A visit to Wat Hanchey, Cambodia

March 22, 2013
Santa Paula News

We are now heading to see Wat (Temple) Hanchey. The temple is about 20km up the Mekong River from the provincial town of Kompong Cham. 

The temple is located at the top of a hill that enjoys stunning views of the surrounding area. When I say hill, it felt more like a mountain. As our cruise ship pulled up along the bank, we were just taken aback by not only the beauty of the area, but the hill we were about to climb. 

The temperature, to say the least, was hot hot! Our tour group was given the option of riding to the top, but most decided to walk the hill. We climbed the hill steady and slow; good thing they gave us water.

We finally reached the top and it was an unbelievable sight. We had arrived at Wat Hanchey and were in for an unbelievable treat.

Wat Hanchey dates from the 7th or 8th century, before the glory days of the Khmer empire when Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom were built in the 12th century. It’s a weatherworn red brick edifice, but crowded all around are more recent temples, pagodas, stupas, houses and statues. The statues depict mythical heroes and creatures, wild and domestic animals, a huge variety of fruit... and three sausages on a stick (local fast-food vendors sell these from motorized carts - the real thing - not large plaster facsimiles).

I was expecting Wat Hanchey to be an isolated ruin but in fact it’s a thriving religious site, home to many young monks. When the Khmer Rouge ruled the country, between 1975 and 1979, most of Cambodia’s Buddhist monks were murdered and nearly all of the country’s temples (more than 3000) were damaged or destroyed. Many have since been restored with funds raised by villagers, and young novice monks in bright saffron robes are a common sight.

We began our tour of the temple grounds, which included a traditional water blessing given by local monks. Our group gathered, along with many Cambodian children who followed us, inside the Buddist temple. Our tour guide explained to us how to greet and show respect to the monks. Our group sat on the floor and greeted the monks. The monks then proceeded to chant their water blessings. This was something to see and hear.

Following our temple experience we were able to walk around the temple grounds. There were many interesting buildings, statues and views to see and observe.

This was basically our last stop for our cruise ship. We would be taking a river sightseeing tour the next day and preparing to leave the ship and head for Siem Reap. Normally we would sail to Siem Reap; however, the river water flow was unusually low and we would not be able to navigate the river and enter the Tonle Sap Lake that would take us to Siem Reap. We would be facing a five-hour bus ride the next day. The bus ride was not a big deal; we would be heading to see the highlight of the tour - Angkor Wat.

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