Tonle Bati and the Phnom Tamao

This was Sunday and I decided to drive to the south for a change. I met with Tang at about 8 in the morning.

We drove south the Norodom Blvd. in Phnom Penh first for the moment, where many Ministries and Embassies, among them the Ministry of Interior as well as the Embassies of Thailand and Japan, are located. There were about 60 to 80 trucks standing along the street. Apparently, those had been used to transport thousands of people to a massive election campaign event for the Cambodian Peoples Party (CCP). On the spacious compound of one Ministry there was a tent under which many hundred people where sitting and listening to what the person at the microphone had to say. I heard that Prime Minister Hun Sen is here, too. Attending people were dressed uniformly in party shirt and party hat. The entire affair reminded me of lineups we had to exercise once a week in school when I grew up in Eastern Germany. There are only three big parties in Cambodia (however, about 23 participate in the upcoming election on July 27). CCP dominates the current government and is likely to continue to do so after the election.

This is in the outskirts of Phnom Penh. People use these boats for fishing. I heard on several occasions that those people are mostly Vietnamese or Muslim Cham. And those people are not particularly popular. I heard they are subject to suppression by ‘citizens’ as well as by the police. There are many sentiments particularly against Vietnamese who are without doubt the best hated group.

This is the ferry with which we cross the Bassac. Bassac is the name of this river which meets the Mekong in Phnom Penh. Just like the Tonle Sap I mentioned yesterday.

This is how it looks like when people fish. In the background is a major pagoda which caused us to come here.

My companion indicated that this Pagoda is preferred by Prime Minister Hun Sen. Again, politics and religion appear to be closely tight to each other. Tang mentioned that the ‘management’ of this pagoda is very powerful. Fortunately, the rain in the background of the photo did not hit us.

This is where the more wealthy stupas are.

Those ones appear to be older. The smaller graves upfront remind of Chinese people.

We crossed the Bassac with the ferry again. The ferry consists basically of two boats which are tight together and covered with planks.

This is what drives it. I assume this was a generator in its first live. The supply of electrical energy has gotten better during the last few years particularly in Phnom Penh and many generators are not necessary anymore.

I wanted to visit Tonle Bati and the Phnom Tamao. Both are located at the national street two south of Phnom Penh. Although it is further away (about 45 km from Phnom Penh), we went to the Phnom Tamao first. This was Tang’s recommendation because there is a zoo and most animals would not been seen at midday.

We did not stop very often. After maybe 20 km we had a break at some sort of restaurant directly at the road. The place appeared to be a village. We bought some bananas and ordered coffee with milk, which is common here. However, most people I met prefer to drink tea. There was a TV and the show was on. Top Teen on Channel Five. I do not have a TV at home and liked the show. Attractive young people, mostly women were dancing and singing. This was pop music and sounded to me like 80ies and Casio keyboards. However, it had a specific feel to it and also the choreography was particular and not at all without elegance and sophistication. People of various ages where sitting on wooden chairs, paying only have of their attention to the TV and the rest to their conversation and to us. I learned that there are five channels in Cambodia, four of them private.

We left the national road after about 40 km and continued the journey on an unpaved sort of a trail. This was about 4 km to drive and along the road I saw many people, most of them old or very old and again most of them women. They were standing separately along the entire road and it must have been about 60 of them. They were standing or sitting separate from each other, with a few children around. I have no doubt that these people suffer from countless diseases. Some of them were sitting in the shadow of a flabellum made of a palm leave. These unfortunate people were equipped with simple construction tools. They appear to ‘maintain’ the ‘road’. There is in fact much to do but these people should not be expected to take care of it. It appears that part of their compensation is what people contribute that use the road. However, I saw a number of both cars and moto cycles but nobody giving. It is hard to image that this is enough to support these peoples’ existence.

I did not try to take pictures. I had the experience that poor or impoverished people do not want to immortalize the image of their current unfavorable circumstances, which I find to be quite plausible. That is why I do not want to subject them to further humiliation.

