Why not have a Picnic at the Temple

11 Jan
King Shihanouk's temple in Phnom Reap

King Shihanouk's temple in Phnom Reap

Sunday is a lazy day, so what should one do? Before going to Shihanouk ville, why not visit a temple built by king Shihanouk in Phnom Reap (a funny mix between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap: phnom meaning mountain, and reap plain). I would have never come to this idea, but it was the (gay) Cambodian friends that suggested it, so why not go with a flow and jump into this intercultural experience (on top of that joined by 2 Finish guys as well).

It was definitely off the beaten track – literally, because the road going there was loose sand and we had to push the tuk-tuk at several occasions – on top of that the place was over one hour and 20 US$ tuk-tuk drive away from civilization – and also because we were definitely the only barang (foreigners) there – and we could feel that by the stares! Being around two Cambodian divas didn’t reduces the stares either!

This is the pagoda... protected by a flat nosed lion

This is the pagoda... protected by a flat nosed lion

There was a new temple that king Shihanouk had built a few decades ago, but in the same style as the Angkor temples. Next to it was one of the more ‘regular’ wats (what we could call temple). A wat or pagoda in Cambodia is where the monks worship and live (what we call temple). A temple for Cambodians is the old style buildings dedicated to the deities, Angkor style. So don’t just call anything a temple ;-)

We went into the temple to do the temple thing: we took off our shoes at the entrance and went over to the Buddha stand, where we took some of the incense sticks and lit them from the candles, holding them squeezed between our flat hands, raising and lowering our hands several times while ‘praying’ – I was just wishing (but what’s the difference anyway?). Then we put the incense outside in the sandbox provided (so that the monks don’t get nausea of all the incense??) and went back inside to drop money in the donation boxes. There were so many different ones, which I didn’t understand, so I stuck to one. The Cambodian guys went up to the monks to get some sort of blessing. That part I didn’t join in. Once should not try to be ‘more catholic than the pope’ ;-)

I am both a Chinese AND Cambodian rat

I am both a Chinese AND Cambodian rat

The complex seemed to be a popular outing place for locals as there were many families around. They had also built other statues around, such as the signs of the Cambodian zodiac, similar to the Chinese one, but with one or two different animals in it. For me it is no difference, I am a rat, both in China and Cambodia… For some it does make a difference because the Chinese new year is end of January and the Cambodian in the middle of April… So many different new years around here…

On top of these additional statues, and a giant lying Buddha that was covered with a garage or petrol station like roof structure, they were still adding to the ‘theme park’ with new buildings with Buddhas on it or in it. I have never ever seen a church being built in Belgium (as they all date from the Christian times, not the modern times). So religion seems to be lots bigger here than back home.

And as in all ‘tourist traps’ (this one being a Cambodian one) there were the necessary vendors and food stalls around. There were a whole hoist of huts (thatched roofs) with hammocks around – a so-called ‘picnic-area’. We leisurely installed ourselves on one of the raised platforms (taking off our shoes of course) and swung around in the hammocks. Super. The view over the plains was also great, except that everybody used it as a toilet and dump. What could be a great place looked like a garbage bin. Different standards? Different concerns? Different education?

Hammocks are great

Hammocks are great

The Cambodians were hungry (probably as they didn’t have any breakfast – god knows what they did that night & morning) and we left it up to them to order lunch, which caused quite a commotion. People were running up and down different stalls, because we had ordered fresh sugar cane juice that came from a different vendor than the rice and chicken. The Cambodian guys went to pick the chicken themselves and even interfered in the kitchen on how it should be cooked etc. And then the food started arriving, feeding all 5 of us, 3 beggars and a few stray dogs (for 20 US$). Quite an experience.

I was just swinging back and forth in my hammock with a big smile on my face – letting it all happen. Aren’t I lucky that all these things are just happening to me…

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