Phnom Penh Travel Blog› entry 30 of 62 › view all entries
After a $7 night for a windowless room at the Woolly Rhino, a hearty dinner down the street, and a couple of riverfront beers on armed wicker chairs with nicely padded cushions, I was ready to move on. Besides, my Cambodian visa expired yesterday and the penalty is $5 per day that I overstay. After breakfast I found a mid-day Mekong Express bus ticket to Ho Chi Minh City for $12 and, with four hours until departure, walked to nearby Wat Phnom.
The temple sits atop a 27-meter high, tree-covered knoll which is the only hill in Phnom Penh. According to legend, the first pagoda on the site was constructed in 1373 and contained four statues of Buddha which were deposited by the Mekong River and discovered by a woman named Penh.
The Khmer word for hill is Phnom, thus the city's name.
Steps on four sides lead to the top of the hill and its numerous active temples. The dominating white stupa is a key landmark in the city and is said to contain the ashes of King Ponhea Yat (1405-67) who moved the capitol from Angkor Wat to Phnom Penh in 1422. Hundreds of Buddha statues, from immense to miniature fill the temple and are adorned with fresh flowers, burning incense sticks, and small Cambodian Rial currency notes. Many are left with fresh fruit, water, soft drinks, beer, and even hefty cuts of raw meat. The offerings attest to prayers or good wishes having been answered.
The base of the hill stirred with quiet activity. Besides items offered in the temples, venders sat with carts of fresh fruit, snacks, and coolers of cold drinks.
I photographed a monk tying a bracelet onto a man's wrist. I blame digital delay for the monk spotting me. He slowly approached to stand before me like a mute drill sergeant then eased open his orange cloth shoulder bag. It was full of money. I inserted my smallest bill - 1,000 Rials (25 cents). When he began a soft voiced, monotone lecture, I asked a nearby student if I was in trouble. She said I was being blessed with good wishes. The monk tied a red braided bracelet onto my right wrist.
I enjoyed a baguette and cheese with a glass of red wine at the Green Vespa then boarded the bus which departed as scheduled. The road east was under construction along several rough and dusty stretches to the Mekong River. Child beggars swarmed the ferry. I was repeatedly poked in the ribs by the handless stumps of one young girl before I could even step from the bus for the crossing. Others, smaller and bolder, tried to reach into my pockets. The road smoothed for the rest of the way to the Moc Bai border crossing. The bus stewardess collected all of our passports, and my $5 fine for overstaying the visa, to have us processed out of Cambodia then into Vietnam. Shortly after dark we reached bustling District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City where most of the low budget hotels and guesthouses are located.
A narrow alleyway deceived fine guesthouses and I found a room at the Hau for a staggering $14. But it would only be for one night. Though I scored a fine donner kabab for 75-cents, Tiger beers were greatly overpriced at more than two Dollars a bottle.