Interestingly, I saw a stand with a number of well-dressed men standing in the shadow of a tree and collecting money to for the maintenance of the pagoda close by. Surprisingly, Tang stopped the moto to contribute and I saw others doing the same.

We arrived at the bottom of two hills, where a number of stands was located. This looked like a market which was not too busy. It was about to rain when we arrived. After a short shower the sun came out again and we managed to stay dry.

We went first to see the Pagoda which was on a mountain. A few people were begging along the stairs, again mostly old, partly ‘handicapped’ women.

This is the pagoda. Next to it on the right are the remaining walls of an earlier building. This is covered by the building on the right. This appears to be rather recent and very functional.

However, there are dramatic scenes painted on the ceiling.

Many of those guys live here and are not very shy.

Next to the pagoda I found an old monk sitting with the company of a young boy under some sort of tent. There were a number of Buddha around and a lot of incense sticks were burning. The monk asked me to sit down and so I did. He had a pack of cigarettes in front of him and I indicated that I would not mind having a cigarette with him. So we had one. Of course he asked me to contribute to the reconstruction of the pagoda (including the construction of new houses for the monks to live in) which I could not refuse. Then he started to spray water at us and praying really fast. I took this to be some sort of blessing.

This gave me a good experience and I started looking around what else I could get. There was an elderly lady sitting under the same tent with another small boy indicating that she could tell me the future. Usually I would not consider asking for such services. However, after the monk took care of my future, I though, this can only get better.

This is how the game works: there is a card game consisting of about 50 paper cards with handwritten texts that I could not read. And a stick. You take the cards to the back of your head, pray very hard and then prick the stick randomly (this is what I think) into the cards. So I did and gave the result to her. She said my future does not look bright but I have another two chances. So I tried two more times with the same result. This lady did not show much movement but I started to worry and wondered what I can do to light up my future. Tang told me sacrificing is usually a good way going about it. I started to think this is a dirty game (“abgekartetes Spiel” since I had paid them already. Maybe not enough.

Tang ensured me that Buddha is not involved in the card business. My tourist guide told me that many of these old people sitting in pagodas and collecting money are doing so because there is actually no other provision for old age.

We went to another building where we could climb a ladder to the roof. On the way I saw another smoking monk. I did not see anybody being busy. Here I took this picture. Three mountains can be seen on it and all of them have visually names that I already forgot. We went with the moto on the street in the center of the picture to the zoo place, which is situated on and around the ‘hill’ in the middle.

Tang managed to get me in for the Khmer price. The entire zoo is pretty much a drive-through affair. So we drove through it.

Those fellows where about to get food (chicken) and crying, apparently driven by desire.

I do not know much about bears but I though this bear does not look particularly happy.

I saw various monkeys, crocodiles, an 80 kilo python, and countless birds. There is said to be a lion but we could not see it. However, I do not think I should make this a zoological review and limit myself to few pictures. I liked the tigers a lot.

This guy gave us company for some time. He was selling coco nuts (I hope I am not mistaken) to (mostly local) tourists who enjoyed feeding the animals to amuse their children.

His bicycle does not have pedals. Neither does it have a brake. So what he does to reduce the speed is he presses his sandal against the tire at the front wheel while driving. I do not think this is too dangerous since there are no steep mountains and there is not much traffic.

For some reason I find zoos not very exciting and I think both of us got tired by watching these animals. So we decided to leave. While driving through the villages I found that many motos were accumulated close to bar-like establishments in which people were watching TV. Tang told me that this is boxing, again on Channel Five.

We just passed a village and the associated pagoda when we saw large Chinese graves on one side of the street. Tang told me that choosing the right place for the death to be buried is important for Chinese people. Their priest (?) determines which location is suitable for the members of a particular family. This is not the case in Buddhism. Khmer people and presumably other believers of Buddhism in various contries countries cremate the bodies of their deceased whereas Chinese people do not (I hope I got it right).

