The plan for today is to visit Wat Hanchey (Han Chey) in the morning, attend my friend Ny’s wedding in the afternoon and ride back to Phnom Penh before it gets dark. Yesterday I agreed with the guesthouse guy that we would meet at 7:30am and that he would show me the way to Wat Hanchey. The guide books say that Wat Hanchey is a beautifully located hill top pagoda that was an important religious centre during the Chenla period. They also suggest it is easy to visit Wat Hanchey, which is about 25 km from Kampong Cham town, by boat. Anyway, I take the bike for convenience and time efficiency.
We start at the agreed time without any breakfast and head north along the Mekong. After very few kilometres we are riding on a narrow and bumpy dirt road. The road leads along the Mekong through a couple of villages in a nice and rural setting. We are not the only ones on the roads. There are all kinds of vehicles, like oxcarts, minibuses and bicycles.
Homes next to the river at the periphery of Kampong Cham town.
We ride for about 40 minutes until we reach the bottom of the hill on which Wat Hanchey is located. The hill is situated next to the Mekong and a good but steep dirt road is leading up to its top.
The view from up here is remarkably beautiful and in fact the nicest view I have ever seen on the Mekong River. The pagoda is located on a mountain that sits next to a river bend with a huge and green island right in front of it in the middle of the river.
The water level appears to be rather low and there are wide, beach like stretches of land along the banks of the river and the island.
Many rather small fishermen’s boats can be seen on the river.
There are many small buildings and religious monuments spread out over an area of considerable proportions on the hill top.
After walking around for some time we leave, riding down the hill on the other side and then heading back on the dirt road along the river to Kampong Cham.
Ny’s sister comes to the guesthouse with the moto taxi to show me the way to the village where Ny’s wedding is taking place. The village is located about 20 km outside Kampong Cham town on the same bank of the Mekong as Wat Hanchey but towards the southwest. I follow her moto bike on a dirt road, again through pretty riverbank villages.
She tells me that we will visit first the house in which she and Ny grew up. Here I have a chance to meet and talk to their grandmother, which is more than 80 years old, and other members of the family. The grandmother does not attend the wedding because she feels weak today. One of her sons remains in the house to take care of her as well as a cow which is likely to deliver a calf today.
After about one hour we leave on three moto bikes to the location of the wedding, which is the house of the bride and only about 2 km from here. Ny met his wife in Phnom Penh but they are from the same district and almost from the same village.
We arrive at the place where some ceremony is going on. There about 20-30 guests, many of them children. Bride and groom are sitting next to each other in colourful costumes and with three assistants each. A man and a woman are giving a comical show in front of them, which I do not understand. I am asked to sit behind the couple along with their parents.
This is the couple (in front of a massive stereo system that will later deliver a continuous stream of mostly local and enormously loud dance music).
The guy who is doing the show.
The show goes on for some time and then it is getting more serious. One after the other, family members cut off some hair from bride and groom. I do not understand what it means but Ny’s sister indicates to me that this is significant.
This is when the groom’s father cuts of hair, while classical music is being played.
Now it is the bride’s turn.
I am also asked to cut some hair from both of their heads.
Then the couple and their entourage stand up and leave to one of the houses on the compound, to change their dress. In a Khmer wedding, the bride changes her dress many times throughout the ceremony.
After some time I follow with some of the family. A number of people are inside, talking to each other and posing for pictures. I get some shots of the couple and its family.
Myself with the bride, Ny’s sister and some other relatives.
The couple with Ny’s friends …
… and with their respective parents.
Some of the family gathering outside in a tent.
Later the couple and its entourage take a seat at the gate. Here they wait for visitors to greet them rather formally. In fact they have to wait for about two hours. Meanwhile I sit down with Ny’s friends and talk.
By now extremely loud and mostly Khmer pop music is being played. People are moving towards the tables and later I sit with some of Ny’s friends down to have food. Plenty of food and drinks are being served, while the couple is still waiting at the gate.
I stay on for some time. It is about 4pm when I decide to leave, so I can still make it to Phnom Penh before dark. I ride back to Kampong Cham, fill up the moto and head towards the capital. It looks rainy almost throughout the trip and sometimes there are strong guts of wind. I come across areas where there was strong rain before but in the end make it to Phnom Penh without getting wet.
The last few kilometres are getting very frustrating as it is Sunday and there are hundreds of restaurants and entertainment places along this road outside Phnom Penh. There is immense traffic now in the early evening which is moving very slowly and chaotically. I guess the last 5 km take me about forty minutes. It is dark when I arrive at home.