Wat Hanchey and Wat Nokor, Kampong Cham, Cambodia
Bright and early this morning, we arrived at the shores of Wat Hanchey. The RV Jahan came alongside and grounded into the embankment below the Wat. After a short briefing, we climbed the makeshift bamboo path up the edge of the river and began our adventure.
Wat Hanchey is perched above the Mekong River at a beautiful high point. We were given two options for our ascent: on foot, up a sloping path with 300 stairs, or by riding on the back of a moto, driven by one of the locals. The motos were a huge hit, with the majority of the guests choosing this ubiquitous form of transportation. Our drivers were friendly, careful, and seemed to understand that this was a new experience for most of us.
Arrival to the Wat is a sensory experience. There was a great deal of birdsong above us in the trees, there were small wood-fires smoking nearby, and the complex itself is a colorful jumble of buildings and statues. The statues range from giant-sized fruit (including a hand holding roasted bananas!) to jungle animals to bulls pulling brightly painted carts. It is bizarre, for sure, but incredibly interesting. There is a 7th century brick tower, erected by Hindu worshipers and eventually taken over by the present Buddhist temple, at the center of the complex. Novice monks in colorful robes were busy painting parts of the temple buildings; taking advantage of the dry weather. We returned to Jahan for a Buddhist blessing by some of the monks from the monastery. It was a calming experience for all involved and a fitting conclusion to our morning.
Jahan moved farther downstream on the Mekong River and we spent the early afternoon moored alongside the city of Kompong Cham. An incredible spectacle played out before us; something we were privileged enough to see at this particular time of year. The highest yield of trey riel fish are said to run down the Tonle Sap and up the Mekong River in the week before the first full moon of the year, which in our case is tomorrow. Boats (and people!) of all sizes were throwing out and hauling in their nets, working as teams of families to pull the huge amount of monofilament out of the water. Most nets didn’t have a huge yield of fish, but we were privileged to watch much of the shallow water fishing done right outside our windows.
Our last outing while on the Mekong River was to the Bayon-style temple of Wat Nokor. Built by Jayavarman VII (the king who built Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm, which we will see in the coming days), this beautiful temple is a jumble of old and new. The laterite stones, which form the base of the walls, are juxtaposed with a colorful, Buddhist temple built right inside the old ruins. It was a fitting segue between the modern Cambodia we have been visiting and the older Khmer empire we will explore in the coming days.
Our last evening aboard concluded with a walk along a bamboo bridge over the Mekong and a cocktail and dance party on deck with the crew of Jahan. Tomorrow, we head north to Siem Reap to continue our explorations of this amazing country.