Photo Hunt #55: Stripes

Don’t be surprised by the blog posts that I’ve done one after the other. Thanks to the long holiday, the Bon Pchum Ben, my husband and I are enjoying, relaxing, and doing things together without the usual stress that goes with our normal routine.

I have written about Bon Pchum Ben long time ago, but I’m happy to share with you again what this celebration is all about.

The familiar striped tarpaulin greets the faithful who flock to the wats (Buddhist temples) during  Bon Pchum Ben.
The familiar striped tarpaulin greets the faithful who flock to the wats (Buddhist temples) during  Bon Pchum Ben.

Bon Pchum Ben is the annual commemoration of the spirits. It is one of the important celebrations, and one of the grandest religious holidays, in Cambodia. I’d like to think it’s somewhat analogous to the Philippines’ Todos Los Santos.  While our Todos Los Santos lasts only for one day (some stay up until midnight), the Bon Pchum Ben lasts 15 days, and is divided into 2 parts. This year it started on the 24th of September and ended yesterday, 8th of October. The first 14 days leading up to the full moon of Pchum Ben are called Bon Dak Ben, or the offering of the foods to the monks. Cambodians troop to wats (temples or pagodas) and make offerings in memory of their dead relatives. On the 15th day of the ceremony – the day of the full moon – is called Bon Pchum Ben, or the collection of the bens (offerings). It is the day when the temples come alive with music and celebrations in honor of the dead. In some villages in the countryside, an evening dance is held inside the pagoda.

Buddhists believe that when a person dies, he/she is not immediately reincarnated. Instead they go to a place somewhat similar to what the Catholics call the purgatory. There is nothing to eat in that place, and so the souls of the dead are released during Pchum Ben for 15 days to go to Earth in order to eat. And so, many people gather at the pagodas bringing loads of food for the dead. According to Tevika, my Cambodian friend and source of information on Khmer traditions, as Buddhists, they are expected to visit at least one wat every Pchum Ben. For the more fervent Buddhists, they travel far and wide and offer food to seven different pagodas in seven days to appease the spirits and to earn merits for their next life.  If relatives of the departed do not make offerings, it is said that the dead will not be able to rest and haunt them in the forthcoming year. Now that is a scary, eh? This is something that Cambodians don’t want to happen – because they are mortally scared of ghosts and creatures –  and so, even if they barely had enough for their own consumption, it is amazing that they are still able to hand out a little something for the monks and prepare food to offer their departed loved ones.

Years ago, my  husband and I befriended a young monk in Kep. He was, at that time, the head monk of Wat Kampong Tralach and he invited us to observe and gave permission to take photographs, too. Here are some of the photos I took:

Pchum Ben in Wat Kampong Tralach, Kep Province
Images of the Lord Buddha adorn the wat's prayer pavillion.
Pchum Ben in Wat Kampong Tralach, Kep Province
The people's offerings or bens  for the dead are laid on the table, waiting to be blessed.
Pchum Ben in Wat Kampong Tralach, Kep Province
A monk chants a prayer over a group of young Cambodians.
Pchum Ben in Wat Kampong Tralach, Kep Province
A young woman kneels, lights a joss stick, and offers a prayer to Buddha for the souls of her ancestors.

Visiting a wat during the Pchum Ben feels like going to a Philippine fiesta. The wats are decorated with banderitas (buntings) and chants of Buddhist monks are carried over loudspeakers. There’s so much electricity in the air with all the people coming in and out of the wats. It was really great to be able to observe this tradition up close, giving us a closer look of one slice of Cambodian tradition and culture. It is great to see that this tradition is still alive and practiced – despite the years of the Khmer Rouge rule, and in the recent years, the noticeably  growing number of religious groups entering Cambodia.

photohunter7iq[11]

Photo Hunt #53: Framed

Sharing two of my favourite photos taken not too long ago:

Photo Hunt framed

The enigmatic stone faces found inside the Bayon Temple complex, framed by a small window in one of the “chambers” found inside the temple.

Photo Hunt framed

An old door-frame (or what remains of it), one of the many found in the Bayon temple, perfectly framed us.

photohunter7iq[11]

Photo Hunt #48: Hanging

Our trusty old Paige the Pajero battered by the dancing roads on our way to Kep.

Photo Hunt hanging

One of the fog lights fell off its mounting, poor Paige. This is the story of how the light came off. Yes, that’s me inside the car updating my FB status via mobile phone. Now I call her Paige the one-eyed Pajero!

photohunter7iq[11]

Photo Hunt #44: Purple Skies

Here’s my comeback entry for Photo Hunt:

The purple skies of Kep, with the Bokor Mountain on the horizon.
The purple skies of Kep, with the Bokor Mountain on the horizon.

This was taken last year while I’m on holiday with my husband at, where else but our favorite Kep. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: Kep, arguably has the best sunset in Cambodia. Sure, some of you heard about or experienced purple haze, or have listened to the song Purple Rain, but how many of you have ever witnessed a purple sky? Not many, and not that often, I suppose.

On one August afternoon (last year), as soon as the sun started to descend on the horizon, my husband and I watched the sky as it changed colors. The sky was splashed with shades of purple, fortunately for us, it was well captured by our ever-reliable point-and-shoot digi-cam. No alterations via Photoshop or other editing programs have been done in this photo.

The sunset was a perfect background for our dinner and set the tone for a wonderful, relaxing night. Beat that.

