160918 Kampong Tralach and Oudong

Cambodia’s climate has an average temperature of 27-28 degrees C. The climate is comprised of two main seasons affected by the tropical monsoon. The wet season is from May to October and the dry season from November to April. The coolest period lasts from December to January. The monsoon season may carry some heavy rains but these quite often occur during the late afternoon and overnight in between August to October and unlikely to spoil what u want to do.

Theravada Buddhism is the official prevailing religion in Cambodia, and approximately 90% of the population is Buddhists. The country also has minority religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Christianity. Since Buddha’s statues and images represent the Buddha, visitors are asked to behave respectfully to all of them so as not to cause offence to local people. It is illegal to take any piece of sandstone out of the temple and also any Buddha’s statue out of Cambodia without the express permission of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.

We go back in time today. Waiting for us to get off the ship is a huge line of oxen in pairs ready to ‘haul’ us for 20 minutes along the road. There must be over 35 pairs. It was an interesting way to see the countryside but an uncomfortable one. The little kids were making small gifts for us along the way out of leaves. Perhaps they wanted payment but we didn’t know, nor could we get to our money that was in the back pocket. Its very hard when you are sitting in an ox cart with no room to wriggle and find the wallet.

We made it to the coaches which were ready to take us to the country’s largest pagoda, the Oudong Temple. Arrangements had been made for us to be given special time with a monk to receive a blessing on our travels. Not very formal, but done anyway. Our guide for Cambodian sites is Lovy who has been giving us a wealth of knowledge but for me, it’s hard to hear him through the ‘whisperer’. At least I hear his instructions when we need to change direction during a walking tour.

Our guide interviewed a little 85 year old lady who has been a nun in the pagoda for over 10 years. She was quite a trick when asked her name by replying, “You should know my name by now. You have asked me many times.”

Greg managed to strike up a friendship with a young guy. This kid was ‘fanning’ Greg all around the pagoda. He followed him into the WC and all the various temples, offering a cooling breeze. When we were getting on the bus, Greg wanted to take a photo of him and just as the picture was to be taken, the kid offered his middle finger as a centre piece. What a surprise for Greg. We told him later, the kid wanted MONEY. Another surprise for Greg.

Our ship was waiting at 12:00 noon for the longest sector of the cruise – 150km – back to Phnom Penh to rejoin the Mekong River and up to Kampong Cham. During this voyage, we are guests of the Captain as he takes us through the engine room and into his office, the Captains Bridge. Scenic Spirit had its maiden voyage in January this year. It is 85m long and 12m wide. Weight is 3,000 tonnes. Top speed is 20.3 knots but we could only manage 10 knouts while heading upstream. There are 4 decks and a sun deck. All of the 32 double suites and 2 Royal suites have a sun lounge balcony. For those hard of walking up stairs, there is a lift that services each of the 4 decks. A crew of 56 serve the 68 passengers that enjoy being on the ship. All of us can vouch for great individual service from each of the happy crew.

After the tour of the ship, the Chef gives a demonstration of Asian Cooking and Tropical Fruit Tasting.

Our cruise is quickly coming to an end. We are reminded of this during the port talk in the evening. The Cruise Director gave us instructions how things work for the disembarkation procedure and on up to Siem Reap.

At the Trivia Night, our group missed out winning by 1 point. I’m not fussed as the prize was a bottle of local ‘plonk’ to consume – not my thing at all.

Tomorrow, we visit Wat Hanchey, Phnom Pros, and take an ecotourism visit to a weaving village.

 

160917 Koh Chen

Cambodia occupies a total area of 181,035 square kilometres. It is commonly bordered to the north by and Laos, to the east by Vietnam, to the South by Vietnam and the Gulf of Thailand, and to the west by Thailand. Cambodia is divided into six major regions. The western and northwestern mountains are rich in tropical forest, wildlife, and fruit trees; the northwestern plateau abounding with tropical forest, wildlife, waterfalls, diamonds and magic; the central plain known as a large area of flat land for cultivating mainly rice, corn and bean; the western and southwestern coastal plain is popular with tourists who sunbathe on the sandy beaches; the western and northeastern valleys are suitable for the development of hydro-electric power; and the peninsula is suitable for tin mining, rubber cultivation and fishing. The population is more than 15 million. 90% of residents are Khmer, and the remnants of these are Chinese, vietnamese, Indian, Thai, Phnong, Kuoy. The Chinese influence is very strong, particularly in the business sector.

