The Siem Reap night markets open in the evening and go on till late at night. We decide to explore it after dinner. The covered bridge is decorated with coloured lights and it lights up the path leading to the market stalls. People are resting on fixed benches along the bridge. A perfect place to relax and people watch. Over at the market we weave our way past stalls selling sports wear, bags, footwear, souvenirs and colourful clothing. In between there are massage parlours. I must be the only fool who has bought a ‘made in Vietnam’ sandals before my trip. I could have bought ten similar sandals here with that money.
Walking back to the hotel, we take a wrong turning and find ourselves lost. The guys at the petrol pump couldn’t help and so we had to walk back till we saw a hotel to ask for directions. Further along the road a policewoman in a booth points us in the right direction. We should have just taken the tuk tuk, but I needed that walk.
Our first stop this morning is at a Buddhist temple where we are going to be blessed by a monk. As we enter the complex, a couple of women are busy sweeping the paths and tidying up the place. In addition to the temple the complex includes the living quarters of the monks, their education centre, the library etc etc. Stupas in different sizes and colours can be seen next to the temple. Cremated ashes are stored here. We take our shoes off and walk inside the temple. In front of the Buddha a digital clock ticks away and artificial lotus flowers adorn the base of the statue. Three young monks walk in and sit in front of us. We make ourselves comfortable on the rug. The monk in the middle is the oldest and has been here the longest. The youngest is sixteen years old. The leading monk must be in his early twenties if not late teens. He starts his conversation with a bit of small talk and then tells us to smile. ‘Smile from your heart’ he says. ‘The most important lesson in life’. I look up. The Buddha is actually smiling. It is the first time I am noticing this. After going through the essential points in Buddhism he chants in the original Buddhist Pali language, and then translates his chant. What to do to become a better person through your words, actions and thoughts. Common sense and the essence of most religions but information you forget when the relevant moments arise. They tie a red thread around our arms at the end of the ceremony.
Back on the road, Buthy stops near a typical village stilted house to let us take some photos. The schools open today and he wants us to help distribute books and pens to the children. The previous group gave him the money for this. Nearby children come running when they hear that we are distributing books. They don’t pester us but gratefully collect the books with the happiest smiles you can ever imagine. It’s infectious.
Our next stop is the boat jetty on Tonle Sap lake, the largest fresh water lake in Southeast Asia, from where we are taken to one of the twenty floating villages in Cambodia. This particular floating village has 270 houses with a population of around 3000. Water from the river Mekong flows into the lake raising its height and width during the rainy season and the water flows back during the dry months. The houses are built on stilts, but some without stilts are actual floating houses. Fishermen live in these houses with their family. There is a police station, Buddhist temple, church and school which serves the community. Each house has a minimum of two boats. One for fishing and the other one for commuting. The temple is built on a small island on the lake. We disembark from our boat here for a few minutes, distribute more books and then return to the pier.
The afternoon is spent at the Angkor National museum. The thousand Buddha images housed in the first room is quite an impressive sight. The rest of the galleries take us through the history of Cambodia and I am quite surprised to read the extensive coverage of Hinduism in the museum. Sculptures of Vishnu from the ninth century, Sivalingam and Ganapathi relics from around the same time are all displayed here. The museum tour has given us a taster of the Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom temples. Tomorrow we are visiting the largest religious monument in the world.