*** Perhaps due to differences in computer settings, the color might appear different when you view it in your monitor.

photohunter7iq[11]

A weekend in Kep Malibu

I’m still here, folks, trying to accomplish many things despite the scorching weather.
Yesterday was the hottest. According to my landlady, the temperature inside her house reached 40C; outside, higher. Can you imagine? Hothothot. Adding insult to injury is the annoying brownouts at any time of the day and night, for several days now.

This morning, I made a bad decision of making a quick trip to the market for some supplies. It was around 11am, and the midday sun is hovering above my head. Even if the market is a mere less than a mile walk from the house, I took a motodup to avoid getting baked in the sun. My head felt like a radiator while I was outdoors and now I’m having a bad, bad headache. This year’s summer heat is a lot different than last year’s. It’s the kind of heat that penetrates and stays in your body (and head) all day long that all you want to do is submerge in a swimming pool. Good idea! A pool like this one:

malibu bungalows main

Tempting, isn’t it? This is actually in Kep Malibu Estates where we stayed the last time we were in Kep. It is one of the recent additions to the growing hotels/guest-houses/restaurants/pubs in town owned by barangs (expats). It is set off a dirt path from the main road and nestled at the foot of Kep National Park, and about a mile to Psah Khdam (crab market).

Rob's sweaty imprint It was our first time to stay there, in the Daling room  and we’re disappointed. Kep Malibu Estates is a lovely French owned/managed property in compound with a big swimming pool, restaurant/bar and a lush garden. I instantly liked the bungalow assigned to us – it was spacious with a stylish Khmer interior – and it comes with a mini-bar, hot water and television set. The bungalow was just a few steps to the swimming pool and there is a small but screened patio where you can sit and watch the swimmers. The catch was that they withheld a very important detail – the air con machine was very noisy during our stay there – the airconditioner made a loud whirring noises like a broken engine and automatically turned itself off and on again, you get the picture. In addition, it wasn’t working well at all. The room was still hot – here’s how the bed looked like (left) after my husband got up from bed after 30mins or so of watching the telly.

There was not much to expect from the free breakfast (well, what can we expect for free anyway?) so if you are a big brekkie person this is not for you. You’ll be disappointed at the depressing breakfast offerings My husband and I stayed in other ex-pat owned guest-houses in our previous Kep holidays and the breakfasts were far better than what we had in Malibu. The Khmer staff were approachable and quite nice actually but when it comes to the managers/owners, it was a different story, enough to make me say I won’t be getting a room there the next time we have a holiday in Kep.

Driving to Kep

Photo Hunt hangingIt’s been nearly a week now since coming back from our weekend getaway in Kep, and you know how the feeling goes after returning from a holiday. It’s always the case whenever my husband and I have taken a holiday, regardless whether it’s within Cambodia or overseas – coming back and resuming “normal” activities is just the hardest thing to do.

Although going to Kep was a very welcome respite from our daily grind, it was in fact, a decision made at the 11th hour. Paige, our trusty old Pajero, conked out two nights before the date we set to drive out to Kep. Dear husband was stressed out thinking that the weekend holiday would simply vanish into thin air. So after coming home from work Wednesday last week, he examined the leaking radiator and, after an hour or so of seeking advise from a mechanic, he set on to fix it himself. On the eve of our departure, I still didn’t make any hotel reservations yet (thinking we might not be able to leave after all) while Rob was working on Paige, soldering the holes of the radiator. Luckily, by 2am, he thought he was able to fix the leak but still needed to test drive to make sure everything was fine. Morning came with only a few hours to spare, Rob was still making last-minute checks on Paige. By 11.30am, Rob finally declared the car fit for a long distance drive (although there were still some leaks but they were manageable, he said) and we had to hurry pack our bags and drop Max and Joe at the vet’s clinic before it closed. We made it by a hair, so to speak!

To make the story short, we were on our merry way to Kep by lunchtime, and boy, little did we know of the surprise that awaited us. We were still chatty driving into the first 40 or so kilometers out of Phnom Penh. To go there, we took the national road number 3 to get to road number 31 — and much to our horror, we encountered  an arduous, back-breaking, butt-numbing drive straight into clouds of white dust.

Getting ready to drive through that cloud of dust.
This vehicle just came out of that cloud of dust. Too close. As you can see, the road is not even. we are tilted at about 20 degrees angle as half of my husband's side (driver's side) was over a foot lower than my side.
And this one, too.

My husband says it was like driving on a ramp of loose stones, and no, we hardly saw anyone, or any vehicle, coming out of the dust most of the time…

“Never again!”, my husband and I chorused.
Just before we reached the junction about 10 kilometers away from Angtasom, we heard an incessant honking of horn from a huge trunk behind us. We didn’t understand why, and when the truck overtook, we got nervous thinking we were going to be held up or something. But the guys in the truck were gesturing, something about the lights. so when Rob saw a spot he pulled over the side of the road to check.

Photo Hunt hanging

Turned out that the right fog lights fell off it’s mounting, poor Paige. One-eyed Paige 😛 Oh what fun! And that’s me in the car updating my status on FB. Although we arrived in Kep in one piece and enjoyed the two glorious days chillaxing at Malibu Estates and Bungalows (story in next post), we came back via national road 2.  Although it’s a route that Rob hasn’t taken before and despite some bumps in some areas, it was definitely a better choice than national road 3. We arrived safely in just over three hours, unscathed, to tell our story.