Posts Tagged With: Buddhism

Cambodia’s Hidden Corner

When most people hear “Cambodia”, this is what comes to mind:

1. The Khmer Rouge

2. Laura Croft

3. Angkor Wat

4. Nobody really gets past #3… but if you did, “The Beach” with Leonardo DiCaprio. (Even though that was in Thailand).

5. Backpackers

6. Asian Women

7. The Mekong River

8. Not Thailand.

9. The French

10. Sihanoukville 

A valid list, but definitely not accurate. Not in the purest sense of Cambodia. When most people book their tour du monde, their Cambodian stop over generally involves the Killing Fields, Angkor Wat, and some form of Khmer curry.

Hopefully you’ve gained a greater sense of Cambodian geography and culture through the past seven months here at alohakuwait. I’m here today to expand your knowledge a step further. It’s high time I paid homage to that great road trip—from Phnom Penh to the Thai border. Most people speed through on an afternoon bus, in transition from Bangkok to Phnom Penh. They see the stretch from Koh Kong to the Mekong river as a boring, bumpy ride that stands in the way of their Southeast Asian experience.

Well, Cambodia’s got a lot of secrets in her hidden Southwestern passage…

But, since I came from a family of pig farmers, let’s be honest with ourselves.

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The pigs. Stick ’em in barrels, stack ’em on trucks, slide ’em in trailors. There is no modest way to transport pigs anywhere in the world. Any country that tells you otherwise is lying to you.

As you wind your way along highway 4, the road begins to climb through heavily forested hills. The slopes become steeper, and the homes become sparser. It feels as if you have left the populated world behind. Just as you are ready to pull over to marvel at the beauty of it all, a turn off is provided for you.

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And what a turn off it is. I had driven past this specific stopping point numerous times on the way to the beach, and never noticed the troupe of monkeys that live in this stunning valley. Man, if you never pulled over, you would never SEE the stunning valley! There are myriad Buddhist shrines, and the monkeys are not seen as pests but rather positive additions to mother earth. Look at this killer playground they’ve got!

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Nothing says road trip like sipping on a cold soda and watching some monkeys.

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Or were the monkeys watching us? I wonder what they wrote about me in their blog…

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Like I said, this turn off was really pretty awesome. There were monks, chanting, shrines, monkeys, rituals, and of course, tubes of Pringles and fresh-cut pineapple for sale. What more could you want?

By the time we rolled onto the coast,  it was time for lunch. (Isn’t it always?)IMG_1939

So where else do you go but the Crab Chack. Home of the tastiest crab in Koh Kong.

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And while you wait for said crab, you can relax on their swing with your sister, dipping your toes in the water, sipping on a well-deserved Anchor or two. Paradise.

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I have previously blogged about the Rainbow Lodge in Koh Kong, but I have found yet another place of passion. Welcome to Thmorda Garden Riverside Resort. You can lounge on the shore of the river, and kayak in the mangroves all afternoon. The best part? You’ve got this entire place all to yourself.

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And their patio is fantastic.

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Morning in Koh Kong: Such a kaleidoscope of colors. Why rush through on the way to something better? You can’t find a superlative to this.

We did spend a few days in the luxury of Koh Kong and Southwestern Cambodia, and then we moseyed on to Thailand. On the road, my dad (who was visiting with my sister!!!) snapped a photo of something I have so long overlooked: the spirit houses. You see them everywhere, but I hadn’t really though twice about them until my dad brought it up.

IMG_1953Spirit houses are common in Southeast Asia, and are placed in a particular spot of your home, business, or natural area (often at the base of trees). They are a place for the spirits to be appeased—or to reside—depending on who you talk to. It is believed that so long as you keep the spirits happy, you will live a prosperous life. Sometimes spirits is synonymous with ghosts. I recently had a seventeen year old student tell me he was afraid of ghosts. I had to ask around to determine that he was talking about the spirits, which are very prevalent in Thai and Cambodian culture.

Your mission, if you choose to accept it: Take a road trip. Explore your home. Find something new. Stop at a place you’ve never stopped at before. Take a picture of something you’ve seen a million times. Maybe you’ll find monkeys. Maybe you’ll find spirits. Maybe you’ll find love.

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Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Phnom Chisor: Our First Pagoda Visit

Part two of our day off.

You thought we only went to Tonle Bati and then turned around? Not when there is a tall hill beckoning to be climbed! (Or, 436 feet to be exact. The area around Phnom Penh is all at sea level.)

After Tonle Bati we drove to Phnom Chisor, which is a contemporary pagoda as well as ancient Angkorian ruins. We climbed the 412 steps to the top, sweating all the way, unaware of the jaw-dropping experience that awaited us.

It was awesome!

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One of the modern pagoda buildings. Buddhist monks live in the pagodas, as well as others who I think of as ‘in-betweeners’, people who are looking for a job in a new place, passing through an area, or at a tough point in their lives. Pagodas are incredibly welcoming and warm places. Check out this great article from The Phnom Penh Post about the life of a boy who came to live in the pagoda.

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We were allowed to crawl into every nook and cranny of these ruins!

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Felt like we were in the movies.
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The modern pagoda is in the background… while I stand under towering ancient temples.
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The inside of one of the ancient buildings is being used for Buddhist worship. After three years in different countries, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good grip on when someone is being genuine, or when they’re trying to rip you off. Or, when they’re just being curious. Curious is okay. Friendly is okay. You can spot the ulterior motives pretty easy. So when I peeked into this temple, there were three older Cambodian guys in tank tops and trousers sitting barefoot on the floor burning incense. They stood up, and gestured to me to come in. I shook my head “no”, and smiled. I didn’t want to bother them, and felt like I probably didn’t belong in there anyways. They insisted that I come in, and smiled at me and Sean. I paused, looked at Sean, and took off my shoes. Barefoot, I padded up the ancient steps and ducked through the doorway. Led to the back, I was given a stick of incense to offer to the shrine. I was shown Buddhist prayer flags. I stumbled through saying, “How beautiful!” and “So nice!” in Khmer. (‘Saat nah’ and ‘laaw nah’, in case you’re wondering.)

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They walked me away from the shrine, then offered to tie a red string around my wrist. Again, I had this fuzzy feeling inside, so went for it. The man gently wrapped the strand around my wrist, while chanting in a language that was hauntingly foreign. I don’t know if it was Khmer. I don’t know what he was saying. What I do know, is that full minute that I sat there looking at the string before he cut off the final tie, was one of the most humbling moments in my life. I thanked them, smiling profusely, and stood to leave. I later learned that the red string is Buddhist good luck, and they are popular with anyone who frequents the temple in their neighborhood. My boss, an American married to a Cambodian woman, always has three or four around his wrist. My friend is dating a Cambodian guy, whose mother always brings them back for her when she goes to temple. My students wear them. And I, shyly, and proudly, shared in that community.

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Exploring more of the complex. We were the only people there.

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And then we saw the view.

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And the monkey.

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One of the men said this is the only monkey in the area, and it lives here at the pagoda. I believe it; monkeys have pretty much been hunted out of population in greater Cambodia.

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Another naga. Read my previous post on Tonle Bati to learn about the nagas…

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What a great view! We walked around the rim of the hill to gain a full view of the countryside.

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There was a clear path the whole way around. I felt so happy to be out there in the trees, the green, the peace.

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Only an hour outside of Phnom Penh. Can you believe it?

IMG_8106Rice paddies on the drive home, along with those who tend them.

I am loving Cambodia more and more.

Check back soon, because I still haven’t told you that I went to China…

 

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Phnom Penh Day Trip: Tonle Bati

We had a day off a few weeks ago, a Tuesday, to be exact. Tuesday is an odd day to have off. It’s not attached to a weekend, and falls right after the first day of a work week. Sean and I were resolved to getting out of the city for a little day trip; to clear our minds of the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh. Plus, we are dying to see more of what the rest of Cambodia is about.

Our friends told us about a little place called Tonle Bati—a small lake 30 kilometers South of Phnom Penh. It seemed the perfect distance for an afternoon drive, and would certainly get us out of the city. What an adventure it turned out to be!

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Before we left, I must confess, we stopped at USA Donut. For donuts. I’m not kidding. Come on, what’s a road trip without apple fritters on the dashboard and a steaming mug of coffee in your hand? If you live in Phnom Penh and have never been, you’ve got to go. It will change your life. USA Donut is on the corner of streets 302 and 51. And no matter where you live, you have GOT to read this story, published only two weeks ago about the history of Cambodian refugees and donut shops. Completely blew my mind.

Anyways, so we picked up some strawberry donuts, chocolate-sprinkled donuts, and of course, the holy fritters, and headed down to Tonle Bati.

