Last Sunday, I decided to spend the morning at Wat Phnom. Built in 1373, it's on a small hill and is the tallest temple in the city. According to legend (and to the clay figurines that depicted the story in the museum underneath the temple in a stations-of-the-cross-esque exhibit), a wealthy woman named Daun Penh found a large koki tree floating in the river. She told other people to wade in and pull the tree on shore (a girl after my own heart; always delegating hard labor); when they cut the tree open, they found four bronze statutes of Buddha. Lady Penh made a small shrine to the statues, which eventually became a sacred site for people to pray.
Today, a park where families bring their kids to play surrounds the wat. It also has tons of merchants, many of who sell small birds that you're supposed to release at the top of the wat for good luck. I felt really bad for the birds, because they cram about 50 in a cage meant for, at most, 3, and they're all losing their feathers from rough living conditions and stress. I paid for one to be released, even through I'm sure it'll be captured again in the same day, but I don't think I'll be the recipient of the good luck since I made the merchant release it on my behalf. He kept trying to thrust the bird in my hand, but visions of a horrific avian flu death flew through my head, so I politely declined.
As it got closer to noon I began to melt in the humidity, so I decided to do one last climb to the top before hailing a tuk tuk to go back to the guesthouse. I was lost in my own thoughts, focusing on the steep staircase leading to the top of the wat. When I reached the crest of the hill, I looked up for the first time during my climb. Suddenly, to my right I saw a tan and white blur barrel toward me. At first glance, I thought it was a small child, but after a second look I realized it was a monkey. This wasn't some cute little creature that could ride around on your shoulders, doing tricks for your friends in return for banana chips. This guy was BIG, about as large as a hefty small dog, but he moved much faster than any dog I've ever met. His pink, wrinkled face and people hands gave an altogether disturbing picture, especially when he was galloping straight for my lower body. I let out some sort of primal yelp, something like, "YEHAAAOOO!!", which surprised both the monkey and me long enough to stop us both in our tracks. I turned around to run back down the stairs, only to find his monkey friend running at me from the other side. This being the closest thing I'd ever experienced to a gang attack in my life, I started to panic. I clutched my bookbag and camera, because I'd been told that sometimes they like to snatch your belongings, and thought that the only thing that would make this experience more embarrassing would be if it turned into a monkey mugging. I took off back down the staircase, leaving the monkeys and more than a few laughing Cambodians in my wake.
At the bottom of the hill, I noticed that there were more monkeys strolling around the park benches where people were relaxing. Feeling a little more comfortable, I took out my camera to snap some pictures of one particularly lazy one who was lolling under a woman's feet. After I finished, I turned to put the camera back in my bag. In that instant, the monkey decided to dart across the sidewalk and leap onto the bench beside me, causing me to yet again let out a sad scream and stumble off the seat. This was again entertaining for everyone around me; the monkey, however, looked unimpressed and eventually found a bag of juice under a trash can that held his interest more than I did. He grabbed the bag, climbed a tree, and proceeded to recline between two branches, sipping it like it was a cocktail.
Here are a few pics of my trip to Wat Phnom, and the nature show that ensued:
Clay figurines depicting the history of Phnom Penh:
The explanation of the scene on display, which says, among other things, "small children from 7 year olds who always were sent them to monk for literature and calculation learning by their parent." I don't know about kids in ancient Cambodia, but I hated it when my parents sent me for calculation learning.
Portrait of Lady Penh:
Entrance to Wat Phnom:
View from the top:
Sad elephant roped up for tourist rides :(
Tuk Tuk (I'll get a better picture soon):
Random pictures from the ride back to the guesthouse: