Sunday, July 4, 2004

Cambodian bike ride in the Western Baray of Angkor

After several days of exhausting tours of the temples of Angkor, I often suggest to people I meet that they take a leisurely bike ride to the Western Baray for a morning or afternoon of swimming, lounging and relaxing.

Only 45 minutes northwest of Siem Reap by bike, the Western Baray can be reached on the next road past the airport that turns north.

The tree-lined lane that leads to the Baray is easy to find as there is a sign that shows the Paradise Resort just before the road and a sign pointing to the "Western Baray" in English. After the 30 minute ride to this point, another 15 minutes will find you are the base of the 8km dike and small dam.

Modern facilities can be found here and if a toilet is required, locals can make use of them for 500 riel while foreigners once again have to pay the inflated price of 2,000 riel.

If you climb the small hill from this point you come upon the waters of the Baray stretching several kilometers each way to your right and left or east and west. In the center of the half filled reservoir is an island and small temple.

Aloing the southern flank of the water are numerous hammocks, mats, and umbrellas with Khmers willing and able to provide you a nice massage, a cool drink or an inner tube for floating in the very warm waters.

There is a very narrow, sandy beach leading into soft muddy waters that although not clear due to constant rains is unpolluted.

Built without a doubt over the course of two reigns, the artificial reservoir called the "clear water Baray" by the Khmer, or the Western Baray by foreign visitors, is a testament to work achieved during the 2nd half of the 11th century under the reign of Udayadityavarman II.

Stretching 8m by 2.2 km, it is the largest Baray known to have been built during the Khmer Empire. At the middle of the Baray is found an island where the monument which once had a superb bronze statue of the Reclining Vishnu, which is today exhibited in the National Museum in Phnom Penh.

In the middle of the island, the attentive viewer will recognize the shape of a hollow or reversed linga, that is to say, a linga which impregnates the water, making it fertile and thus causing all the rice fields and meadows over which it spreads to be fecund.

Like the Baphuon, a monument of the same style and from the same era, the sculpted scene on the Western entrance of the Mebon are preserved in a sequence of squares.