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21 December 2010

Just nosin’ around

21th December 2010

Feeling energetic, we rose early and borrowed a couple of bikes to cycle off in search of a temple called Ek Phnom, downstream along the river from Battambang. The road started out winding through the suburbs of Cambodia’s second city. This is a very misleading sentence. Despite being the second city, Battambang has the feel of a backwater country town, and as you cycle away from the centre there is just a gradual change to more traditional wooden houses on stilts and more widespread greenery until you’re in the countryside.

On the way we passed big colourful wats from which sermons or songs were being broadcast on loudspeakers, numerous little shophouses selling snacks or petrol or

household wares, hundreds of white-and-blue uniformed kids off to school on bikes, tables covered in foodstuffs left out to dry in the hot sun – bananas, clams, stinky fish bits. This last is used to make the fish-paste common in Asian cookery. There were big racks on which wafer-thin sheets of ricepaper were drying, to be used for making spring rolls. Cows, puppies and chickens everywhere.

Eventually we discovered Ek Phnom hiding amongst the trees behind another colourful modern wat. These ancient ruins are tumbledown and evocative, and I have to say they are far more appealing than anything we saw at Sukhothai or Ayutthaya in Thailand. In part it’s because they’re out in the countryside and not embedded in a big modern town. It’s also because we were almost the only visitors, and it’s always more satisfying to be alone with the past. But finally it’s the intricate detail of the worn carvings and the massive, darkly eroded blocks of stone which make the Cambodian temples radiate antiquity and mystery far more than the red brick ruins of central Thailand. These points were all true yesterday as well, at the ancient hilltop temple of Wat Banan which had the dubious additional attraction of being surrounded by “Danger: Landmine” signs as a reminder of much more recent history.

So that’s my conclusion. If you’re planning a trip to SE Asia, choose Cambodia rather than Thailand for your ancient temple experience. Unless you’ve got a deeper architectural interest, in which case the difference in styles is worth exploring.

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One Response to “Just nosin’ around”

  1. Dave says:

    You’re really putting in the miles now! Good to see you in slightly warmer climbs and manageable altitudes than the Himalayas! I think the danger landmine signs would be enough to focus my energies on exactly which Wats I desperately wanted to see..

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