Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Amphawa Floating Market

Sunday, 1/15

This morning, Mr. Ving and our driver took us some 60 km southwest of Bangkok to visit the weekend Amphawa floating market.

We thoroughly enjoyed this market, because it is frequented almost exclusively by locals, not tourists. This woman had a canal-side grill and was cooking meat.  It didn't look like Texas BBQ, but it really smelled good!

In addition to food and produce being sold in stalls along the river, there were many people selling meat, vegetables and other goods from their boats. Several were also cooking and serving food from their portable, floating, kitchens.

We opted to sample some fried fish cakes served in banana-leaf bowl. Yum!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Temple of Dawn

January 14...continued....

Our third stop on this pagoda-packed afternoon was Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn. One of the best-known temples in Bangkok, Wat Arun features a central Kymer-style tower surrounded by four minor towers.  

We were especially fortunate to fixit Wat Arun on the day a ceremony was being held to honor some official who had been promoted. We arrived to find a number of dancers in traditional Thai costumes. 

They performed accompanied by musicians playing traditional instruments. 

And as if that wasn't enough of a treat, then came a full marching band led by a young woman wearing a cowboy hat and playing American music. Following the band came three dragon figures which were met with excited squeals from the children watching the parade.

By the time the dancers filed inside and the dragons disrobed, it was growing dark. We retired to our room for a chilled beverage after a very fulll day!

...Two Pagoda...Many Pagoda More...

January 14--off to Bangkok

This morning, Jimmy Joe accompanied us by tuk-tuk to the airport to catch our flight to Bangkok. After a pleasand flight, we landed and were met by our guide, Mr. Ving of Khiri Travel. He and our driver, Mr. Gong, took us to our hotel, the Navalai River Resort. The hotel is very nice, and has an outdoor restaurant right on the River of Kings. Our only disappointment was that our "serene corner room" wasn't on a corner. However, otherwise it was very satisfactory.

After lunch and settling into our room, we departed with Mr. Ving on a whirlwind pagoda tour. Traveling by water taxi, our first stop was the Grand Palace, with its many extraordinary buildings, shrines and statuary. A few of the images from the Grand Palace follow.

On the inside walls of the enclosure are a number of "mirror paintings" which depict scenes from a legend from Thai culture.  It's a very long story, but involves two kings and the kidnapping of one of their wives by some demons.  The battle scenes include the legendary "White Monkey," who helps to rescue the maiden from the demons. 

Mr. Ving knew the whole story by heart, and could tell us what was happening in each part of the mural. 

One of the highlights of the palace tour is Wat Pra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the most revered shrine in the Kingdom. Carved from a single piece of jade the Emerald Buddha cannot be photographed from inside the temple. This image is taken from outside, through the open door.

Next door to the Grand Palace is Wat Po, one of Bangkok's oldest and laregest temple. It houses the famous gigantic, gold-plated Reclining Buddha. We were told that this figure represents Buddha after his death. His eyes are open, signifying that he has entered Nirvana. His feet are perfectly aligned, signifying that he is dead. (We were told that if one foot extends beyond the other, he is sleeping or resting.)

Phnom Penh Musings

January 13--It's the last day before John and I leave for Thailand. I'm up early this morning, watching the world wake up. I have a cup of coffee and a good view of the street from Jimmy and Nine's second-floor balcony.

Alpha and Bravo (so named by Jimmy Joe), the two neighborhood alpha male dogs, have made rournds to re-mark their territory and make sure the dog from the next block isn't trespassing. They're what we woud call "curs," but well-fed and wearing collars.

The Chinese guys from across the street are giving their SUV, a black and shiny Lexus, its daily washing. (The Cambodians tend not to pronounce the last letter of each word. Therefore, Lexus becomes Lexee and Land Cruiser becomes Lancruisee.)

Three children pedal by on their bicycles, baskets piled high with books, on their way to the Chinese school. The girls have red skirts and white blouses, while the boy wears red trousers and a white shirt.

Across the street and two houses down, the little naked boy pays with a stick while his brother (carrying a backpack almost as big as he is) waits for his ride to school. Their parents run a tiny sidewalk cafe where locals stop for a snack or lunch.

Next door to the Chinese villa, a large blue tanker truck with three workers prepare to do something involving sections of pipe and a hose. Doesn't look good!

One of the women who does recycling announces her presence by blowing a horn that closely resembles the sound made by a New Year's Eve noisemaker. Residents bring their trash to the curb. The recycle lady then goes through the offered trash bags to take out anything she can sell....glass bottles, plastic containers, aluminum cans, whatever. 

A family heads out on their moto. Dad is driving with the youngest child in front. Big Brother sits behind him, and Mom hangs on in back. By law, the driver must wear a helmet, but no one else is required to do so. They are joined by many more bicycles, motos and tuk-tuks, all going somewhere.

