Monday, February 11, 2008

Wat Phnom: A temple on top of a hill

Located at the intersection of Street 96 and Norodom Boulevard of Phnom Penh, we found a temple rested on top of a hill. This is Wat Phnom (literally means “hill temple”) is considered as one of the most important temples at the heart of Phnom Penh.

The establishment of this temple has its beginnings tied closely with the history of Phnom Penh. According to the legend (as re-told to us by the ever accommodating Toe during our night tour), in 1372 Daun Chi Penh, a wealthy widow more known in the history as “Lady Penh” (got the connection?) discovered four Buddha statues in a koki tree floating on the Mekong river. In 1372 she built an artificial hill and a placed a shrine on top to house some precious artifacts. On that artificial hill (phnom), she built a small temple (wat) at what is now the site of Wat Phnom. In 1434, King Ponhea Yat came and constructed the city which he gave the name Phnom Penh ("Hill of Penh").

There have been many additions to the original shrines over the centuries. The site has also undergone various restorations and reconstructions the latest was in 1926. In fact, when we got to the temple, there were still some restorations and reconstructions going on. We saw some new stupas being rebuilt at the back. Some of the sheds were also being repainted.

Inside one of the large stupas, located at the front contains the remains of King Ponhea Yat, one of the kings of the Khmer Empire from 1421 to 1462 who ordered the construction of six Buddhist monasteries around Phnom Penh.

Wat Phnom is now the center of various activities in the Phnom Penh like the Cambodian New Year (Chaul Chnam Thmey) and the Ancestor’s Day (Pchum Benh), which according to Toe "are moveable holidays." The place is visited and flocked by visitors and tourists from all over the place and a favorite hangout of faithful trekkers, fortune tellers, vendors, and motodups (motorcycle taxi driver). *Thanks Toe for the corrections and info*

front gate with naga

The main entrance going up to the temple is via this grand eastern staircase, which is guarded by lions and naga (snake) balustrades. We paid $1 each for the entrance, not bad for such a fancy-looking temple on the hill (27-meter high).

temple on the hill

On top (after traversing the staircase) you'll be greeted by this beautiful structure, the main tempe. On each side are two lion guards. At 27 metres above sea level, it is the highest point in the area. The huge clock, illuminated at night, found on the base of the hill at the southern side has become one of Phnom Penh's night-time landmarks.

inside the temple

Inside the temple are worshipers and petitioners offering flowers, food, candles, incence, etc. Many people come here to pray for good luck and success in whatever endeavors they have in life i.e., school exams or business affairs.

the shed

One of the beautiful sheds being repainted located at the front, left of the temple.

for offerings

When a visitor's wish is granted, he or she returns to the temple to make the (promised) offering in the form of garland of jasmine flowers or bananas, of which the spirits are said to be especially fond of.

the offering

There is an altar for Yeay Penh ("grandmother Penh") between the stupa and the Vihear. People from the city consider her as a powerful protective spirit of the town and they will offer for her and request her help for any major decisions.

stupa being renovated

One of the stupas is undergoing restoration. The large stupa contains the remains of King Ponhea Yat (1405-1476) and his royal family. Inside the stupa, there is a Buddha statue from the Angkorean period.

feeding the monkeys

At the foot of the temple hill, we found monkeys climbing on a huge tree. Some are scattered on the grass and some are being fed by children and families. To feed the monkeys, one has to buy a bunch of bananas or this particular plant ( i don't know what it is called) which can be bought from vendors around the area.

monkey eating

One of the monkeys having a fun time eating.

Although this temple is famous for 'wishers' I never had the chance to wish for anything. I chose not to. My reason was, well I am not a worshiper of Buddha so he might not grant my wish (lame huh?). Two, everything in the area looked phony to me. Everything looks too commercial. Everything is for sale (including the offerings) and vendors were taking advantage of selling whatever they can sell especially the I-will-make-a-wish-and-I-will-buy-an-offering-in-exchange thingie that I couldn't choke at all. I termed it as "a temple that has gone commercial".

