zipline, peaceful break in the course's treehouse

Contact for Cambodia:

Int’l. Phone: +66 53 010 660

Cambodia Phone: 096 9999101

Email: info@treetopasia.com

http://www.treetopasia.com