On such a bright Saturday morning around 9am (August), I was bored, and so were my friends, Seila and Vannsan. So we talked on phone and quickly decided to drive to Tonle Bati. Seila was very kind to give me and my friend, a ride in his Prius car which consumes gas worth of $20 for a week. Such an awesome deal for a car, right?
It took us about one hour to drive from the city centre of Tonle Bati, about 30 km south of Phnom Penh. We arrived at the location at around 10am. I shouldn’t be surprised to see some visitors already occupying their own huts with a few hammocks tied to the poles. It is such a popular place among the locals. Anyway, here’s the new rule: locals don’t pay to enter Bati, but foreigners now pay $5 to get in. My foreign friend had to pay $5 to get inside.
Tonle Bati is a popular lake resort as well as a picnic area that has bamboo shacks built out over the water. Visitors can rent any shack out for eating and whiling away the day. It’s generally a weekend get-away spot where they can enjoy serenity and some fresh air after a long week of work. Because all the shacks are located close to waters, from time to time you will see a few people rowing boats to your shack and offering some snacks for a few thousand riels.
Cambodian visitors are shy and often swim there fully clothed. Youngsters aren’t shy however, and like splashing around, but the water does not look real inviting for me. Nearby, there are wooden stands that sell all kinds of food and drinks or just everything you need for a picnic along the lake. As we arrived at the nice location that enabled us to see everything around, we sat ourselves down on the bamboo shacks and purchased some refreshing drinks from the shack sellers. Later, we ordered lunch – we had rice and some chicken soup. If my memory serves me right, it didn’t cost each of us more than $5 each.
Note that many shack owners will keep following you non-stop when you arrive and try to get you to go to their own place. Sometimes its annoying, so what I did was making a not pretty face at their offer. They finally gave up. We politely refused their offers and found ourselves a spot to spend the next two or three hours chattering away.
Check prices beforehand on everything; shack owners there are notorious for handing you an outrageously expensive bill when you are about to depart from their place.
About a few hundred meters away from the shacks, we can see two temples. Besides the resort, Tonle Bati is a place which people worship and that features two ancient temples, Ta Promh and Yeay Peov, and also a pagoda called Wat Tonle Bati, which was built in 1576. Wat means “pagoda” in Khmer.
I chose to seat myself at one of the bamboo huts first because it was very warm during the day. After the generous sunlight faded, we left immediately for the temples nearby.
Ta Promh is the main temple, and constructed in the late 12th century by arguably the greatest of the Khmer builders, King Jayavarman VII. That means, you can find some similarities of the carvings on the wall with those at some temples in Siem Reap province. During holidays and weekends, the site is heavily visited by the locals. Tonle Bati doesn’t lack any souvenir seller. When I was there, small kids tried to clinch sales, but we politely refused.
Outside at the main east gate, a carved lintel depicts “Churning of the Ocean of Milk” or “sakmot kou teuk dos”, a famous bas-relief also found at the contemporaneous Angkor Wat. It was however surprisingly in mint condition. Ta Prohm was also built to venerate Brahmanism and later Buddha. And, its smaller sister temple is Yeay Peau.
It seems like the two temples were only maintained by a group of nuns who were eager to place incense sticks in our hands to offer the spirits and hopefully get some monetary contribution back from us. Under the scorching sun, kids who were trying to sell us incense sticks and lotus flowers still kept following us from all directions. It was pretty sad to keep saying no especially when they didn’t get that we couldn’t buy the same things from all of them.
After checking out the two ancient temples, I sat myself down on a big rock outside. Suddenly, I happened to see a familiar face of a man reading a book in his hands. Ian, a British national, is a drama script writer for Loy9 drama, and now he travels between Cambodia and Sri Lanka. I quickly said hi, and conversed a little bit.
He told me that it was such a pleasure to be able to spend some time at a quiet place only just one hour’s drive from the city for quite awhile before going back to work the next day. I couldn’t agree more, I thought. Then, we bit goodbye.