Out of sight but upwind, I know the neighbors are burning the night's fallen leaves. It's a daily ritual. They sweep the walk and driveway in front of the villa, then burn the smal pile of leaves and spent flowers. They may throw trash in the neighbor's gutter, but theirs is clean.

Never a moment goes by that something isn't happening.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

One Pagoda...

On our way to visit another of Phnom Penh's marvelous pagodas, Wat Ounalom, we passed this monk delivering a blessing to a restaurant owner who has donated food or money. 

Shortly thereafter, we stopped to deliver John and Nine to "Seeing Hands Massage," while Jimmy Joe and I were off to photograph the pagoda. These massage facilities are sponsored by an NGO, or non-governmental organization, and are staffed by talented massage therapists who have lost their sight. As we can all attest, they do a fantastic job.  (John may look like he is dead, but he's really just very relaxed.)

We were fortunate that our visit to Wat Ounalom came on a day when the monks were preparing for a special ceremony of some sort. The pagoda was adorned with flags and bunting and the monks were busy helping to drape the stage with brilliant orange cloth.

We walked around the grounds admiring the statuary. While we were taking photographs, two elderly women wanted us to take their pictures with their hands on the images of cattle. We were told that touching the statues is considered good luck.

Inside the pagoda, the senior monk was receiving donations and holding audiences with visitors bearing gifts and asking for his blessings.

Among the decorations surrounding the altar were a number of cutouts of animals.  We were told they will be burned at some later time to bring good luck.

A small group of musicians were performing just inside the pagoda. They were playing traditional instruments, many of which I had never seen.

After his audiences, the senior monk held a short conference with one of the other monks, then supervised the rearrangement of the Buddha images. 

Some of the figures are seated, while others stand with their hands in various traditional positions. By noting the placement of the hands, one can tell whether the Buddha is meditating, delivering a blessing, or is in some other state. 

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit, and were especially pleased that we happened to choose such a special day.




Friday, January 13, 2012

The Royal Palace

The Cambodian Royal Palace sits on a large, well-manicured site and is a wonderful place  to visit. The part of the Palace grounds that is open to the public features the Throne Room,

the Silver Pagoda, several memorial stupas and beautiful grounds. 

Since most of the buildings do not allow photographs inside, we cannot share the wonders we saw. The Throne Room is reserved for coronations and state visits. The Silver Pagoda, built in 1892 and rebuilt in 1962, is named for the 5000 silver tiles (each weighing 2 pounds) that cover the floor. It houses the world-famous Emerald Bhuddah, seated on a gilt pedestal high above the dias. When viewed with the light behind it, the statue is translucent, and truly magnificent. The pagoda also houses a jewel-studded Buddah made of solid gold with a 25 carat diamond in its forehead, among other treasures.

The grounds feature statuary such as this one of King Norodom, many lovely trees and flowering plants, as well as topiary figures of elephants and other beasts. 

One can easily spend several hours wandering the grounds and enjoying the marvelous sights.

Tuol Sleng Prison Museum and the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center

On Sunday we passed up some of Phnom Penh's more colorful sites for a trip to the Tuol Sleng Prison Museum and the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center. These two sites serve to remind Cambodians and the world of the atrocities committed by Pol Pot and the movement known as the Khmer Rouge. In the time between April 17, 1975, when Pol Pot and his followers took over Cambodia, and 1979, when the invading Vietnamese liberated the country, thousands and perhaps millions of Cambodians were slaughtered by Pol Pot's forces. 
Tuol Sleng Prison, also known as "S-21" was the most notorious of the locations where Cambodian citizens were imprisoned, interrogated, tortured and killed. Choeung Ek is the most well known of over 300 "killing fields" throughout Cambodia where men, women and children were taken and slaughtered.

A former secondary school, Tuol Sleng was turned into a prison and the classrooms divided into cells for holding torturing and interrogating prisoners. Some of the former cells have pictures on the walls painted by one of the survivors after his release. I am told he became quite famous and died only recently. His images are a powerful reminder of what happened here.

When the prison was liberated in 1979, it is estimated that some 17,000+ people had passed through its doors and had either died during interrogation and torture, or had been transported to Choeung Ek where they were killed. Forces entering the prison in 1979 found 14 bodies of prisoners who had died there, and only 7 survivors.

One of these, Bou Meng, was an artist whose life had been spared so that he could paint portraits of Pol Pot and other revolutionary leaders. His book is available at the prison, where he autographs copies and tells of the horrors he witnessed while a prisoner there.

Choeung Ek, the location of the "killing fields," is on the surface an idyllic site. A well-done audio tour takes one past the green grass and trees to the site of the atorcities committed there some thirty-five plus years ago. A memorial stupa located on the grounds houses the skulls and bones of some 11,000 of the victims, which have been cleaned and categorized by age and sex.

To visit these sites is is sobering, and helps one to understand in some small way the suffering of the Cambodian people over the past 40 years, and to appreciate how far the country has come since that terrible time.