31/03/17 – Goats in Cambodia? A Walk up Phnom Krom

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Rocky Road meets Mint Chocolate.

I thought I’d write again once I was in Laos, but I was flipping through photos of an afternoon trip out to Phnom Krom I took about a week ago and thought – damn, that was a really nice spot that was totally empty! I should add this to my “go here, people!” list!

I’ve recently upgraded from E-Bike to motorized scooter (I can’t quite get my feet right with the gearshift on an actual motorcycle), although I’ll still use an E-Bike if I’m cataloguing Buddhist Terraces along an open road where there’s only 60-200m of jungle between me and the site; easy parking and easy mobility if it’s possible to drive in a little bit.

Scooters are easy to use, and are essentially just e-bikes on steroids. So after a fast, brash, and boorish victory lap around the Petit Circuit of the Angkor Archaeological Park I decided to ride down to see the sunset on the Tonle Sap Lake (yet again) off of Phnom Krom, the last of Yasovarman’s (889-910 AD) three temple-mountains I had yet to see.

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Phnom Krom is approximately 30 minutes from central Siem Reap by car or motorcycle, or, if you really want to know, two hours and twenty-one minutes on foot. Thanks Google!

Once you get out of Siem Reap’s odd and unpredictable traffic patterns (turn in whatever lane you can and don’t die seems to be the rule), it’s a fairly quick ride, but seeing the number of tuk-tuks and tour buses on my way down, I thought the place would be packed. Big hill, nice temple, gorgeous sunset, real draw right?

Nope! The buses and tuk-tuks all turn left at the jetty for Chong Kneas (which you can easily see from the peak) three kilometres east of Phnom Krom Town. Now, to their credit, it’s the dry season right now, so the Tonle Sap is miles out from Phnom Krom and even the stilt-houses that line the artificial farming canals and natural winding ebb of the Siem Reap River are meters out of the water. And you can refer back to my post on floating villages to get an idea about why it’s totally worth it to turn down that road as well, but the oft-overlooked Phnom Krom gives a third dimension to these communities: literally, height.

There’s two ways to get to the top of Phnom Krom: walk the windy path or take the windy road. Either way, an Angkor Archaeological Park ticket is the bill of admission. Khmers will often ride their motos and scooters, but the barang usually walk…or at least I did…

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Lovely staircase, but what on earth are you doing here?!

…up a staircase full of goats. The only goat-herd to this day I’ve ever seen in Southeast Asia. Conjuring up memories of cold, Uighur Xinjiang, I was suddenly back in kebab-country.

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The goat-keepers of Phnom Krom. Mutton’t kid around or else they’ll have you on the lamb and feel a little sheepish. Don’t be a baa-aa-aa-aad boy.

Other attempts at goat-related humour are welcome in the comments section below. I tried to write more but my computer was all out of Ram. 😀

The lonely goatherd was “lay-dee-o-de-lay-dee-o-de-lay-hee-hoo”-ing somewhere else, so they were also completely alone to graze and ramble along the rocky landscape of the half-mountain (made treacherous by French quarriers in the early 20th century – there’s a set of dead railway tracks visible in places along the river from where they brought sandstone up to Siem Reap). Despite nature documentaries displaying proudly duelling rams, though, domestic goats are actually quite timid so all my attempts to take photos of the 100+ goats along the rockside were in vain as they literally sprinted into the undergrowth any time I came close.

So you’ll have to settle for some epic landscape shots instead:

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Phnom Krom town looking towards Siem Reap – very, very faintly in the distance you can see Phnom Bahkeng.
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The harvest isn’t until December with the rice crop planted in May, but because this place floods with lake-water, the fishermen turn to farming for an early harvest from November to June.
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Chong Kneas before Chong Kneas – that blue line on the horizon is the Tonle Sap.
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No sunset shots tonight.
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Like any good aerial view, you can see how humans have divided the land in such weird ways.

The temple and the religious on the top of Phnom Krom appears to have been heavily vandalized at some point during the Khmer Rouge retreat westward, but a new monastery has taken its place and breathes some new life into the previously-Hindu temples.

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The wat with the towers in the distance – this was my attempt to find a second staircase down the hill, but instead I found a pair of lovers-lane teenagers making out overlooking a stunning view of the town below. I tiptoed out of there pretty quickly.
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Fun fact: one of each temple is dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma. Even more fun fact: I have absolutely no clue which one is which.
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Lots of remains, but lots of rubble. The three temples above kind of illustrate how the Khmer Rouge (likely them) took a sledgehammer to a lot of the ancient Khmer ruins. There would have been ornate high-reliefs on all of these monuments – a lot of them are now likely in private collections.

This is an instance of “there happens to be a Khmer temple up here”, not “this is the reason to come” as in the case of Phnom Bok.

You see various Khmer teenagers and early twenties university students (it was a Saturday) hanging out here who’ve driven up the bike path, and for a lot of kids it functions as something of a lover’s lane where they can hang out with their boyfriends/girlfriends away from the disapproving stares of their more traditional parents. Groups of friends/couples on double-dates blaring music on their cellphones came down the cliffs with me, and one offered to give me a lift back to my bike at the base of the hill, but neither the ascent nor descent up this 140m hill is treacherous and I’d parked at the base of the steps.

Because when this rolls in, the mountain and the lake clears pretty quickly:

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Dark cloud panorama shot – comes with decommissioned lightning-prone radio tower!

Thankfully, with only a 30 minute ride back, I was through the door of the Villa Siem Reap by the time the rain came down. Bikes cost anywhere between $10-$15/day in Siem Reap, and because I made the trip on a full tank of gas and didn’t refuel mine was $12 + $1 refuel charge. Not bad for a day and a view like that.

The goats were gone on my way back down, which means someone was taking care of them. But I did have some good Lamb Biryani that night for dinner – Cambodia’s deceptively-integrated South Asian population has a strip of great Indian/Sri Lankan restaurants on 2 Thnou Street between Street 7 and Pub Street (Street 8) in Siem Reap.

Phnom Krom can be combined with a boat-trip to Chong Kneas, considering how easy it is to hire a boat there, and the better time to walk up/ride up is in the late afternoon because the sunset is honestly best seen on, not above, the Tonle Sap.

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The best season to go, of course, is the rainy season because any break in the torrential monsoon downpour can mean seeing this entire landscape submerged. And that seems really cool.

Now, onto Laos on Sunday morning for a much-needed vacation!

Andrew Harris

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