All the trip planning won’t prepare you for the unexpected moment

We climbed the steps to Wat Ounalom, slipped off our sandals, and entered in the late afternoon.  This, the most important Wat in Phnom Penh, struck us as very plain, stripped of the rich furnishings that decorate even the simplest wat we’d visited in Thailand.  We assumed the events of the last 40 years have taken their toll on the wat. 

Small stupas and statuary filled the back courtyard, including a sad memorial to a Japanese war correspondent.

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A monk asked where we were from.  Satisfied with our answer, he asked as he waved his arm toward the small central stupa, “Would you like to see inside?” Yes, thank you, we would.

An old monk took out a key and opened the door.  Inside we saw a statue on the left and another to the right, both in alcoves.  In front of us opened an archway less than 5 feet tall.  We stooped to enter the small space just large enough for us to sit before a large black Buddha with squares of gold affixed to a shoulder.  The glow of an LED halo behind Buddha’s head lit the small room.  When the old monk said, “Eyebrow,” we recalled that Wat Ounalom was built in 1444 to house a relic eyebrow hair from Buddha that must be in this very room.

The monk handed us burning incense sticks to place in a pot before the Buddha.  He took our palms and brushed them with water, and, using a circular motion of his hands over his face, he indicated we should rub our faces with our palms.  The entire time he was chanting a prayer, a blessing.

After a few moments we thanked the monk, we left a donation on the Buddha’s lap, and were on our way.

All the months of planning and preparation for our long trip had not prepared us for unexpected moments such as this.

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December 2013

About simpletravelourway

Beth and Joe enjoy simple travel.
This entry was posted in Around-the World - 2013-14, Cambodia and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to All the trip planning won’t prepare you for the unexpected moment

  1. Ashley says:

    Um, I am so glad to read this! My friend and I stumbled upon this wat as well several years ago and had no idea what was going on, just that it was something about eyebrows. Now I know! Thanks! I wrote a blog post about it a while back as well. Great photos, by the way.

  2. icelandpenny says:

    Wonderful photos, as always — and I’m glad you included the memorial to the Japanese war correspondent. I suspect that “passed away” does not begin to describe what happened to him.

    • As you remind us, the correspondent was captured by the Khmer Rouge, probably suffered much in captivity, and, a year later, died of malaria from what we read. The correspondents covering Cambodia/Kampuchea in those times risked life and limb to inform the world what was happening here.

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