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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.