Buddha naga buddha cow

Trip Start Mar 03, 2005
Trip End Apr 08, 2006

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

With a lot of talk about disolving monarchies and political coups, combined with a little discontent at the monotony of expat life, I knew the time had come to escape Phnom Penh once again. Even if only for a day. So I got on the buzzer to my friend Row, suggesting we get an 8am bus to the 17th century capital of Udong, 40km north of Phnom Penh. Both of us were in desperate need of a break from the city, and this small mountain provided the last attraction within a days visit from the capital. The spires of four giant stupas atop the small mountain are visible from just about everywhere in the vicinity, and travelling down the Tonle Sap a few weeks back reminded me that it was a place I had to see.

It only took an hour to reach Udong town, where we got off the bus and jumped on the back of a moto for the short 3km ride to the base of the mountain. A group of young boys were sitting on a bench, happily watching the day roll by when they saw us zoom past. Without even thinking they lept up and started racing down the road after us, shouting out! Our motodops let us off a few hundred metres further on, and in no time at all the kids had joined us and appointed themselves as tour guides. This was not a problem as far as I was concerned, thinking back to the amazing time Jono and I had at the temples of Sambor Prei Kuk with the kids in July.

It was a relatively easy climb to the first stupa, with plenty of opportunities to give away the wad of 100 riel notes I'd accumulated. There were a lot of beggars and blind people sitting on the steps, very reminiscent of Phnom Kulen and Phnom Suntok and every other holy Phnom I'd visited in the country. Arriving at the top, the kids pointed out that the stupa was built in the year 2000, which explained why it looked so well preserved! Looking at this stupa I could only have imagined what the temples of Siem Reap looked like in their day, with every part of it home to some intricate carvings. Just as spectacular was the view over the flat countryside below, most of which was still underwater.

The kids soon pointed out the ruins of a small building at the base of the temple, and gave a very vivid description of what happened there. Two words, "Khmer Roo" followed by the imitation of firing a machine gun. Enough said! We spent the next half an hour wandering slowly over the first hump of Udong, looking at three other large stupas, one built in 17th century, one in 1891 and the third in the early 1940's, which is now home to the remains of King Monivong. Further along there were some small huts, or viharas, housing what the kids described as "Buddha Naga" (the Buddha guarded by the mythical five headed serpent), "Buddha Cow" (the sacred bull, Preah Ko) and "the Buddha".

Further on, atop the second hump of the mountain were the ruins of Vihear Preah Ath Roes. This giant temple was now in complete disarray. As I stood looking at the remains of the giant pillars and right arm of all that was left of the Buddha, one of the kids stood beside me and staring at the same thing said "Pol Pot no good". Again, minimal english was all that was needed to sum up the entire situation. The Khmer Rouge destroyed the temple in 1977 to show their contempt for religion.

Winding our way back down the mountain, we saw a Muslim temple and small buddhist temple before getting some lunch. The base of the mountain was typically Khmer, with hundreds of bamboo huts with raised platforms and hammocks. We bought the kids some lunch, and spent an hour lazing on the hammocks. It was certainly nice to get away from the expat scene and relax in true Khmer style for a while!

After lunch, we checked out a pagoda that is being built on the northern side of the mountain, before paying the kids a dollar each and making our way back to the highway. From here we got a share taxi back to Phnom Penh, meaning the day trip cost me all of $11, more than half of which was given to beggars or used to buy drinks for the kids. All in all, a fantastic day, and I now feel revitalised enough to get through the next week at school, before I head back to the coast for the long weekend.
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