Can someone please explain to me why we always seem to have to be picked up at 6.30am every time we go away? Yes, Ryllis and I are dressed, sitting in the dark ready to go on the bus to Battenbong which is about a three hour bus trip and the bus is supposed to leave a 7.30am. We are picked up by a pink bus, pink outside, pink inside and one could say that I was in seventh heaven considering my love of pink. We drove around Siem Reap picking up passengers, stopping for about 10 minutes at a travel agent when we took on even more passengers and luggage, some of these were going to Phnom Penh. We went out to the out skirts of town and drove around some more, changed into the old clanger that we were going to Battenbong on, drove around some more and ended up at, yes you guessed it back at the travel agents we were at 45 minutes before. By this time I had eaten all my snacks that I had to eat on the trip and needed to go to the toilet!!
Bonn Om Teuk (the Festival of Boat Racing) is an annual boat rowing contest which has become the largest spectator event in Cambodia as well as a national festival. Held each year at the end of the rainy season Bonn Om Teuk is celebrated when the Mekong river begins to sink back to its normal levels allowing the Tonle Sap River to reverse its flow.
Bonn Om Teuk lasts three days so that boats from near and far provinces can join the contest. During the festival, Cambodians from across the country gather in Phnom Penh, the capital, to attend and celebrate this festival.
The Water Festival has a long history dating from the Angkor era in the 12th century, under the reign of King Preah Bat Jayvarman VII, when the Khmer Empire occupied and ruled most of the Indochinese Peninsula. The King battled with enemies to defend the Empire as well as to expand the territory. With a very powerful naval force, the King had defeated his enemies at each battle.
As a result, the King decided to organise the Water Festival every year at the Bayon Temple and Batteay Chhmar. The purpose of the Water Festival is to select a champion capable of winning a sailing (naval) battle. In addition, the ceremony is also used to train the King's "army" (seafaring fighters) to prepare for battle. In Cambodia, there are many statues depicting sailing battles under the leadership of King Jayvarman VII, originally carved on the wall of Angkor Thom temple. Because of this Bonn Om Teuk has become a very important traditional festival in Cambodia, and an opportunity to admire the military exercises of the naval forces.
The festival is also used as an opportunity to express thanks to the Buddhist symbols, Gods and all holy things which help the people. There are special thanks for the harvest and all things related to agriculture (rice fields in particular) and opportunities to show gratitude for happiness and sufficient rain for rice cultivation.
There are three other ceremonies associated with Bonn Om Teuk: Loy Pratip is the ceremony of "illuminated floating" – the sailing of illuminated boats along the river; Moon salutation (Sampeas Preah Khe) is the ceremony of lunar worship; and the eating of Ork Ambok (once described to the writer as .. "pestle new special rice with banana or coconut juice") are all traditional.
The Water Festival itself – which takes place on about 1.7km of river (the competition course) with over 400 rowing boats and approximately 20,000 rowers from all the different provinces across the country.
The bus trip was uneventful, although the bus was very crowded and we only stopped once for the obligatory toilet stop and we after 3 hours found ourselves chucked out of the bus in the middle of a street and we could only guess and hope that we were in Battenbong. Fortunately, we had arranged to be picked up at the buss stop and yes there was a tuk tuk driver holding up a piece of paper with our names on it. We hopped in along with another man who was also staying at the Bus Stop which was the name of the guest house we were staying in. Ryllis and I were sharing a room and we had decided that we would pay a little more so that we would get a balcony with a scenic view and we had been looking forward to getting together with Sandra for a drink and nibblies on our balcony.
|This young man was sitting across the aisle from me|
The guest house was certainly not 3 star and the owner was an Australian from Adelaide who was married to a Cambodian lady with 2 small children. They spent most of the 3 days we spent there, fighting and slamming doors etc. The balcony, you ask? Well there certainly was one, it was about 1/2 metre wide and overlooked the smelly noisy street and I think we went out there for a look and never went out there again. It looked good in the website.
Battenbong is the second largest city in Cambodia and is very much the same as any other big city. Lots of people, lots of rubbish, lots of poverty and lots of markets and small shops. Ryliss and I went out to look at the town and of course headed straight for the markets and wandered out them. They were a lot different from the ones in Siem Reap as Siem Reap caters for the tourists and there is very little tourist trade in Battenbong. The markets were quite reasonable and they were really not all that interested so we were not hastled and this makes a nice change. I bought a matching top and shorts for $5 and we then tried to find somewhere where we could get a cold beer. That proved quite a challenge as I mentioned before this was not a tourist town and not a lot of cafe or eating places in the centre of the city. We eventually wandered into the International Hotel which turned out to be accommodation but we found a fridge and sat in the foyer and drank a beer.
Sandra received an invitation to the wedding of one of the students in her class so decided that she would go to the wedding and come down to Battenbong on the Sunday bus. We had a text from Sandra on the Saturday morning telling us that she had been hit by a motor bike while she was out on the push bike and was shaken but not all that hurt. She was down by the river taking pictures of the boat races and the streets were packed and traffic everywhere. Only Siem Reap and Phnom Penh have boat races.
The boat races in Phnom Penh attract a huge crowd and they close off the roads leading into the city, early Saturday morning allowing only busses in. Unfortunately, the awful accident after the concert on Monday certainly showed up the huge crowd and how unprepared the Civil Services are in Cambodia.
|Hang on here we go!!!|
|This is similar to the one in Phnom Penh|
|Crops are grown on the banks|