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!
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.
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…
– Second and Third Crusades
– 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.
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.
So she decided to sneak into the pictures… fair enough.
So this is Ta Prohm. Pretty amazing, huh? We visited during the rainy season, when the flowers were in bloom.
The carvings were left so delicately preserved!
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…
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!
And this guy is just getting some sun.
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!
There 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.
I 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.
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!
The monastery was built next to a man-made lake of water for religious purposes.
If our interpretation was correct, these were all female statues.
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?
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!
Here is the actual lake of Tonle Bati. You can even see more temples on the opposite side.
Another animal spotting…
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!
On our walk back to the car, a quick snapshot of the Cambodian countryside.
This is a modern, beautiful Cambodian home in the countryside. I loved the vivid colors!
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?