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Dual crown: lake, temple

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A child begs for money at Ta Prohm temple near Tonle Bati. He fares quite well with tourists who visit both the temple and nearby lake.

AT a loss about what to do at the weekend or on a public holiday? Should you spend the day relaxing around a lake, or drive off to some ancient ruins? In the village of Bati, you can do both.

Just over 30 kilometres south of Phnom Penh on National Highway 2, the temple of Ta Prohm lies a pre-Angkorian stone’s throw away from the lake of Tonle Bati.

While the former draws crowds eager to have their photograph taken next to a Buddhist shrine, the latter has huts that are popular with Phnom Penh day-trippers.

Chheang Suyheang, 62, is the owner of a brick kiln about 50km from Tonle Bati. Although he has come here many times before, this is his first visit this year. He has come in a group of 10 that includes his grandchildren.

“They particularly like swimming in the lake,” he says. “I feel relaxed here and free from work.”

Although Chheang Suyheang is relaxing here next to Ta Prohm, in his opinion the temple is not particularly special.

“I am used to travelling to see lots of big temples, so this has become normal to me,” he says.

Phuon Thany, 20, finds the temple of greater interest. The first year student in Khmer Literature at the Royal University of Phnom Penh has come to Tonle Bati with 30 classmates on a study trip.

“I wanted to see the temple here because it relates to my subject,” she says, before admitting that the 12th century temple was only part of the appeal of the place.

“We also wanted to swim in the lake here, as today is a public holiday. After this we will go to Phnom Tamao Safari Park.”

On her first visit here, Phuon Thany believes that visits to temples such as Ta Prohm are vital for her to gain a better understanding of Khmer culture.

“It is important for me to study the temple,” she says. “It is important for me to learn here.”

Next year she plans to visit the more famous Ta Prohm at Angkor. “I went there when I was in high school, but next time it will be for research relating to my studies,” she says.

Neth Vanthon, 37, lives in the nearby village of Bati.

The moto-dop driver shuttles people between the temple and the lake, making him an expert on the twin attractions of Tonle Bati and Ta Prohm. “Weekends and public holidays are good days, he says. “During Khmer New Year there are traffic jams here.”

So which is more popular with tourists, the relic or the lake?

“People like both,” he says pragmatically. “Guests visit the temple and afterwards they come here [Tonle Bati] to stay at a hut and eat something.”

However, he adds that international tourists tend to have only one thing on their minds. “Foreigners mainly visit the temple,” he says.

INTERPRETER: RANN REUY

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