Oudong – The Resident of Past Kings
We decided to get out of the city and visit Oudong, 40km away. You would think that we would be going from one city to another as Oudong - the resident of past Kings, was the capital for nearly 250 years.
Oudong - The resident of past Kings. No longer a city, but little more than a small rural town now. Had we not have read the history, we would never have realised that several Khmer kings were crowned here until the French persuaded King Norodom to move the royal court to Phnom Penh.
The glorious splendour that this place once had was destroyed, first from invading Thai forces, then American bombs during the Vietnam/American war and finally near enough eradicated by the Khmer Rouge. Our driver took us directly to the hillside, known as Phnom Oudong Mountain, just outside the town; we asked him to meet us on the other side of the hill near Ariyakassap Pagoda. Waving goodbye, we climbed up a steep slope in the heat with Tim singing "Mad dogs and Englishmen under the midday sun." As we reached the top, a young child came running towards us, trying to sell flowers. We had read at Friends International not to give them money, as it only encouraged the parents to keep their children earning rather than attending school (which is free and compulsory here in Cambodia). When the income stops, the parents tend to send the children to school so that they get a better job in the future.
Along the ridge of the hills, are a series of old and new temples and stupas, with 360-degree views of flat countryside stretched out before us. As we wandered around, we didn't see many people; two monks dressed in their saffron robes nodding at us, a couple of beggars, one monkey, a handful of visitors and some stall sellers. Who were they going to sell to? Apparently, it gets busy here at the weekend.
We climbed more steps (I've read there were 500 but didn't bother to count them) and there before us on the pinnacle of the hill was the grey Sanchak Mony Chedai, the newest temple, completed in 2002. We were required to take off hats and shoes around the grounds as well as inside this temple. We were glad we had socks on, the stone flooring was rather hot in places.
Inside were many Buddhist statues of different sizes with a variety of poses, some I had not seen before. Also encased here were three small bones of Buddha. I missed these, and also am curious as to how Buddha's bones have managed to be scattered all around the world.
We continued our walk, admiring the various stupas.
My favourite was Mak Proum with its four faces at the top. It was built in 1891 by King Norodom to honour his father, King Ang Duong, whose official title was "Preah Raja Samdach Preah Hariraksha Rama Suriya Maha Isvara Adipati". Try saying that after a glass or two!
I can imagine that if you had a guide here, you would learn some fascinating facts; there is so much to see. But we were getting hot and hungry, not a good combination, so made our way down the other side of the hill, passed various small and crumbling places of worship, one oxymoronically with a Buddha statue dressed in military uniform! (Sorry, no photo.)
As we descended, the peaceful atmosphere was disturbed with the sound of hammering and sawing. A large temple was being rebuilt with the steps leading to it being cleverly converted to a conveyor belt for the heavy building materials. It made it quite difficult for us to scramble down them.
Eventually, we met our driver, relieved to climb into the air-conditioned car. After a mediocre lunch where they tried to overcharge us, we asked our driver to take us to the old town of Oudong. We assumed there would be an area with grand ancient palaces – wrong!
We drove around the freshwater reservoir, chocked full of lush plants, passed a modern Pagoda and into the main high street with shacks for shops. We love coming to different countries; we see so many fascinating scenes. Just on this stretch of road, we saw an outdoor laundrette, a lorry crammed full of women, probably from the local factory and two school friends on a scooter pulling their buddy on her bike using a scarf.
It was time to return to Phnom Penh, relaxing in the car, observing how the locals live. Many have stilt houses, perhaps this area floods in the rainy season. We came up with all manner of reasons why!
We were also intrigued to see shelters with rows of hammocks underneath. To the amusement of our driver, he stopped the car for a photo opportunity. We then noticed a lady selling food at the side, and the hammocks were there for her customers to relax in, escaping the heat of the sun. What a good idea. Do you think it will take off in the UK?