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Got 3 Hours to Kill?

December 15, 2004

by Jim CA2

In as little as three hours you can take in quite a cultural cross section of the country and you don’t have to travel far. My partner and I broke out of our daily routine and pried ourselves out of Phnom Penh for the afternoon and did just that. I knew I wanted to get out of Dodge and figured he needed to as well. At 3PM we set course for Wat Nokor Vimean Suor just 26K away.

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Heading north on Route 5 to Battambang we ran the gauntlet of the Khmer daily life on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. The route passes the ports, garment factories, a couple of temples and mosques, and all of the mom and pop shophouse businesses along the way. Just about 13K out of town there is a small bridge to cross and then we made the first left turn at Psar Prey Piniew. The turn isn’t easy to miss as it is across the street from a large Tela gas tank and the street/market is bustling with people.

Now we were heading west and within a few kilometers the market gave way to a vast countryside. What makes this ride interesting is that the roadway is a dyke of sorts. Land and resource management is in full swing. During this time of the year the fields to the left become a massive lake. In an effort to harvest more fish, construction digging of deep ponds is taking place. There is a five month old fish farm on the left where one can fish for about a dollar. Though no one was fishing it while we passed, it had that weekend Khmer picnic place feel with thatched shelters for hanging out.

Village houses on stilts and small wooden boats dot the sides of the road. Along the right side of the road, terraced rice fields and canals are in place to efficiently make use of the water on the other side of the road. Approximate 7K we could see a wat in the distance to the north. There were plenty of Chinese style graves south of the wat. This sparked my curiosity and I wanted to check it out. Arriving in a small village where women were selling fish on the side of the road we made a right turn to the wat about 500 meters away. The monks called it Prasat Pagoda. I inquired about the abundance of graves and was told that it wasn’t a killing field, but rather a popular site for Chinese style burials. The monk also told me that since becoming a monk, he was no longer scared of ghosts.

What a nice discovery this wat was. Beautifully painted statues of Buddhist folklore cover the grounds. There is also a boat house which housed three boats that raced in November's Bon Om Tuk (water festival) in Phnom Penh. The monks gave us a tour and revealed some amazing surprises. In one of the wats they had a couple of animals I wasn’t familiar with. They were a cross between some tree dwelling mammal, and a bear with a raccoon shaped face all black in color. In a cage adjacent to the wat were peacocks and a deer. What was the more fascinating was the boa constrictor in another cage. This thing was a good five meters long and wide. The monks opened the cage so I didn’t have to shoot any photos through chicken wire. Though the snake was somewhat active he kept to his side of the cage, however a snake this size could easily make a meal out of a man and still have room for dessert.

We thanked the monks for the tour, and headed west again for our original destination, Wat Nokor Vimean Suor. Another 7K down the road we passed a large Bayon Headed gateway. This newer concrete construction emulates the 1000 year old Khmer Empire. Beyond the gateway another wat in Angkorian motif is under construction. We didn’t stop here but rather Wat Nokor Vimean Suor another 100 meters up the road. Here, a temple completed in 1998, has three Angkor Wat style towers standing tall above the farmland. I spoke briefly to an old woman who had told me the temple took two years to complete. This is quite an accomplishment considering the ornate Apsaras and sculptures adorning the temple. The sun was in perfect position for a couple of good pics before we began our way back home. If you go, allow a little more time to visit adjacent Phnom Baset where you can take in views of Oudong Mountain to the north and Phnom Penh to the south.

Heading back we encountered ox carts, rice field workers and garment factory workers heading home after a long day. People bathed and did laundry in the many pools along the road. Surprisingly one of the kids on an oxcart spoke pretty good English. The sun was setting behind us and I periodically stopped to capture another one of Cambodia’s amazing sunsets over the lake. Traffic back to Phnom Penh bottle necked at a few of the garment factories where motor cart taxis sat double parked awaiting the flood of girls leaving the factories.

Once again it was nice to get out of Phnom Penh and take in a variety of country life, see some interesting things and meet some nice people, even if it was just for a few hours. Though we were on 250cc bikes, this trip is easily doable on Daelims, Vespas and Tuk Tuks. Jim CA2



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