Day 14 - Meak Bochea Festival and Phare Ponleu Selpak's Circus


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January 31st 2018
Published: January 31st 2018
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Awakened by heavy rain, we worry our planned half-day trip by Tuk Tuk to Ek PhNom Temple may have to be aborted, however the sky brightens and we decide to risk it. Our driver is not Oeurm but a replacement, a friend called Somcat, apparently Oeurm had a more lucrative ride!
As before, we head out of town via minor roads , following the river. After 20 minutes we meet a traffic jam and appear to join a procession of various vehicles whose passengers are all wearing white shirts/blouses etc. Somcat explains that today is the Buddhist Festival of Meak Bochea, one of the most holiest of the Khmer calendar. The name means 'Big Prayer', candlelit ceremonies follow the offerings of food and money, in order to gain merit. We could have bypassed the procession but decide to follow. Paula has a white cardigan which she puts on and the procession appear to appreciate the gesture as we get many acts of greeting and deference as we follow. The actual delivery of the effigies is colourful and full of chanting and we enjoy the spectacle.
Moving on, our driver tries to entice us to stop at several touristic sites to see banana dried or coffee made , we demure, feeling a tad guilty we do stop to see rice paper production for spring rolls, although we have seen this many times on previous Asian travels. Apparently, if it sunny they can make 1000 per day with a return of USD20 for work of two women. Feeling a little guilty, we buy a cheap Bamboo pot, none the less overpriced at USD2.
On the road again, Somcat explains that the hovels along the river on our right hand side, are constructed by Muslims. He explains Muslims are not Khmers, but Foreigners. When asked where from? he shrugs and says, many places, not Cambodia. Anyway the reason they live by the River is that that area is not considered by Khmers to be Cambodian as it travel through many Countries and Foreigners can settle there as long as they don't encroach on Cambodian territory, consequentially, these rough Bamboo homes are supported on stilts, similar to those of the Mekong Delta. Not encroaching on land, and precariously overhanging the river.Somcat explains that the riverside is Muslim while the opposite side of the road is Khmer. Apparently the two communities live together in harmony, even intermarrying, although as with many mixed religion marriages, the offspring of these unions must be brought up Muslim, which the Bhuddists do not see as an issue, it seems.
Onwards a further 8/9kms until we reach a 'must-see' site called Wat Ek PhNom. An ancient construction in 1100c during the reign of King Suryavarman. The root-strangled ruins which have been looted several times and recently reclaimed from the jungle. There is a serene lily and lotus pond nearby. We believe that following partial reconstruction, it now appears more like a poor Lego project, photos will explain.
We return to our hotel to pack in preparation for our early morning trip to Siem Reap, after this we are whisked off by our pre arranged Tuk Tuk and original driver Oeurm, to visit the World Famous Phare Ponleu Selpak's Circus run by the CTT school for orphans and disadvantaged children. The performers consist of disadvantaged children and young adults who are trained in the disciplines of juggling, acrobatics, aerial acts, clowning, balance and dance. The show is impressive, if not polished and has some really talented Kids. On it's completion, we rejoin our Tuk Tuk to marvel at a total eclipse of the Moon, which gives the sky a stunning effect by turning the nearby stars red.

We eat tonight at the popular Jaan Bai, a training restaurant for young students, again sponsored by the CTT. Glad we pre-booked as it was a full house. Excellent food, we share an eggplant and mushroom dumpling dish, then Paula opted for a popular Khmer dish of Fish Amok, a fragrant coconut inspired dish served in a banana leaf with sticky rice, while Leo chooses Prawn and Tofu Pad Thai, a sweeter noodle dish, a bit too sweet he says. The service and ambience are excellent, another tribute to the efforts to give a lifeline and career opportunity to poorer young adults in the area and according to Trip Advisor, is well supported.

After striking up a conversation with an English couple who are sat at the next table, we learn that not only had we seen the same performance this evening, we are booked on the same bus to Siem Reap in the morning. Stroll home to bed for an early start. Very nice end to our time in Battambang (Bat dam Bong).


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