For our second day we took a drive into the countryside to visit the hilltop pagoda at Phnom Chisor, apparently a good introduction to Khmer architecture if you hadn’t yet seen the glory of Angkor Wat, and the Angkorian temple of Ta Prohm at Tonle Bati (I personally think this was a rather generous description on the part of the guidebook’s author!). The drive out into the countryside was fascinating.
We started off by stopping to look at the morning glory “fields” on the outskirts of PP. The morning glory is planted in the water-filled fields and is ready for harvesting about one month later. It’s not the morning glory vine with the bright blue trumpet shaped flowers but is similar and is a basic ingredient in many Thai and Cambodian stir-frys.
We saw bicycles and trailers piled high with the stuff. We also saw gourd vines with yellow flowers trailing over supports.
The houses along the edge of the road are built on stilts – in the wet season the water level rises almost to road level.
We saw several buildings draped in brightly coloured cloth – mostly yellows and pinks and were informed that this was for weddings. Ducks paddled in the ditches (a bit like Bali) and there were loads of very scrawny-looking cattle grazing in the fields. As this was the dry season everywhere looked very brown and dry. It would have looked very different if this had been the wet season with all the rice fields forming a green patchwork.
After a couple of hours drive (distance approx 30km) along the main road heading to the south of the country (nothing like the main roads to which we are accustomed) we turned onto a track crossing flat, open countryside scattered with a few trees. We had arrived at Phnom Chisor, a 130metre high “mountain”. The guide book indicated that you had to climb 390 steps to get to the top! Armed with an umbrella to keep the sun off me (it was now 11.30am) and a bottle of water, I set off. DH abandoned me to my own devices after the first 50 steps and descended to keep the car driver company. I stopped several times on the way up to catch my breath. At a shaded resting point at 250 steps a couple of monks and a friend asked if they could take my photo. No problem, I said and asked if I could take theirs in return – of course. Their friend was acting as photographer for them.
I then climbed on and had to catch my breath again at the top. By now I had been joined by several barefoot children, the oldest of whom was now acting as my self-appointed guide. She explained to me what some of the carvings depicted.
views from the summit
Phnom Chisor is still an active temple and now also has a modern temple at the summit. This is the reclining Buddha in the modern temple.
On the way back down, at the shady resting point, I met a group of French tourists. I told them they still had another 140 steps to go. They replied that it was obvious that I had been to the top as my face was now the same colour as my hair!
The weaving school in the grounds of the monastery at the bottom of Phnom Chisor, it was lunchtime so the place was deserted
We then went to visit the temple of Neang Kmao (which means black lady). There are only two dilapidated towers here, only one of which was open, which had a yoni stone in it (for fertility). Inside the main temple, a modern concrete affair, the ceiling and upper parts of the walls were decorated with murals, the latter illustrating scenes from Buddha’s life. It starts with the picture of his mother dreaming of a white elephant when she is pregnant. The next panel depicts Buddha, 3 days after his birth, able to walk on lotus leaves.
Next we turned off the main highway to drive several kilometers down a dirt track which might be better named the road of the water throwers. Old people who have no family and have therefore become destitute (there is no state aid) eke out a subsistence by begging along the road and by throwing bowlfuls of water on to the track to keep the dust down. We distributed money to each of the beggars on our return trip, feeling a bit like royalty handing out largesse. Each time we handed over money we were wished good luck and long life.
Our destination here was the Phnom Takmao wildlife sanctuary and zoo. As soon as we got out of the car a group of youths attached itself to us, flogging coconuts (expensive at 1USD per piece!) as animal food. I would have like to be able to wander around unaccompanied as the youths were chattering away like monkeys, frightening off all the birds. I had seen a blue bee eater sitting on a post as we entered the site and later caught sight of a hoopoe.
We saw herons, storks,
yellow throated martens,
white squirrels, lots of gibbons, sun bears and Asian black bears, 2 tigers and some elephants.
After this we drove back along the dirt track to the temple at Ta Prohm, a very popular temple and one which looks lovely because there were masses of flowering shrubs but where we again attracted the attention of the local beggars.
carving of a celestial nymph
and another heavenly body
I’m sorry to say that I was so discouraged by all the beggars that I cut short our visit there. Our last stop was the lake of Tonle Bati where we had a much needed drink before returning to the hotel. This is where many of the locals go at the weekends, taking their own picnics and hanging out in the cafes floating on the water.
Housing belonging to the well-to-do
and not so-well-to-do
On the way back to Phnom Penh we saw lots of stalls selling barbecued frogs – we weren’t tempted.