» Mystery at Banteay Kdei

Mystery at Banteay Kdei

Cambodia is a place full of mystery: it is hard to put it into words, because how can one describe something that one doesn’t really understand. I am not a person that believes too much in ‘mysterious’ things either, but on a number of occasions, whilst being out and about in Cambodia, have I had a strange sense that there is ‘something different’ in the air. This can be down to the simple reason that I am out of my comfort zone, away from my home culture or there can be more to it. I think there is more to it.

One area where I always feel ‘something different’ is in the Angkor Wat area. Cambodia is a hot and humid country – at least compared to what Westerners are used to. Sometimes it feels as if the heat and humidity will suffocate you, but driving from town into the jungle towards Angkor Wat there is an immediate change in the air: the temperate drops considerably, which is understandable because of the cool shelter that the canopy of the trees offers. One does not only feel the change in temperature though, there is something more, maybe even something spiritual. I don’t think it is a question of an individual’s faith either, but some places just seem to have a powerful energy about it and in Angkor Wat it may stem from the ancient temples or it may stem from the ancient jungle that has been preserved in the area or it could be something completely different, who knows. What I do know is that this feeling is undeniable.

So, yesterday late afternoon I went for a drive to the temple area, as I have so often done in the past. I decided to visit Banteay Kdei temple. This temple is a Buddhist temple and it was constructed during the reign of Jayavarman VII in the 12th century. It is also one of my favourite temples: in my opinion the most beautiful Apsara carvings can be found in this temple and together with its intricate layout it is a delightful temple to explore. The inner enclosure of the temple only measures 36 x 30m (outer enclosure 320 x 300m), but trust me this is a large enough area to get lost in the narrow alleys of crumbling walls. Add to this numerous pairs of eyes of the Apsaras, caught in stone forever, following your every move and it can quite quickly become an eerie experience.

I entered the temple area around 5:30pm from the back entrance – I prefer entering this way, because it is quieter and such a beautiful path under the canopy of trees that leads one the 300m or so up to the ancient stone causeway that leads into the temple itself.

Banteay Kdei from the back entrance Banteay Kdei from the back entrance


What was different this time though is I actually didn’t see a single person as I made my way into the temple: no one at the gate, no sellers where they usually have their stalls next to the serpent-like tree roots on the right hand side.. No one! Wow, what a privilege: I was exploring around one of the most beautiful temples all by myself. The sounds of the insects and birds screaming from the ever threatening jungle around was overwhelming yet it also felt eerily quiet: I was alone except for the ancient stone warriors staring me down as if to challenge me to battle and the Apsaras with their Mona Lisa-type smiles leaving one in doubt if they are actually really smiling or just cold impressions caught in time.

Mona Lisa's Smile Mona Lisa’s Smile

It was in this setting where I once again had a feeling of being in the presence of ‘something different’.

Then I heard laughter of children – I was almost relieved that I wasn’t alone in the temple anymore. It seemed to be coming from somewhere quite near, but I didn’t see them. I continued exploring, but now all the while hearing the children playing, just around the corner. Each time I entered a new chamber of the temple the laughter seemed to move on just ahead of me to the next chamber. I started feeling uncomfortable: why did I not see whoever was running around playing in the temple? I moved along a bit faster from chamber to chamber hoping to catch whoever was laughing and running around, if only to put my own mind to rest. Eventually I came across a person. I was almost relieved to see someone. It was the security guard that came in from the opposite direction to check that everyone has left the temple, because it was time to close off the area for the evening. I asked him if he had seen anyone else along the way and he said no – everyone had left quite some time ago. This really threw me.

Apsaras captured in time Apsaras captured in time

The maze inside The maze inside

Walls threatening to collapse Walls threatening to collapse

I explained to the guard that my motorbike was actually parked around the back entry so we set off in opposite directions again. The sound of children playing and laughing was gone… was it only a figment of my imagination?? Was my mind playing tricks on me, maybe simply the overwhelming effect of being in such a mysteriously powerful place?


I was still grappling with this thought when I arrived back near the far-end of the temple in the area where I first entered. I couldn’t believe what I saw: someone had drawn elephants in the sand! These elephants had been drawn in the sand where I had walked 45mins earlier and there was nothing at the time and neither had I passed anyone along the way!

The drawings The drawings

I still cannot help but wonder: did all of this really happen?! Surely there must be an explanation. Logic tells me yes there were kids, there always are kids playing around the temples, but then why did I not see anyone?

The drawings The drawings

I drove back the long way around past Ta Phrom temple, Takeo, Angkor Thom, Bayon and Angkor Wat. The area was eerily deserted. I only passed a few people along the way and for long stretches of road under the canopy of trees I was alone again; only the birds and insects still threating to attack from all sides. There even was a light fog moving in. I have never ever seen the area so quiet. On this occasion Angkor Wat was a different place. I felt it. It is as if for one moment in time something else had descended on the area. It was time for me to get out and so I did, reaching home just as the darkness completely settled in. I looked back towards the jungle area of Angkor Wat from the window of my room still wondering how much of what had just transpired was actually real and what was mystery that should just be accepted without explanation. I guess I will never know.


























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