What’s a wat? A wat is a Buddhist temple and there are an estimated 1080 spread throughout Cambodia. Many temples in Phnom Penh are beautiful buildings, but what I didn’t know was that they are not just spiritual places for people to go and pray, but are almost like little communities as well. The complex of a wat usually includes some kind of prayer house, stupas where remnants of important personalities or monks lie buried, exotic statues, accomodation for the monks and also housing for the disadvantaged of society who can’t afford to stay anywhere else.
Wat Ounalom serves as the headquarters for one of Cambodia’s most revered Buddhist patriarchs. It is one of the oldest temples in Phnom Penh and is believed to contain an eyebrow hair of the Buddha in a stupa. Buddha died in 483 BCE, so I am not sure if eyebrow hairs actually last that long, but it seems that poor Buddha’s body parts are spread out all over Asia. After his death, his remains were divided into eight portions. Afterwards, these relics were enshrined in stupas wherever Buddhism was spread, despite his instructions that relics were not to be collected or venerated.
Wat Phnom is probably the most significant temple in Cambodia, as this is the place where Phnom Penh was allegedly founded in 1422. It is one of the most popular temples in Phnom Penh. Legend has it that Daun Penh, a wealthy widow, found a large koki tree in the river. Inside the tree she found four bronze statues of the Buddha. Lady Penh constructed a small shrine on an artificial hill made by the people living in the village to protect the sacred statues. Eventually this became a sacred site and sanctuary where people would make blessings and pray.
Wat Lanka was established as a sanctuary for the Holy Writings in 1422 and has remained an important temple ever since. It is one of the most spectacular temples in Phnom Penh in my opinion.
Last stop was Wat Botum, which translates as the Temple of the Lotus Blossoms. This is one of the most sacred temples in Phnom Penh, as this is where numerous politicians and eminent persons of the city are buried here.
Local children who eagerly followed me around