Wat Ounalom was big yet I only discovered it when I saw it online tourist research and went in search. It was ’round the corner’ from where I ate most nights, had looked for hotels (in fact, that may be how I discovered it!) . It is in the centre of the city, near Sisowath Quay where I sat most evenings, wandered along and just a short walk from the Royal Palace of Cambodia which is also worth a look although this costs to get into, and may not be open every day (!!!) As I was sightseeing, I was told by one tuk tuk driver that it was closed for the day – I later learned this wasn’t true, and they do this to get you to buy their trips that often aren’t great!
When I saw it it looked ancient, grey and worn and I was so excited to explore! I wasn’t disappointed … As the seat of Cambodian order of monks, it is the most important wat and the center of Cambodian Buddhism. Established in 1443 with 44 structures that are interesting, with soldier statues, and it seemed ‘closed’ so I just wandered around.
An old man who took me into a tiny cubby hole, sprinkled me with ‘holy water’ and lit a stick in front of a small gold Buddha – I knew he expected paying for this, even though I hadn’t asked (been able to ask) for it – a new experience, unexpected, real and interesting!
Damaged during the Khmer Rouge period it has since been restored – the main complex has a stupa that contains what is believed to be an eyebrow hair of Buddha which I didn’t bother to look up! These abound in Asia!
The palace grounds are hot, with no seats and soldiers on guard as it is a working palace, so not unexpected. Expensive for what it was but one of the things to do, as is a visit to the museum not far from there either, and a lovely building!
Watching the people live their lives on the boats moored below the Quay where they live poor lives and thieve to survive! I even saw this – a student stopped to chat with me, telling me I wasn’t safe on the quayside, then found his motorcycle helmet had been stolen off the bike near us (although I hadn’t seen him arrive!) but I had seen one of the boys off the boat with one …ooops!
I was aware of the beggars and thieves around me, relaxed but watchful and able to dash across the walkway and road back to the safety of my hostel, owned and run by an Australian guy who was very nice and friendly.
One night, I couldn’t access my money from the bank transfer having been delayed, and then even through the money transfer shops I had seen but didn’t realise what they were until I needed one, and that took a day to sort! I had nothing for food, so had to go back and ask for a nights money back, cancelling it and hoping I could sort it that day later if needs be! Anyway, as it was, I moved on then.
I did take a tuk tuk ride and it was fantastic, bless him cycling round in that heat, taking care of my bag and telling me to hide/hold it close, and a long ride, very cheap so I gave him a little more money!
He was a nice person, compared to some other rude and rough ones I wouldn’t trust!
I did lose my purse here – and some say it was stolen by the well-known stealthy thieves there, but I think I dropped it when I got a scarf from my bag, to cover my burning back as I walked down the front, to a temple I wanted to see. When I got there, a guard chased me to get my $1 entry and then I realised I’d lost it! I went back to the travel agent to see if I left it on the desk – unsure if he would be honest anyway, but £60 lost! I can and did only hope it went to help some of the many children like Fagin’s children in Oliver Twist!
From Phnom Penh I travelled by boat up the river to Siem Reap ….