The weather was (so) hot that time we visited so much so that I got dizzy going up and down the hill. Oki and I had a separate route going through the temple (as I wanted to take as many photos as I could) and we just agreed to meet at the foot of the hill where the monkeys were being fed by kids.

By the time I got here, I wanted to vomit due to heat exhaustion and hunger. My stomach was begging for food (and it was way passed lunch time). I had fun watching the monkeys though that I decided to sit on the grass and take photos. I wanted to feed them but I don't like buying them bananas either so I just sat there and watched (like a beggar with a camera, I looked really wasted).

According to Tourism of Cambodia:

"Wat Phnom is the only attraction in Phnom Penh that is in danger of turning into a circus. Beggars, street urchins, women selling drinks and children selling birds in cages (you pay to set the bird free locals claim the birds are trained to return to their cage afterwards) pester everyone who turns up to slog the 27m to the summit. Fortunately its' all high-spirited stuff, and it's difficult to be annoyed by the vendors, who after all, are only trying to make a living out of it."

7 comments:

haggis basher said...

Glad to see that we are back on your travelogue.

Great image, the only thing I don't like is seeing the monkey's being fed. It does them no good in the long term.

pieterbie said...

Commercial temples, no, that is over the top, I think :-)
Really love this temple architecture, though, I could shoot some photos there. But then I guess that happens a lot.
You seem to get the exposure just right all the time, or are you just good at post-processing?
I must say that since I treated myself to the 5D with the bigger display, I have become a dedicated histogram reader :-)

my gulch said...

@Mike:
glad to be back too. this travelogue has long been overdue. it should have been finsihed a month ago but surprise, surprise I am lazy. i will slip in recent posts every now and then just to provide some variety.

@Peter:
well, i do minimal "post-processing" since i don't know that much about photoshop (yet). but i do resize the photos posted here, and adjust the level up a bit (or more) depending on the exposure. one thing i noticed though is that, i really get excellent exposures during high noon and mid afternoon and since i am not a flash lover, i try to compensate for the available light every now and then. and oh, i rarely crop my photos these days since i manage the "art of framing and proper cropping". One thing i learned from attending one of those workshops. one thing i really like about NikonD80 is that the images it produces are really bright and saturated in colors. so no need for adjustments.

quite frankly, i am not keen on the 2nd shot. as you can see the sky was too uneven and too bright, so there's no way that i could adjust here. the third shot, i guess i was lucky to have enough sunshine coming from the adjacent doors that it didn't go against the light, otherwise, the scene inside the temple would have been a little to dark.

Ferdz said...

That's an interesting bit on how the name of the city came to be. The temple nga looks 'developed', 'phony' as you said. Medyo iwas ako sa ganyan. But for its historical significance, it's worth a glance.

Cute ng portrait ng Monkey. Hehe

my gulch said...

Ferdz!
cute lang sa picture yan...makukulit at maldito yang mga monkeys, hehe. nanghahablot ng kamay. kahit anong pwedeng agawin, aagawin nila (pati plastic) kaya medyo takot din akong lumapit baka hablutin ang kamera ko, hehehe!

Toe said...

Hehehe... parang mas madami ka pang alam sa'kin about the history... I didn't even know about that king. :)
Did you see Sumbo, the elephant, there? He usually gives elephant rides. I imagine you must have been very hot by that time.

Galing nanaman ng pictures mo, as usual. It really reflects the multitude of activities there.

my gulch said...

Toe!
Shempre yung ibang details sinearch ko na sa google at wikipedia, hehehe! pero yung gist nung storya shempre sa'yo ko nalaman at unang narining. oo meron nga pero di na ko na-amaze kase simula ng napadpad ako sa Cambodia parang kabila-kabila ang mga elepante. galing na nilang mag-mix sa tao. parang domesticated na. mas natuwa ako sa mga monkeys. hangkulit eh. isa pa medyo napagod na din ako kakagala namin, at mainit talaga Toe. sabayan pa ng gutom. di ba nga si Oki nagka-sunburn pa. hay. yan ang nakukuha ng mahilig kumota.

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