Today is our last full day in Cambodia. Just before leaving Australia I had booked a day tour online with Mango Cambodia…to take us out of the city and see some more of the countryside. Sophea from Mango Cambodia arrived to pick us up from hotel in an air conditioned mini van with seat belts…and a driver. It’s not the first time we’ve done a private tour but it makes me feel a bit funny, it’s hard to explain…but anyway I get over it pretty quick once we are going.
We head north out of the city…though it is hard to know where the city actually ends and the villages begin… and stop at a silver village…not a village made of silver but a village of silversmiths.
Silver Handicrafts is a locally owned business that supports women and orphans. The lady who owns it couldn’t count how many generstions it has passed through but said maybe from around 1700’s. Each item is made by hand with a mould formed from a clay like material and then the silver beaten with a hammer and then with small tools to find all of the little indentations in the mould.
As we walked in there were a few young looking girls sitting on the ground tapping away at a bowl each. For their efforts they will each earn 1 or 2 dollars per day plus food, clothes, a basic school education (if they are young enough still) and a bed if they cannot live at their own home.
We learned that the word ‘orphan’ doesn’t mean a child whose parents have died…it often could just be that parents cannot afford to feed kids. If they are fortunate enough to live in a good orphanage, the parents can still visit and the orphanage may even send some money to the parents each month. The kids do not have to work and they get well feed and a great education which is ofter followed by a University degree in Cambodia or aboard. Their English can become very good. Sophea’s wife works for such an orphanage which is owned by an American and managed by an Australian lady..we didn’t go there… I don’t believe children’s homes should be tourist attractions.
We did however purchase a silver bowl and vase and Amanda got a pretty elephant bracelet.
On we went to Oudong, the former capital of Cambodia. It is a small town which clearly gets busier on the weekends. There is a very large market set up, though today there was only a handful of stalls operating. Apparently it popular weekend activity for people who live in Phnom Penh.
Oudong Mountain is the attraction. A high peak in a mainly flat land which has special significance due to the construction of 4 very large stupas on top which can be seen from many miles away. A stupa is like a tomb or shrine which the children of a deceased person construct to house the ashes and give the parent honour and respect. Built high so that they will be closer to heaven above, they have a glass window near the top. By honouring your parents in such a way the people believe that they will then have a better next life. About 90% of Cambodians are Buddhist.
We drove to the bottom of the mountain and then started walking up the steps, pausing to look at the smaller stupas along the side of the path (and catch my breath) and Sophea gave a few riel to a lady sitting on the steps with a basket begging for money. These were most likely housing the remains of high officials from very wealthy families as the mountain is reserved for those who are considered important are enough.
Eventually made it to the top of the staircase (later learned this was nowhere near the top of the mountain) where we were met by a lady offering to sell us flowers and incence to give as an offering. Not being Buddhist I declined the offer and we went on.