April is the most special month in Cambodia. It is the celebration of the Khmer New Year (Chaul Chnam Thmey, which literally means “Enter New Year”). While the new year is officially a 3-day holiday, most Cambodians treat it as a month-long period to visit family, friends and have a festive time. This is the last good, long holiday that everyone will have before the start of the long, hard rice planting season.
In Banteay Chhmar, villagers celebrated with food and dancing in the temple and parties with friends and family. Powdering faces is a common and fun activity. There are also a number of traditional games played and ceremonies observed during the new year period. One ceremony is when people build sand hillocks around the pagoda. Villagers mound up a hill of sand or dome which represents sakyamuni satya, the stupa at Tavatimsa, where the Buddha’s hair and diadem are buried.
Khmer New Year with friends
Enjoying the Khmer New Year
Also, this year a number of villagers, shopowners and local authorities made a special trip to visit the poorer villages and pagodas along the Thai border distributing food, drinks and making monetary donations to the communities. It was a special day for everyone involved.
Dancing in the Khmer New Year
Happy Khmer New Year
Praying in the pagoda
Bringing donations to the pagoda
The month was not all fun and games, though. Before the start of the new year, the CBT members met several times to begin work on a 3-year business plan. As Global Heritage Fund begins to wind down its conservation project and support, the CBT needs to become more proactive in increasing its business sustainability. The CBT is looking at ways to increase its visitor numbers and income by adding new activities and increasing market awareness of Banteay Chhmar.
If you would like to get involved in helping the CBT with travel market research, business planning, networking, or helping to create a “Friends of Banteay Chhmar” group, please contact Tath Sophal or Andrew Marino. Thanks! 🙂
Banteay Chhmar CBT members prepare SWOT analysis
We had a very quiet and slow month here in Banteay Chhmar. The weather is still mostly dry, though we have had a few scattered thunderstorms. It is also getting hotter, and our visitors should be advised to wear a hat and sunscreen, and make sure to drink plenty of water while walking around the temple and village area.
Please view a few of our own images of Banteay Chhmar Temple in black and white. We hope you like the different perspective, and we encourage everyone to take some unique photos of the temple. The ever changing lighting in the temple offers an endless degree of opportunities for amateur and professional photographers.
Buddha images in Banteay Chhmar Temple
Lintel of Hindu gods
Celestial dancers in Banteay Chhmar Temple
Nearly collapsed temple entrance in Banteay Chhmar Temple
Ceremony for King Sihanouk
On February 4th, local authorities and villagers gathered at the pagoda to pay their final respects to the late King Sihanouk. The king, who passed away in November, was cremated in Phnom Penh after a three-month period of mourning and rememberance. Everyone was very honored to be part of this final ceremony for their beloved king.
A few days later, the Ministry of Culture & Fine Arts and Global Heritage Fund agreed to a 3-year MoU. The final phase of the conservation project will concentrate on reconstructing the west gallery of Banteay Chhmar Temple. Meanwhile, inside the temple, the major work on Tower #18 has been completed and the scaffolding is being removed. The tower bears an excellent Bayon-style face. We all look forward to working with Kim Sothin and other ministry officials on the successful completion of this wonderful conservation work.
Tower #18 in Banteay Chhmar Temple with an excellent Bayon-style face.
Forestry officials discuss tree planting project in Banteay Chhmar Temple
Finally, officials from the Ministry of Forestry held a meeting to discuss a potential project. They would like to start a tree-planting project whereby visitors will have the opportunity to make a donation and “plant a tree” in the temple or in the community. The details still need to be worked out, but we think a lot of visitors will be interested in this project. It will help the environment, provide some additional income to villagers for managing the project and add some savings into the CBT community fund.
Happy New Year to everyone!
January has been a very quiet month here in Banteay Chhmar. Despite the quietness, the villagers are still busy with the cassava harvest. This crop serves as an important dry season crop and source of income. The cassava is mostly exported and processed into biofuel. It is also used in food production.
Cassava cutting in Banteay Chhmar
We have gotten off to a very good start with visitors this year. In January, the CBT welcomed more than 100 visitors. We are looking forward to greeting everyone who can come and visit us this year.
And, one more note. The road from Sisophon to Banteay Chhmar is in good condition now. The drive should only take about one hour.
First Day of the Rice Harvest
December is always a wonderful time of year to visit Cambodia. The rains have stopped, and the weather is much cooler. It is also the time of the rice harvest, so the villages are alive with a flurry of activity. It has been an active month here in Banteay Chhmar. Unfortunately, this year was not a good rice harvest because of infrequent rains. However, the villagers will do the best they can with the harvest. If you are interested in learning how to harvest rice, please ask one of our tour guides. They will be happy to take you to the fields where you can meet the villagers and learn all about rice.
There is an absolutely fascinating archaeological project taking place about 4km from the Banteay Chhmar Temple. Workers from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts are unearthing an ancient burial site. Heng Sophady from the Ministry believes that the remains may be around 2,000 years old. So far, workers have discovered human remains, a fire pit, some tools and pottery.
Kok Treas Archaeological Site
We had a great visit from our friends in Korea. Volunteers from the Gwang Ju Buk-gu Volunteer Center generously contributed their time and money to help clean the village, repair and paint the primary school. They also donated a generous supply of books, pens and clothes for the children. And, they still had plenty of time to play with the children!
