Friday, February 14, 2014

13. Phnom Penh - Phnom Chisor - Tha Phrom Temple and Tonle Bati Lake

185 km

This is a popular weekend destination for people in Phnom Penh. Just like us in the West, one likes to pack the car, load drinks, food, swim-gear (aka: truck inner tubes), the wife and the kids into a vehicle and heads out to the lake Tonle Bati, some 30 km south of the city. 

Family Monuments at lake Tonle Bati

Tonle Bati fisherman in his traditional wooden, plank-built Khmer boat

Here, one can rent a bamboo hut, built into the lake on stilts, for one dollar, and spend the day in hammocks. A Sunday well spent. Since I didn't want to deal with the weekend crowds I went on a Thursday. Except for one Khmer family, the neighborhood kids, and a fisherman on the lake there was nobody out here. No Western or Chinese tourists make it out here too much as well. The lake and surrounding landscape is very nice; the water level is quiet low now as a result of the dry season.

The old women with their nice, cotton and silk Khmer Kroma scarfs.

The Khmer Rouge destroyed the tall Buddha image. Only one ankle is left.

Near the ancient Khmer temple ruin a newer modern Wat (maybe mid 20th century) was build which is home to a few monks and novices. In its center is a large, very attractive temple hall, which serves also as a community center. It is brightly decorated with intriguing murals.

Not only is the lake an attractive destination, but also the ruins of nearby That Phrom, a Khmer temple from the 12th century, built in an Angkor style. It is very worthwhile seeing. The temple is 'guarded' by a small group of old temple ladies, who hope to get some money from the sale of incense, candles, and lotus flowers. But they are very polite and even shy, and never hustle me into buying something.

The way to get to the temple and the lake from Phnom Penh means to travel for the first twenty kilometers on a terrible gravel and sand road, called National Highway No. 2. The road is under construction, though, and one only can hope that it will be finished one day. When I came down here in Summer of 2012, the road was under construction then.

But after the segment which has you eat dust, No. 2 towards Kampot turns into a passable asphalt roadway, with some potholes and rougher sections to it, but overall not bad. The ride goes through rice fields and little village. Every road turning off from the main road is a dirt track.

Traditional Khmer "hangout platform". One spends an hour, or a day sitting, sleeping, drinking and/or eating on the platform, or use the hammock. The platforms are everywhere.

View from Phnom Chisor.
"Phnom" is Khmer and means "mountain" or "hill". "Phnom Penh" is named after a woman by the name of Daun Penh, who discovered remnants of Buddha images on a hill in town, now called Wat Phnom.

Little shrines along the way uphill.

Afterwards, I went a little further south to Phnom Chisor, another temple on the only hill in the entirely flat Mekhong delta plateau around Phnom Penh. To reach the temple, some 500 steps have to be climbed, but the view into the landscape is worth it.

Along the staircase leading up to the mountain, I found some shrines with a Buddha image inside (and a donation box, of course) which reminded me so much of the shrines along the highways in northern Mexico. There, they are sometimes use to store parcels of drugs for pick up, transport to the northern neighbor and distribution. In exchange, the courier coming from the U.S. leaves a package with handguns. 

Whenever I head out to a day-trip such as this one, it takes a while before I can get started. 

Not only do I have to remove the motorcycle cover, the front disc-lock, and the rear locking chain, but I also need to converse at length with the local neighborhood, the drink cart vendor lady, the security guard who watches the vehicles in front of the building, and the family of my tuk-tuk driver who lives in a narrow allow next to the building. 

Yorng, the tuk-tuk driver and his little baby daughter, wearing my motorcycle glove.

"No hands."

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