Ba Phnom Explorations

Over the weekend, the SST Cambodia group traveled to Ba Phnom in Prey Veng Province, about 78 kilometers (but 4 hours) from Phnom Penh. In the first century, Ba Phnom, then known as Vayathapura (the hunting city) was the capital city of Nokor Phnom, the earlier name for what is now Cambodia.

Uong Sam Ang, a friend of Mennonite Central Committee workers in nearby Prey Veng town, was our guide of the Ba Phnom area, where he was born and has lived most of his life. Among the sites we visited were the ruins of French Provincial sites; a nearly two-century old well that once provided water for all of the villagers; the local Killing Fields from the Khmer Rouge years, where soldiers didn’t even bother to bury the dead; the ruins of the 5th/6th century Preah Vihear Chann Temple; and numerous wats (Buddhist pagodas/temples).

We also visited the sites of major mining projects, where mining is done with machinery by major corporations — mining rocks for building roads, and destroying the hillsides in the process — and also done by hand by local villagers.

The most spectacular wats, pavillions, and stairways were built on Nokor Phnom, where the group spent a couple of hours climbing hundreds of steps to the top and hearing Sam Ang describe the development of the mountain’s sites. From there we had a beautiful view of the Ba Phnom area, with rice fields and canals and rows or remaining forests stretching as far as the eye could see.

In addition, we walked to Neakta Mesor (Guardian Spirit Mesor), an animist temple maintained by a local family. There Sam Ang told us a lengthy tale about the heroes of the temple.

As part of our final wat visit in Ba Phnom — to Preah Vihear Thom Pagoda — we were treated to a traditional dance show by local orphaned children, most of whom come from families with HIV/AIDs. If plans carry, Jacob M and Lauren will do their service at the wat, teaching English and music to community children. Jacob M will have the remarkable experience of living with the Buddhist monks for the six-week service term, and Lauren likely will live with our guide Sam Ang’s family.

After leaving Ba Phnom, the group spent the night in Prey Veng town, the provincial capital. After a relaxing morning, we headed back to Phnom Penh, arriving in mid-afternoon Sunday.


  1. Susie Kauffman says

    This week you’re in the land of my memories!! I wonder how long that basalt rock face will last before just tumbling over??

  2. Rose Stewart says

    Well, after reading so many blogs, I have some questions. If you have time, maybe you could oblige.
    1. The hills are mined for what?
    2. If Lauren and Jake will teach music, what scale will they use? Is it the same as ours?
    3. What are the expectations of modesty in attire in that cultlure for men and women? (I note that your one female helper is covered up.)
    4. When your GC students converse with Cambodians, do they note a difference in the attitude toward the years of war and killing between those under 30 and the older people. What is the thinking in Buddhism on violence and the value of human life?

    Your whole gang is to be commended for doing so much rigorous site-seeing and climbing and cultural learning and eating strange foods and sleeping on mats. I know that GC only has the best students, but on your team, Keith, surely you have the crème de la crème! 😉 —- Rose Stewart

  3. keithgm says

    This is indeed a stellar group. Quick responses to some of your questions:

    1. The hills in Prey Veang are mined for rocks for building roads, though gold was recently discovered in the pristine northern provinces, which probably will face serious mining and defacing in the coming months.
    2. Musical scales … oh, I really don’t know. We’ll have to check with Lauren and Jacob M.
    3. Our Cambodian local assistant, Marya, is a Cham Muslim, and married Muslim women tend to dress more conservatively than does the larger population; younger women’s dress varies radically, and the SST women are certainly among the more conservatively dressed women in Phnom Penh when they are in language classes and at lectures (the SSTers dress in more relaxed form on field trips).
    4. In general (though this is too much of a blanket statement), there is an enormous difference between under-30 Cambodians and those who experienced the Khmer Rouge period, in almost every way: attitudes, postures, optimism, hope, etc. It’s fascinating to see these radical differences between middle and older generations and the new, younger crowd, which is the majority in Cambodia.

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