So my website is not responding again. Too late to address at the front desk. Will do it in the morning. Morning now and the access is fixed.
What a day in Cambodia. The day started at 8 AM. Manin picked us up from the hotel to take us to Pepy’s office to meet thirty five students and staff to go to Kulen Mountain via two mini buses.
What is Kulen Mountain and why go there? Kulen Mountain is considered to be the most sacred mountain in Cambodia. Both Hindus and Buddhists come to the mountain. For Cambodians, Kulen Mountain is considered to be the birthplace of the Khmer Empire. It is believed that it is here where King Jayavarma II declared independence from an empire called Java back in 804. Kulen Mountain has become a playground for the Cambodians. There are waterfalls and a river that runs through the mountainside. Cambodians come here to swim and soak themselves under the waterfalls. They also picnic there and there are local shops set up selling clothes, food and other items. Five years ago I paid a visit and had a great time watching the locals enjoy themselves. There are lots of hammocks set up and shelters that you sit under to try and keep you from the sun. The area is also an attraction for natural medicine doctors and attracts people seeking blessings and healing from the holy waters. Some of the vendors were selling weird looking roots, leaves and powders that are used in natural healing. I am tempted to go swimming, but decided not to. Who knows what lives in the muddy waters.
Before you arrive at Kulen Mountain you stop at an area that I had previously visited. The area is named “Thousand Lingas” at Kbal Spean. What is a linga? I will try to explain. A linga is a symbol of Hinduism. A linga represents energy and strength. To me, a linga looks like a large phallus symbol. Try googling it to get a better understanding. When I was at this site five years ago, I spoke to a french archeologist who was working there. It is believed that a huge complex exists here at least as large as Angkor Wat. The archeologists have used a new technology called Mylar that scans and pictures disturbances and made made formations from a helicopter or airplane. There is a small river where you can see ancient sculptures carved into the bedrock of the river. Very impressive. Locals come here to look at the bedrock and some monks have set up some prayer sites.
It was then onto the entrance to Kulen Mountain. After you enter you walk up a long flight of ancient looking steps. The steps are lined with beggars on either side of the stairs and since today is a national holiday, there were lots of people. Many of the people gladly gave the beggars money. It looked like they were giving blessings to the beggars by giving them money. The people willingly h=gave them money and offerings. On the top of the mountain is a massive reclining buddha. There was a long line to climb the stairway up to the reclining buddha. When we finally got to the reclining buddha, there were lots of people praying and giving offerings. People were also in other pavilions praying with monks and offering prayers and blessings to various buddha sites. A massive scene of humanity in a hot oppressive atmosphere.
It was then time for lunch. The students and staff had brought lunch. Lunch was rice and chicken. I wandered over to the river to take pictures of the people swimming and playing in the water. By this time, I was totally exhausted and my clothes were soaking with sweat. When I got back to the pavilion that everyone was eating under, I tasted the chicken. Very tasty. A woman that brought over two small catfishes. These were larger than the ones I had yesterday, but certainly not worthy to be called catfishes.
After lunch Kimsru then took me for a walk around the site. We hiked down a long flight of wet steps to the bottom of a large waterfall. As I was walking down, I kept on thinking now I have to walk up. So many people swimming around and under these long large waterfalls. My camera could not stop clicking. It was then time to walk up these long wet steps to the top in hot humid weather. I finally made it as my body needed to collapse. My legs felt like rubber. Kimsru stopped and we both bought two glasses of sugar cane juice. Sugar cane storks are fed into a grinding machine and the machine stomps the juice out of the sugar cane. The juice is then put into a cup with ice. Great for your teeth. An old five hour energy drink and I needed one.
It was then time to leave and head our way back. Before we got back to Siem Reap, I wanted both buses to make two stops. The first stop is the landmine museum. The landmine museum was founded by a Cambodian man named “Anka Ra”. During the Khmer Rouge years, his parents were killed and the Khmer Rouge trained him, as a child soldier, to plant landmines. In 1987, he escaped and joined the Vietnamese Army to fight the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge was eventually defeated and the Vietnamese Army left Cambodia in 1990. Thereafter, Anka Ra decided to devote the rest of his life to finding landmines and blowing them up before they can do human damage. Every time I visit Cambodia, I make a trip here. There is a museum where different kinds of landmines are displayed and the process of finding and blowing the landmines up is told. In the back of the museum is housing for some of the victims. I was amazed to find out that none of the students had ever been here. We then all sat down in a small theater to see a short video on Anka Ra, the landmine museum and its activities. After the video, I talked with the students. I gave them a homework assignment. I asked them to interview their grandparents and parents to find out how they survived the Khmer Rouge years. I told them it was important to save these stories and tell them to their children. They all promised me that would do this and send me their stories through email. I further explained to the the students that I believe that the Khmer Rouge holocaust changed their personalities and how they view and lead their lives. Even though they were not around during those years, the people who survived passed on those new traits and life goals to their children. When you visit the countryside of Cambodia, you see how the people live. A written description cannot due their homes and living conditions justice. To think that many of these families, living in these conditions, send their children to school to try to better their children’s lives, is quite extraordinary and inspiring.
Next stop was the butterfly center. This is a big center that is open air, but there are large nets covering the center. Beautiful flowers and plants are planted as the butterflies roam amongst the flowers. The students loved walking around and taking pictures of the flowers and butterflies with their cell phones.
Onto our hotel. By this time my feet were aching and my clothes were many times drenched.
Zayaa, Kimsru, Konnithlka, her beautiful five year old daughter, Hannah and her husband all met up at the hotel pool at about 6:30. We spent over 90 minutes detoxing from this long, exhausting and exhilarating day. Cambodian women do not wear bikinis nor two piece swimming suits when they swim. They are very modest people and do not show off their bodies in public like some of us do.
Dinner was back to the Vitking restaurant for more of their delicious vegetarian food. I love the tofu and mushrooms here. The restaurant was closing as we left.
How can I describe today? Exhausting along with exhilarating. I am so glad I was able to show Zayaa the real Cambodia and the Cambodia that I love.
Tomorrow is a moping day in the morning. Will wrap up one more blog and then its onto our next adventure. Where are we going and what are we doing?
Talk to everyone soon