Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Day 83 - Temples Day 3: The First Khmer Capital and Its Earliest Temples

Today my sister and me didn't sleep in so that we could enjoy the surprisingly varied hotel breakfast better (bread pudding, individually prepared bacon, juices and exotic fruit, etc). Our driver and tour guide picked us up at 08:30 and drove us about thirty kilometers to the East, to the place of the first capital of Cambodia in the 10th century with the earliest temples. In contrast to the Angkor Wat area where all temples were made from sandstone, these early temples are mostly made from bricks (cheaper and not so heavy).

On our way, we made a snack stop. The menu at the street-side cookshop was: grilled beheaded whole frogs and fruit that looked like small green pineapples. We hesitated to try grilled frogs (which are eaten with their bones and which are filled with a spice paste, by the way), but couldn't resist to try the fruit. We later identified it as cherimoyas. We took most of the pips with us to grow our own cherimoya tree at home, they tasted awesome!
P.S. If you want to see the frogs more in detail, you can click the picture to have it full screen ;-)

The first temple, Preah Koh ("Holy Cow", the riding animal of Vishnu) consisted of six towers. We learnt that this setup was in honor of the people the king learnt from: three towers in the front for father, grandfather and (the biggest one) his male teachers, three towers in the back for mother, grandmother and female teachers.

The next, later built temple, Bakon, further developed the design by restricting the number of towers to five, giving emphasis to the central one, introducing three different temple levels and adding a water ditch around the temple (symbolizing the Hundu proto-ocean). This is also the design design of later temples like Angkor Wat. The whole temple was decorated with elephants and lions, but nowadays most of them are heavily weathered - not a surprise after more than 1000 years in rain and sun.

Since the original Hindu design was later changed to Buddhist, a pagoda was added to the temple which is still active today. We attended a monk food donation ceremony. People were surprised by our presence, but no one objected, even photos were Ok and some people had friendly smiles for us.
Our final Siem Reap temple was the earliest one, consisting of only four very weathered small brick towers. The interesting part was a water oracle in the middle which was used (and sometimes is still used) to divine the sex of children if you are pregnant.

Bones of monks killed in the Pol Pot Regime
The stories of Buddha painted on the walls and ceiling

 In the video you can see quite many persons smiling at me even though I was recording them during their ceremony (our tour guide explicitly told us that in Cambodia you can photograph and record everything). What happened to me at this ceremony was that all of a sudden our tour guide went praying and my father got lost somewhere among in the crowd. As a result I just stood there, observing the situation with a kind-of smile to not seem unfriendly or disrespecting. Many people just watched me friendly or sent me a smile (to make me feel better, I guess). One of the shaved nuns passed me but stopped and yelled "hulloooo" and said something in Khmer language which I didn't understand (what a pity). She pointed her rice bowl at me and I guessed that she either wanted me to eat from her rice, or she wanted me to get my own bowl of rice. I then played pantomime and explained her that I would get my own rice and thanked her with some bows. What a nice lady who even touched me lightly and friendly while talking (no wonder that Siem Reap is #1 of the friendliest cities in the world, according to a YouTube video).

After a last stop in Siem Reap to see the flying foxes in the city park (which all sleep during the day), our tour was finished in early afternoon and we said thank you and good bye to our tour guide and our driver.
We had another late lunch at our favorite eatery, spent a few hours in the late afternoon at the pool and used the evening to relax and prepare our departure.

What I learned?
(1) On getting along in difficult times: It is travel season in Cambodia, and everywhere you saw people waiting for a lift and heavily overloaded pickups and minibuses. Most vehicles have extra boards attached to the back to load scooters, packages, people sitting on bags, etc. According to what we have been told, something different happens than in Switzerland if the police stops an overloaded pickup or minibus. The driver isn't fined, but is told to drive cautiously because of the heavy load. The driver rewards this good hint by a small present. Afterwards, everyone turns to his business again. "The people help the police, the police helps the people" No-one calls it corruption here because everybody knows about it and it happens publicly, not under the table...
(2) On beauty ideals: In Cambodia (and maybe other parts of Asia) it is hard to buy normal soap. All the soap you get in the supermarket are specially treated with bleach to whiten your skin!! The whiter your skin, the more beautiful...
(3) Why do Cambodian villages look not like villages, but like business malls along streets? Every opportunity to run a business is welcomed. There is hardly any house where you can't buy ready-made food, drinks, fruit, vegetables, artisan work or - gas. We never saw so many "gas stations" in our life. But gas is not pumped here, it is usually sold in one-liter-bottles...

A private fuel station: Fuel canisters for cars and trucks in the back
and PET / whiskey bottles for scooters in the front 

A Sanskrit inscription in one of the oldest temples

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