Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Wat Sasar Muoy Roy, the 100-pillar pagoda, that's actually 116 pillars but who's counting. The ride along the road hugging the east bank of the Mekong River was a very pleasant journey as we passed through villages, returning waves and hello's before pulling into the grounds of our target destination, some 35kms north of Kratie. Now for a history lesson. Wat Sasar Muoy Roy was built on the site of an 7th century former royal palace called Sambhupura and was one of four temples, each facing a different direction; Sasar Muoy Roy faces north and was built in the 16th century, when King Chan Reachea II dedicated it to the goddess of the temple, who he asked to care for the soul of his daughter, Preah Neang Varakak, who'd be swallowed by a crocodile. About 100 years into its life, the temple was struck by lightning which burnt 22 columns and turned the face of the main Buddha statue black. Now reduced to 78 colums, the pagoda was renovated again at the end of the 1990s and is now wider, longer and has 116 colums for good measure. Of the other three temples, one has disappeared, another, the wooden Preah Vihear Kuk (and faces east), stands 300 metres east and is currently being renovated, whilst Preah Vihear Laos (faces west) is in town and lies unattended and abandoned. Back at Sasar Muoy Roy, I found a stone lion and an inscribed stone with eight lines of Sanskrit writing being attended by a couple of laymen, next to the gold and pink stupa of the deceased princess, before we visited Preah Vihear Kuk, which was a decaying ruin the last time I visited it nine years earlier, and a quick chat with some young monks. Restoration efforts were in full flow at Vihear Kuk, with the ceiling paintings being retouched and the wooden columns and roof having already received expert attention. A couple of kilometres north of Sambor are the villages of Don Meas and Baay Samnom and closeby are a series of five sites where groups of brick temples once stood, but where little remains and even the residents had no idea where the piles of bricks were located. So instead of spending hours scouring the undergrowth, much of which was underwater, we sat down with a group of women and children to practice our limited Khmer and their non-existent English, which is always fun, before starting our ride back.