What a fabulous day! Thousands of frogs serenaded as we watched the sun rise behind the temple of Angkor Wat. After breakfast we drove for two hours into the countryside, through little rural villages and past rice paddies so vast they disappear into the horizon. Visitors are still something novel here. Children smile and wave along the roadside.
When we reached the foothills of Phnom Kulen the road narrowed and we were engulfed by ancient forest. Finally we stopped near the banks of a sacred river that had once flowed to the great temples and palaces in the valley below. Ninth century god-kings carved two kilometers of the stone streambed with Hindu images and thousands of phallic stones to purify the water. The river culminates in one of Asia's most magnificent waterfalls. This is still a holy place, and the water is endowed with magical powers. Khmer people come from great distances for ritual baths.
A short distance away is a colorful shrine that attracts Buddhist pilgrims from throughout Cambodia. Long ago, an entire temple--with a sleeping Buddha inside it--was carved into the side of a single, massive stone. The earth below it has completely eroded over the centuries, so you must climb 49 narrow steps to reach the sanctuary.
After our picnic we hired villagers to take us by motorbike far into the forest. We stopped to see the site of an ancient Chinese shipwreck. (Thousands of years ago, Phnom Kulen was once an island and the great plain where Angkor now stands was once the ocean floor!) Farther along the trail we met a hermit monk who watches over giant stones carved with Buddha images, now partially overgrown with wild orchids.
Tomorrow we have a full day to see Ta Prom and the Eastern Maban before we fly back to Bangkok. The weather has been glorious. Thanks to Purple Dragon this has been one of the best trips ever! Don't work too hard!
-- Craig

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