This is what I saw on the other side of the street. I did not see people at other places along the road laboring Sunday late afternoon. And I did not see very often people working collectively. However, I do not think I should draw conclusions from that correlations. What happens here is that young rice plants are taken from this field to be taken to a more suitable one. I learned that the Cambodian rice production has a particularly low productivity of about 4 metric tons per hectare, whereas China achieves about 20. Furthermore there has not been enough rain so fare in this year. July is particularly difficult and referred to as short dry season.

Already on the way back to PP we stopped at Tonle Bati, which used to be a popular destination for the urban population to hang out and spend time with the family. However, things changed and on the better road and with faster cars people can reach the coast to spend the weekend at the sea. And so they speed. Trucks drivers just keep tooting and driving 60 to 80 km per hour even while passing villages where children play close to the road. Car drivers are not better, but faster. Frequently one car overtakes the other while being overtaken by a third car without care for the majority of the people traveling mostly on moto cycles. More often than not these cars do not have plates. It appears that at least 80 percent of them are all sorts of Toyota Camry.

There is Ta Prohm close by, a sanctum build by King Jayavarman VII. (1181-1218). We went to see it and were welcomed by those girls who provided us with flowers and incense. For some reasons they kept asking me how many girl friends I have and told me I look handsome. This seems to be the local strategy for something. My impression was that only few of them knew what they were saying.

This is the main entrance to the central sanctum, where a beheaded Buddha is sitting. An old man was sitting next to the Buddha, pointing at a box to indicate that I should give some money. I recalled that I have to work on my future. The man lighted some of these incense sticks and handed them to me to prick it into a vase.

Behind this first room there are four others and money is being collected everywhere. I could not get rid of these girls while trying to focus on coping with the burden of my karma. “Sehr aufdringliche Kinder”, notes my tourist guide, “die Lotusblumen und Raeucherstaebchen verkaufen wollen.” This is in fact true.

I read that there is a school close by training orphans in music and arts. This folk was playing highly concentrated and really complex pattern on a xylophone like instrument. I had a lot of appreciation for this boy’s music.

This is the entrance to another sanctum (Vishnu) with another old person waiting inside hoping to collect some money.

Did I mention that Cambodia is a very rural country? There are always some animals around.

This is Tonle Bati. Again: this place used to be the first choice for stressed out urban dwellers to spend their weekend with their families. Those huts are for rent and one can sit together over the water, watch the beautiful scenery or go for a swimm. Nowadays people many people travel to the sea over the weekend and this place gets abandoned.

Foreigners have to pay $3 to enter. One gets a ticket which I thought is really cute. Is says

“Ticket Of Constribution
(For Foreign Guest).
Entered For Relaxation Ton le Baty pleasant side Price
$3.00 (free soft drink 1 can)
For entering Relaxation date …
(for supporting tourism part of Ton le Baty pleasant side)
Please, take care and protecting the ecology.
For bid to throw away trash in side pleasant side and into
The water River
Provincial public Tourism office expressed the pleasure of consciousness anything inside the pleasant side of all ladies and gentleman and wish you to meet satisfying in your traveling.

This is the place where I got the soft drink. It was a coke.

Tang is a very silent and rather shy person. He does not have much confidence into his English which is something he shares with many people around here. On Sunday, however, he started to get engaged into some conversation once in a while.

Tang is 34 and lost his parents in the Pol Pot time when he was about 14. He had to work hard to afford going to college. He has a wife and a son. Tang works in the Ministry of Interior and earns about 50 $ per month. He lives with his family in Kandal Province about 45 km outside Phnom Penh.

This time we were traveling with only one moto. Tang borrowed this one from his Nephew, because his moto is old. People around here travel with three up to five persons per moto.

We left after only half an hour and arrived at about 6 pm in Phnom Penh.

4 thoughts on “Tonle Bati and the Phnom Tamao”

  1. A wonderful article…. this is just what I needed to read today. Thanks for describing the way you work and how you structure your writing projects. I’ll go read that article now.

  2. Hi, You know what, I have been searching for some more information on this topic, and wonder if anyone can help me out? I found this website on Google and would appreciate it if someone sends me some more links on this topic by email. Thanks much in advance.

Leave a Reply