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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Rare Experience in Cambodia

Kristin and I only had one full day to enjoy Cambodia after transiting to Cambodia from Thailand. The tiny town of Siem Reap has become a major tourist destination due to its historical significance. Other than the remnants of ancient civilizations, the town is packed full of hotels, restaurants, and bars all within walking distance or a short tuk-tuk ride. The downtown area's two main attractions are Pub Street and the Night Market; I'm not sure why they found it necessary, but both are demarcated by several massive neon-light signs.
After a lovely dinner, we organized our tuk-tuk for the following day and headed back to our hotel for an early night's sleep. The hotel clerk stopped us; he said it was the last night of a 7-day ceremony for the opening of a new pagoda (temple) just outside of town, a rare occasion that we should take part in. The three of us hopped on his motorbike; despite a bumpy dirt road, the bike drove like a dream (the bike was a Honda Dream, so I repeated this several times thinking it was hilarious). We arrived at the padoga to find a massive crowd of people; everyone was smiling and laughing, and warmly welcomed us despite being the only non-locals.
The entire atmosphere was invigorating that is was almost overwhelming; music played, people danced, and everyone seemed so filled with positivity. We joined the crowd as they circled through the pagoda, making small offerings into large pits and to several monks who sat praying. We also received prayer bracelets, blessed for good health and fortune. Afterwards, we passed through the adjacent carnival, erected solely for the pagoda opening ceremony. Thousands of locals were enjoying the rides, games, and food on offer. As the only tourists involved, we felt so privileged to be involved in such large display of community spirit.

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