Spean Thma is the Bridge of Stone located just west of Ta Keo temple. Not many Angkor era bridges survived to this day, Spean Thma is one of the few that did. Albeit it’s just an odd array of rock nowadays.
Spean Thma was constructed to bridge the Siem Reap River and is believed to have been reconstructed sometimes in the 15th century by utilizing carved stone from old temples.
When you first see Spean Thma and realize that it was actually a bridge, the first thing that gets to your mind is – and where the hell is the river? Fact of a matter is, Spean Thma did cross the Siem Reap river when it was constructed, but through obstructions and construction of water channels, the river’s course has changed, but the bridge remained where it was built.
I woke up to a new day ready to explore more of Siem Reap’s pagodas. The sun was already baking the air outside which made me happy since it was rainy season in Cambodia, but this was the second day with no rain. Already well aware of how devastating Cambodian sun is, I fortified my skin with natural sun block (as close to organic as it gets), applied powerful mosquito repellent (don’t even bother with anything that contains less than 30% deet – Cambodian mosquitoes are vicious, plentiful and active during all parts of day and night), sat on my mountain bike and off I rode for Wat Damnak.
As always, I used the map provided in Angkor Siem Reap Visitors Guide to find locations of most relevant temples and pagodas in Siem Reap and used it as my main guide in choosing the best itinerary to get me there. Not that it’s in any way difficult, given rather small size of Siem Reap.
Wat Damnak is located near Phsar Chas aka Old Market, just on the opposite side of the Siem Reap river. If you were to take a walk around the Old Market, you would see the stone bridge right on its south-east corner. Take a walk across the bridge and by the time you made it half across, you will see the roof of beautiful Wat Damnak to your slight right.
Once I was across the river, I just followed the road that seemed to go in the general direction of Wat Damnak and it got me there. The entrance gate was the same way I got used to seeing from other temples I have visited before – magnificent, but spoiled by presence of disorganized bunch of cables which are used to electrify Cambodia. These cables spoil the view of basically every important or nice to look at structure in Cambodia, except from Angkor Wat temples since this part of the country has not yet been electrified. This was driving me up the wall as no matter where you go, you see beautiful temples, but you have no means of finding an angle under which to take a picture so it is not ruined by crap loads of cables cross knitted along each other.
This would have been the second day of Pchum Ben Festival. The 15 days long Festival of the Dead is an important part of Buddhist Khmer culture so during these two weeks I was encountering it on my every step. Pchum Ben was the most prominent within temple grounds. It always involved presence of dozens of monks, very loud traditional Khmer music played from really old loud speakers (awfully painful for the ears) and lots and lots of food and then some more.
Just as with any Cambodian temple during Pchum Ben festival, there were many people around and lots of traffic in and out. It was a scorching hot day but locals were all nicely dressed and carried bowls with food they’d use as offerings to their dead ancestors and to local monks. I parked my bike by Vihara – the prayer hall. It was close to Wat Damnak’s entrance gate and there seemed to be most commotion happening there. Aside from noticeable crowds, there was also obvious audible effect as Buddhists inside were repeating chants with powerful unison after the leading monk.
Siem Reap River flows through the town of Siem Reap dividing it from North to South into a West Bank and an East Bank. Most of the things to do in Siem Reap are on the Western side of the river, however East is the backpackers area with budget guesthouses and inexpensive, yet good restaurants. From a standpoint of a backpacker, East side also has laundry services that are priced at $1 per kilo whereas most laundry spots on the West would ask for $2 per kilo or at best $1.50 making it an extremely expensive venture.
Two Dragons Guesthouse where I was staying during my first week in Siem Reap was within the budget area of the East of Siem Reap River even though I would not particularly think of it as budget accommodation.
I was in Siem Reap during rainy season by the Siem Reap River seemed slow flowing giving an impression of almost standing still. Waters of the river are murky and it’s very common to see a floating plastic bottle or any other piece of garbage to float on the surface. Cambodians are not clean. Throwing garbage in the river is a common practise, as is pissing and shitting into it. Many people fish on the banks of Siem Reap River and they all complain that there are fewer and fewer fish. Well duh! What did you expect if you merrily pollute your own river like there is no tomorrow and nobody regulates fishing. Overfishing will not give the fish a chance to populate the waters and those who don-t get caught have hard enough time surviving in the water atrociously polluted by both human waste and chemicals.
There are huge trees lining the Siem Reap River on both sides which is a good thing. Occasional benches allow for heat weary passer-by to take a breather and hide from the sun in the shade of the trees. There are ongoing efforts to decorate the area around the Siem Reap River and make it more eye popping which I highly approve of, however there should also be far stricter efforts to protect the river itself from its biggest enemy – people of Cambodia.
Decorations that already exist along the banks of the Siem Reap River are a solid reminder that nearby Angkor Archaeological Park draws a lot of money to the town by having tourists stay, dine and buy useless junk here. Here’s hoping provincial government will not ignore the signs and will do their best to preserve the environment and save the Siem Reap River before it’s too late.