Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Phnom Penh Part 6 - National Museum and Wat Phnom Hill

If you’ve been to the spectacular temples of Angkor Wat, then a visit to the National Museum in Phnom Penh is a must. In the four corners of this building, relics, tablets, engravings, statues and priceless Angkorian art and treasures are on display. Each item is labeled with its name, the temple origin (ex. A stone tablet would be marked with “Ta Promh, year 1218, fertility symbols”), and capsule explanations of the relic. I find this fascinating as I get to associate it with those temples in Angkor Wat. Unfortunately, like most museums, photography inside is prohibited and I couldn’t even steal photos from my cellphone cam as there are watchful manongs in every corner.
Located opposite the Royal Palace, you enter the grounds through its left side entrance. At the corner, you can purchase your entrance ticket of $3 (12,400 riel or PhP141.40). I took my time outside, gulping my Coke fix before roaming the front garden, which has Angkorian statues on display. This is an area where you are allowed to take photographs, and tourists usually take advantage of this privilege as it has samples of what could be seen inside. Although you can take your camera with you, the museum personnel are ever watchful so I behaved. The museum itself contains an excellent collection from Cambodia’s golden age of Angkor. From roaming the four corners, you can proceed to the lovely central courtyard, an open area with ponds and a temple where photography is once again allowed. I took my time reading through each artifacts and pieces, transporting myself to an era of kings and slaves and an ancient civilization. It was a hoot!
After an enjoyable tour inside, I sat at a bench facing the courtyard. There was a Pinoy family preoccupied with taking photographs. I wanted to say hello, but several encounters with Pinoys during my journeys within the last 3 years have taught me to steer clear from my kababayans. I was actually itching to speak Tagalog, or rub elbows with them just to feel a little less alone, but I was able to control myself. I dislike snobs but experience is a darn good teacher and I have been taught well. Let’s just say that my kababayans have not been my favorite acquaintances from these trips, and I’d rather not write about these instances to avoid painting an unpalatable image among other nationalities who get to read this.

Wat Phnom is one of the most important pagodas in Phnom Penh. Built in 1373, it stands at 27 meters and is the tallest religious structure in the city. The temple was built on an artificial hill by the wealthy widow Daun Chi Penh after a great flood washed statues of Buddha downstream. There have been many additions to the original shrines over the centuries. It is the center of city celebration for the Cambodian New Year, and Pchum Benh. The hill is the capital’s green space with lots of tall trees surrounding it. Gallivanting monkeys, an elephant (a pricey ride at $15 for a roundabout – gosh, an elephant ride in Thailand only costs 200 baht or less than $6! ) and amputee beggars (victims of landmines) are a common visual fixture.
There is a $1 (4000 riel) entrance fee if you make your way up the hill to visit the Wat (temple). However, I realized there was a way to avoid paying the entrance. I climbed the hill from the side, over dirt mounds, and reached the side grounds of the temple. Since it was an unconscious effort to avoid paying for the entrance, I didn’t point out that glitch. The temple was no great shakes either – just a series of Buddha statues of different sizes bunched up together. It was a simple temple with hardly anyone there, but myself. It was an easy descent too, as I made my way down the main stairway. Under a giant canopy, I sat at a bench, observing locals. A giggly blond eventually found herself riding the gentle elephant. Tei, my motorcycle driver, patiently waited for me. I liked the unobtrusive demeanor of this arrangement. I dictated everything – and for a very minimal fee, and there was a degree of comfort in knowing that a Khmer was looking out for me too. You will never believe how much I was able to agree for a whole-day transport and guide. The Eye in the Sky had a grin from ear to ear.

The Wat Phnom hill.

Giggly blond meets gentle giant.

The front entrance of Wat Phnom.

I've seen his photos from other traveler's blogs. He is a daily fixture at the footsteps of the temple. I'm glad to have taken his photo too.

Wat Phnom

Here’s what wikipedia has to say about Pchum Benh:
Prachum Benda ("Ancestors' Day"), more commonly known as Pchum Ben, is a Cambodian religious festival, culminating in celebrations on the 15th day of the tenth month in the Khmer Calendar. (In 2009, the national holiday falls on the 28th - 30th of September in the Gregorian calendar.) The day is a time when most Cambodians pay their respects to deceased relatives. People cook meals for monks, bring offerings to the temple and throw rice near the temple early in the morning, believing that the ghosts of their ancestors will receive it. This is equivalent to the Philippines' All Soul’s Day or Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
The following photos have been included for completion:

Pchum Benh celebration in Cambodia. This photo above is courtesy of Please visit his site for local musings on Khmer life.

Dia de los Muertos celebrated by Mexicans the world over (above and below).

Day of the Dead, Mexico. This photo only courtesy of Victor Hugo dela Fuente Flores.


jepayuki said...

hey there eye! they have their own version of venus de milo, how cool is that! i love the garden! *<|:0)

escape said...

wow! such an intriguing city. beautiful culture. i wonder what camera are you using.

eye in the sky said...

hey jepay,

yes they do have their headless venus, although theirs has a slimmer waistline and believed to have been sculpted before the 12th century. who knows what year venus de milo was made (it was found from relics in the 1850s).

and the garden is nice, lots of trees and shrubs.

eye in the sky said...

hey dong,

their golden era of angkor will buoy up cambodia in the years to come, as people will keep visiting to see the temples of Angkor.

i use a canon G9 and a backup low-tech "de-rolyo" canon instamatic for when i'm not able to fully charge the G9.

pamatayhomesick said...

pards,wag kang mahihiya ikwento ang ganyang pangyayari about sa mga kababayans,..negative or ganitong paraan baka may mamulat sa katotohanan.

ok yung de-rolyo,pwedeng pang title!

eye in the sky said...


actually ayoko talagang mag kwento kasi ayokong masabihan na naninira ng mga pinoy. but i've met several pinoys and had bad experiences while meeting them. eh alam mo naman tayo basta nasa ibang bansa di ba? "sabik" sa ibang pinoy - and i am no different, but i've learned already.

di bale, i'll think about what you said. baka isulat ko rin minsan. thanks for that advice.

p.s. maganda kaya ang composition ng pictures na galing de-rolyo. mahal nga lang coz of the extra expenses.

Twin said...

Very informative...Eye, try Digiprint---collect all your film rolls, they will process it and digitize them on CD. They will deliver pa to your house. Mas cheaper pag maraming rolls kang pinagawa...
When I went to Japan, may nakita rin akong mga Pinay while shopping. I was happy to see them kasi narinig kong nag Tagalog but when they saw me, biglang nawala, parang nagtago. Inisip ko na lang, baka mga "illegal" workers sila kaya nila ako "i-nisnob." It's not a nice feeling when your countrymen kinda "disowns" you in a foreign land :)

eye in the sky said...

hey twin,

nope, am not talking about me being "snobbed", but some tricky situations. its hard to talk about it without narrating the specific events. eh, in my last 3 years of travels, ive met several na rin naman. kakaiba lang with my european experience where every part of europe, i have befriended pinoys coz theyre very warm. but there seems to be new mechanics among traveling pinoys - and i don't like it. am still very friendly naman when they talk to me, but it's still better to steer clear when you can.

anyway, regarding film rolls, i am actively using film rolls AND having them saved direct to CD - aside from the hard prints themselves. the more rolls you develop, the bigger the discount.

Sidney said...

An amazing and beautiful place... day... I will be able to visit it.

eye in the sky said...

hey sidney,

yes, the museum and the hill are great places for a visit. lots of interesting photographic subjects too. thanks for dropping by.