A special THANK YOU! goes out to Travelers’ MAP Tours and the Gwang Ju Buk-gu Volunteer Center 🙂
Cleaning the village
November is, of course, a very special month in Cambodia. It is the time of Bon Om Touk – the Water Festival. The celebration takes place during the full moon period of the Buddhist month known as Kadeuk. Traditionally, the festival celebrates and honors the Khmer military – especially the naval forces. The festival has a long history, dating back hundreds of years to the glory of the Angkorian era.
This year’s festival in Banteay Chhmar was somewhat smaller than previous years. In part, this was due to the country’s continuing mourning period for the recently deceased King Sihanouk. Despite the subdued mood, the villagers still enjoyed plenty of music, food, games and one full day of boat racing.
King Norodom Sihanouk
October was, of course, a sad month here in Cambodia. King Norodom Sihanouk passed away on October 15. The king was living in Beijing, China at the time of his passing. King Sihanouk was a much beloved monarch of the Cambodian people and saw the country through many trying periods. We send our prayers and thoughts to all the Cambodian people and wish them a bright, healthy and happy future. For more on King Sihanouk’s life click here
Pchum Ben Family Offering
On a happier note, October was the celebration of the Pchum Ben Festival. This annual 15-day festival is a time when Khmer people honor their deceased relatives. Prayers and offerings are made during the entire 15-day period. The culminating celebration takes place on the 15th day of the 10th month in the Khmer calendar. On the final night, monks chant continously, Supposedly, this time represents a prelude to the gates of hell opening and a time when the spirits, or ghosts, become very active. It is believed that offering food helps the ghosts; some ghosts will end their damnation and others will temporarily escape only to return for more suffering. The offerings and prayers may also benefit those relatives in heaven. In Banteay Chhmar, some families with have a ceremony in their house in addition to going to the pagoda to give an offering to the monks.
Finally, to end on another happy note. Little Chamroun Sondey celebrated his fourth birthday on October 11th with a fun-filled party. Sondey is the nephew of Soeung Savy, one of the CBT’s cooks. All the children and adults had a marvelous time making balloons, eating cake and singing ‘Happy Birthday.’
Happy 4th Birthday to Day
Students enjoying their community library
In September, the CBT community library began the first steps of starting English and Khmer lessons for students in Banteay Chhmar. Students were informed of the lessons and given an entry test to attain their skill level. After the official state school year starts (in October), a schedule will be drafted for students in Banteay Chhmar who want to attend additional lessons and do their homework in the CBT library. We all hope to see a lot of students studying and learning!
If you have not already watched this documentary from Al Jazeera, we highly recommend you take some time to view this important episode. This documentary reviews the relationship between the UNESCO World Heritage programme and tourism development in Southeast Asia. This is an important issue facing us here in Banteay Chhmar as the Cambodian government would like to see the Banteay Chhmar temple complex become designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Yet, we want to preserve the culture and heritage of the area while improving the livelihoods of the community. The video contains footage of Banteay Chhmar and interviews with members of Global Heritage Fund and the CBT community.
New Conservation Project!
Representatives from the Ministry of Culture & Fine Arts help to open a new conservation project in Banteay Chhmar
His Excellency (H.E.) Him Chhem, of the Ministry of Culture & Fine Arts (MCFA) christened the opening of a feasibility study for a new conservation project along the west gallery of Banteay Chhmar Temple. The goal is to determine if there are still two remaining Avalokiteshvara bas-reliefs (as thought) under the collapsed gallery area and evaluate whether a conservation project is possible. This project will continue through February 2013 and is being managed by Kim Sothin of MCFA. Funding is being provided by Friends of Khmer Culture.
His Excellency, Him Chhem, (center, white shirt) visits the Global Heritage Fund conservation project
The same day of the christening (August 28), His Excellency also visited the ongoing Banteay Chhmar conservation project being implemented by Global Heritage Fund (GHF). He offered his support and congratulations to the Khmer team who have been working so hard on this project over the past few years.
Our visitors continue to show interest and support in our CBT community library project. We continue to receive generous donations of both books and cash to help improve our library and provide for more learning opportunities. As always, we would like to express our sincere thanks to all our visitors for their support. Some of our students were even treated to a violin performance this month!
Visitors play violin for students in the CBT Librray
July was a very dry month here in Cambodia. A lot of farmers are worried about having a good rice harvest this year. As you know, rice is the primary source of food and income for most Cambodians. We all hope the rains pick up soon.
Global Heritage Fund workers recently completed rebuilding this section of the East gallery.
In other news, workers from Global Heritage Fund completed reconstruction of a significant section along the east gallery of the temple. This section was precariously close to collapse. Now, it has been significantly stablilized and displays some more of the remarkbale bas-reliefs of King Jayavarman VII and the Angkorian era. We are all excited to see the conservation project progressing.
The CBT tour guides also continue their studies. They have been spending quite a lot of time inside the temple examining and learning to understand all the Hindu and Buddhist gods, myths and stories, along with learning about the architectural construction of the temple. It is a long process to understand all this, but they are all doing well with their studies.
CBT tour guides study inside the temple