Thursday, July 17, 2014

Temples, freezing rain and a bee sting

We spent a lot of time our second full day in Cambodia in a tuk tuk, and luckily we had the best tuk tuk driver around, Lucky! The day before, we had pulled out a phone while he was driving to take a tuk tuk selfie, and he pulled over, got off his bike, and came to tie the curtains around us so that no one would steal anything of ours. (Here is a tuk tuk with curtains like ours, and Lucky tied the pink curtains shut on the sides, so we would be semi-protected from the outside.) Feeling guilty, we took the selfie, but then put everything away and held onto it tightly. Most of the roads we took to get to the temples were paved, but we spent probably 20 minutes on a dirt road, that wasn't even close to even, and filled with mud and water from the rain the night before. I wish this video had more honking, because drivers in Phnom Penh couldn't seem to stop honking, but I wasn't in the position to take a chance of having my phone stolen, so this is what I got. 

It was about a two hour drive to the Phnom Udong from our hotel, but a nice two hours. It was hot when the sun was shining, but we were going fast enough that the breeze helped to keep us cool. The only bad thing about being in the open was that we were in the open. We read a recommendation somewhere before we left that told us to bring the biggest sunglasses we have, in case we planned on going for a ride in a tuk tuk. That was the best advice we got during this entire trip, but unfortunately it didn't stop the dirt from getting in our mouths and the smell from overwhelming us every once in a while.

The drive to the temples..

We turned a corner, which was the entrance to the temples from the main road. The long road to the temples was dirt, and apart from the occasional animal or person, it was pretty quiet. Our curtains were still drawn around us, the sides of the cart and the back were covered with fabric, and my bag was over my shoulder, sitting between Hannah and I, for protection from anyone who might want to steal it.

About halfway down the road (though not knowing we were anywhere close to the temples), I felt a pinch on my neck, where my neck meets my shoulder. I figured it was my bag's strap pinching my skin, so I reached up to move it. That's when I felt something that wasn't my bag, instead a bug. I brushed it away, and lost any hope of the bug being an ant or mosquito when the pinching didn't stop when the bug went away. I sat for probably a minute, waiting for the pain to go away, and when it didn't, I told Hannah.

It was a red bump, and it looks fine, probably a bee sting, she told me.

A minute later, it still hurt, and having never been stung by a bee and halfway convinced I would be allergic to them because of family history, I had Hannah check on what I was convinced would become a huge wound again.

In one of the most calm tones I've ever heard, she informed me that it's nothing to worry about, and oh, there are now three bumps that have grown since 60 seconds ago when she last checked.

The only redeeming factor here (read: why I hadn't lost it yet) was that while this was happening, Lucky was parking the tuk tuk, while two young men and three children followed our tuk tuk. When we were parked, I ignored them, and told Lucky what happened. He looked at my neck, said "no problem" and immediately turned away and went to some stands nearby, where they were selling flowers, fruits, and other small items.

Hannah and I introduced ourselves to the five Cambodians who had surrounded our tuk tuk, and I probably asked them if I was going to be okay five times in the three minutes Lucky was gone. Lucky came back, with a small container of ointment/lotion/salve situation (sorry for the word ointment) and put it on my neck. I had no idea what it was, and I figured that life-endangering wounds transcend language barriers, and if I were going to die, Lucky would have done something more if he knew I was in real trouble.

After he put the lotion on, we all (Hannah, I, Lucky, and our new friends) all climbed up the 509 stairs to get to the temples. On the way, we stopped at a number of little ponds, where we saw some monkeys, took some pictures, and I convinced myself that I wasn't going to die of fainting down the stairs because of how close to my brain/heart/lungs/spinal cord I was stung. (It was a rough couple of minutes, and I'm glad I went through all the worst scenarios in my head before anything actually happened to me.)

At the first pond, we saw monkeys, and we learned the word for monkey is sua in Khmer.

Our first three friends, they carried fans and walked behind us fanning us. Every time we turned around to thank them or smile at them, they would stop and shy away. They had fairly decent English and spoke to us a lot. They would count stairs in English, while they were bounding up and down, running down the uneven, old, stone steps while we were walking slowly and carefully, making sure not to break our ankles or face plant.

The mass of orange buildings were a monastery, which we got to see from a better view once we climbed higher up the mountain. To the left of the monastery, what you can't see in this picture, was a huge factory, apparently a Chinese factory that makes school uniforms to send to Europe.

Phnom Udong was the ancient capital of Cambodia, and a succession of kings lived and died here for centuries until the late 1800s, hence the mass of temples on a hill.

The first temple we came to was the newest, finished in 2002. The 509 steps that brought us up the hill were also finished at that time, and it became very obvious how nice they were once we got to the old steps.

The monastery again, this time seen more clearly after we walked up another 100 stairs that were built way back in the day and basically just asking me to break my ankle or wrist or head when I fell.

But, I didn't fall. I was born for the wild.

Then we went inside the temple, underneath in what I think would probably be considered the basement. Inside, 4,000 Buddha statues were lined up, and we bought flowers and candles to put in front of the Buddhas.

The goal of the candles was to have them stand up where everyone else had put their candles, but it's harder to get a lit candle to stand up than it looks, so it took us a while. Eventually, we got the help we needed and we were successful.

We laid our flowers on Buddha statues of our choice, laying them across their laps.

These temples were the older ones. We walked past five or six temples, in between we walked carefully down stairs built hundreds of years ago, also not falling or breaking any bones. I only tripped once, and did a really good job of scaring all of our new Cambodian friends.

One of the kids who was with us jumped up on the temple ledge, and I didn't see him until I turned around and he was walking back, with a stone from the side of the building in his hand. The ledge that he was on was probably 7 feet high, and he was about to jump down it himself, until one of our guides insisted on helping him down. The agility and fearlessness of these kids was amazing to watch, completely different than kids in the U.S.

All of the temples originally were gold, but over the years they have turned shades of brown and gray, both because of dust and rust.

The original gold was a lot more evident on this temple, and we didn't even know before seeing this particular temple that they were painted gold underneath. 

This Buddha was under construction, and was housed in a temple also under construction. Under the Khmer Rouge, the building and the old Buddha were blown up when they came in and damaged many of the old temples. A new Buddha, the one there now, was rebuilt and finished in 2008. It's painted in gold, and is 18 meters (50 feet!) tall.

This building was one of the highest we went to, and while it was overcast, it was hot and humid and we were tired of climbing old stairs. The building with the big buddha had many windows along the side, and an amazing breeze came through them. Hannah, Lucky and I, as well as our two guides all took a window, and just stood in the breeze for a few minutes before we left the building. Plus the view was pretty cool, too.

At the bottom of the hill, there was a market with shops and food, but we were on our way to the big market, so didn't stop. The best part of the market, I thought, was the fact that hammocks were hung everywhere, with babies swinging in them asleep, as well as adults resting from the day. That should happen more places.

Our entire group!

One last sua before we left.

On the two hour ride home, as if the ride there hadn't been dramatic enough, a storm rolled in. It quickly cooled down, and before we knew it, it was pouring. Lucky, at the front of our tuk tuk, was covered by the roof, but the rain started coming in sideways. We got to the one overpass in the city, and he stopped and zippered up the back of the tuk tuk so we wouldn't get wet, and put on a poncho for himself. 

I wish I had pictures because we were still soaking and it was a mess. Also, it was freezing, and being cold and wet and driving in the open isn't exactly the most fun ideally, but we spent the entire time laughing at the situation. 

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