I spent another couple of hours exploring a new wat last Saturday morning and I have to admit I came away slightly disappointed as I had read that it had some old Angkor remains, as well as the modern temple … but, no! And it wasn’t just that I didn’t find them, as I asked the two different monks I talked to and they both said there were no old temples to be found there.
I tuktuked along to the wat as it looked from the map to be quite a long way along River Road, though, in the end, it wasn’t as far as I thought, and it was a pleasant stroll back afterwards.
When I arrived, monks and men were preparing the pagoda for the following day’s Khmer New Year celebrations, placing flags in the pole stands on either side of the long tree-shaded driveway. One of the monks said hello and ‘where are you from?’, the universal greeting here, and our conversation continued as he gave me a tour of the temple building, unlocking it for me to see the two huge Buddhas inside, one seated and one reclining – as well as assorted smaller ones.
The monk’s name was Somurt and he is almost 23. He has been a monk for 8 years. He told me the temple is 99 years old and the interior paintings (of the ubiquitous scenes from Buddha’s life) are between 30 and 35 years old. This information may or may not be true but, certainly, the temple ceiling was showing much water damage, whereas the paintings still looked quite fresh and vibrant.
Somurt’s English was quite good but he wanted to practise so we sat a while and chatted. Eventually, he went back to his flags and I wandered a little further, though didn’t get far before I was waylaid by another young monk, Sopheap, who invited me to sit with him on a bench amongst the burial stupas. Our conversation was almost an exact repeat of the previous one but I was happy to sit and help a little with his pronunciation. Bizarrely, he had been listening to an Australian sports commentary on his phone radio. I’m not sure how helpful that was to his English learning and he admitted he couldn’t understand most of it – ‘too fast and a funny accent’ – his words, not mine.
I wandered some more, taking photos of stupas and temple buildings, a beautiful open-sided building full of golden seated Buddhas and, finally, what looked like an office building – or, perhaps, with offices downstairs and monk accommodation upstairs, as the building was mostly unfinished.
In front of its main entrance was an elaborately carved archway, under which sat another group of Buddhas and a set of glass boxes for donations for building restoration or monk education or feeding the monks or just general blessings. An elderly nun sat to one side, giving out blessings, so I tossed a buck in her basket and knelt to receive her good wishes for the New Year. She then agreed to be photographed, moving over to sit elegantly in front of the Buddhas, arranging her clothing to look her best. I showed her the photos I took and I gather from what she said next (in Khmer) that she wanted a copy of the pictures, so I’ll get some done and take back to her next week.
Postscript: I discovered, when I got back to my room, that I had gone to the wrong wat. My tuktuk driver had been going to drive past the entrance and I stopped him, thinking he hadn’t understood where I wanted to go. My mistake! There are, in fact, two wats quite close together and, turns out, their names are also quite similar: Enkosa and Enkosei. When I checked Google maps again, I discovered the first was hidden under cloudy skies – at least, that’s my excuse!