After Tai Chi at 6:30am, followed by a Scenic buffet breakfast, we board coaches to make our way to the Royal Palace and a visit to the National Museum. Our guide, is firm in the belief that the King was willing to meet with us at 8:00am but due to our lateness (8:10am), the King has cancelled his appointment with us. It is very rare that this happens,  as the King is a guy who wants to meet all visitors to his Kingdom.

Cambodia is a Constitutional Monarchy with the Head of State being King Norodom Silhamoni. He does not rule the state but reigns for the state. The Head of Government is Hun Sen who is the ruler. The King has adopted a policy of Liberal Democracy and Pluralism. He is single and over 60 years of age with shaven head. Quite distinguished – any takers?

The King’s palace is very tidy and well presented for tourists to meander around. The hedges are neatly clipped with around half a dozen gardeners on the hedge clippers this morning. Each building is painted every two years as the resident pigeons are protected and allowed to roost on the roofs of the neat buildings and the temple in the main grounds. We all know what sort of mess they make.

The Royal Palace contains some spectacular buildings. Not least of which is the Throne Hall, situated to the left of the main entrance. It boasts a 59-meter tower. The tower roof is beautiful, having been decoratively tiered with golden coloured tiles. This building is used for high official celebrations, coronations and audiences with foreign dignitaries and government officials.

The Royal Treasury and the Napoleon II villa lie south to the Royal Throne Hall. North to this stands the Silver pagoda enclosure, otherwise known as the Pagoda of the Emerald Buddha. The Pagoda’s steps are crafted from Italian marble, and within the throne room the regal floor consists of more than 500 solid silver blocks. If calculated together, they weigh nearly six tones. Displayed a round the room, surrounding the main area, stand plush presents from foreign dignitaries.

The magnificent 17th century emerald Buddha statue is made of Baccarat cuystal and solid gold. It weighs 90 kilograms and is adorned with 9,584 diamonds. Bronze statues stand to it’s left and right sides. Next to these, encased under a glass cover, reside a golden locus. Within this area other ancient treasures include a large Buddha’s footprint, representing the 108 past lives of the Buddha before he was re-incarnated as Prince Siddharta, who subsequently gained enlightenment. On the wall, surrounding the Pagoda compound, (the oldest part of the palace) are hundreds of meters of frescos depicting an episode of the Indian epic Ramayana. These are the biggest mural frescos in South East Asia. http://www.tourismcambodia.com

From here, are driven to the National Museum just around the corner and on the the same large block of land. The National Museum houses lots of statues of the various gods associated with the various religions of the region, particularly Buddhism. Not being one to enjoy museums, I take a ‘sitting-up’ nap after the official guide tour.

Just prior to lunch, our Scenic Spirit departs Phnom Penh. Lunch is served the magnificent Scenic way, and we enjoy a short 2-3 hour cruise up the Tonle Sap River to the village of Koh Chen. During the cruise, one of the crew show us the different ways the Krama, or Khmer scarf, is utilised in their daily activity, even down to using it as a back pack for school books.

The village of Koh Chen has a few silverware factories in it. A lot of the shaping of the silverware, or copper ware, or brass ware, is done in the nearby homes and either sold by the kids who ‘grab’ you as you get off the ship for the walking tour, or from the factories along the way. Near the end of our walking tour, the kids sing us a few songs both in english and local dialect.

I’ve only just remembered that the movie “Top Gear UK goes to Vietnam” was shown on the sun deck in the evening. If you haven’t seen this movie, get the DVD and enjoy the quaintness of life on a motor bike if you decide to ride it from Saigon in the south to Halong Bay in the north.

Tomorrow we are sailing back towards Phnom Penh then a ‘u-turn’ back up the Mekong towards Kampong Tralach.