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One thing you’ve got to understand: Cambodia is temple-heaven. This place has more temples than Wisconsin has dairy farms. (Maybe not… But both are just as legendary.) Tonle Bati is the name of the lake we headed to, but is also the home to Ta Prohm and Yeay Peau.  Both are Angkorian-era temple complexes, built during the same time (12th century) as many of the temples around Angkor Wat.

The 12th century was 800 years ago. If it all seems too ancient to conceptualize, think about this…

12th Century:
– Second and Third Crusades
– Saladin
– Genghis Khan
– Knights Templar
– St. Francis of Assisi
– The windmill was invented

What makes Ta Prohm and Yeay Peau particularly interesting is that the area has been continually occupied since their creation. Yeay Peau is now part of a contemporary monastery.
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I had a friendly shadow all day… but she was not so enthused that I wanted to take so many pictures instead of hang out with her.

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So she decided to sneak into the pictures… fair enough.

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So this is Ta Prohm. Pretty amazing, huh? We visited during the rainy season, when the flowers were in bloom.

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The carvings were left so delicately preserved!

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What is fascinating to us is how these temples are used for contemporary Buddhist worship. The whole complex was sprinkled with people in doorways, people praying, people taking lunch breaks, people making offerings. The smell of incense permeates your journey. Sean liked the above shrine as it is a headless wonder…

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When we explored the grounds, we found some pretty cool wildlife. This picture isn’t too clear, but hopefully you can make out that the snake is indeed eating a frog!

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And this guy is just getting some sun.

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Yeay Peau is the ancient temple that is surrounded by a contemporary monastery. I can’t get over all the temples that are built within and around trees here. It is really beautiful and awe-inspiring… especially for someone like me who absolutely loves trees!

IMG_7983There were also a ton of statues in the monastery. Some more cryptic than others. Sometime we need to go with a Buddhist guide who can explain the meaning of them all to us.


IMG_7985I do know, though, that this is a Naga. The Naga, in addition to being our school’s mascot here in Phnom Penh, is a famous deity in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. The Naga is a snake (a king cobra, to be exact), that is believed to have come from the water to protect all of humankind. In Cambodia specifically, legend says that the Cambodian people were “born from the Naga”, due to a wedding between the Naga king’s princess and an Indian Brahmana. Wikipedia actually does a great job breaking down each countries’ beliefs towards the Naga. Check it out here if you’re interested.

IMG_7986 This is the actual temple of Yeay Peau. You can see how they built the contemporary temple around it. An interesting way to both preserve and incorporate!
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The monastery was built next to a man-made lake of water for religious purposes.

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If our interpretation was correct, these were all female statues.

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Can you spot the blue-skinned deity? The temple of Yeay Peau is famous for pregnant mothers, who come for good luck and good blessings for their upcoming birth. If I were to interpret the above picture, I would say that the blue-skinned deity is a Hindu god (Shiva? Lakshmi?) that is carrying a linga, or a phallic object, as a symbol of fertility for the woman in the center. I may be wrong, but what is the purpose of art if not to provoke thought?

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Again, more interesting statues around Yeay Peau. I wonder what the story is behind this one? An elephant, a god-looking form, and a colorless woman kneeling before her, receiving some sort of liquid into her bowl. Religion, like history, is full of so many fascinating stories!

IMG_7998Here is the actual lake of Tonle Bati. You can even see more temples on the opposite side.
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Another animal spotting…

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Tonle Bati is actually more famous for weekend day-trippers looking to lounge along the lake instead of climb around the temples. Sean and I are the odd ones. For a small fee you can rent one of hundreds of wooden floating huts on the shores of the lake. Each hut is owned by a family that will cook for you and set up cushions for you to relax on. Sean and I weren’t in a lounging mood, but we may have to come back on a clear day!

IMG_8018On our walk back to the car, a quick snapshot of the Cambodian countryside.
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This is a modern, beautiful Cambodian home in the countryside. I loved the vivid colors!

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Before we left, Sean jogged back into Ta Prohm to snap a photo of the reclining Buddha he had forgotten about. Historically, temples weren’t a place of worship, but housed the statue of the deity. The taller the temple, the more important it was. All the homes and buildings around it were made of wood, mud, and leaves. The temple is all that remains… What will we leave behind in 800 years?

 

 

 

 

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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