Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Siem Reap turns it on for moon watchers



Siem Reap turns it on for moon watchers

Siem Reap turns it on for moon watchers

S IEM REAP - They came by boat. They came by plane. They came by motorbike, bus, car,

bicycle, ox cart and foot. In the end an estimated 25,000 people, mostly Cambodians,

went to Angkor Wat to view the total solar eclipse extravaganza on Oct 24.

There were no disasters, no major airport bottlenecks - and not a bullet was fired.

"Everybody was waiting for the shooting and there was none. They were so disappointed,"

said Sok Chenda, spokesman for the Ministry of Tourism.

"There was no shooting. This is proof that Cambodia is ready for tourism."

Indeed, provincial governor Toan Chay said that authorities had collected 3,000 guns

from military and police to prevent them from shooting to ostensibly scare off demons.

Three hundred officers were allowed to keep their guns.

Royal Air Cambodge increased flights to Siem Reap on the day before the eclipse from

four to seven, and sent up four flights the next morning.

Toan Chay, provincial governor, estimated the visitors at about 2,000, eight times

the normal visitor flow. All 600 registered hotel rooms were booked full in Siem

Reap Monday and Tuesday. Informal guest houses were harder to assess, but provincial

authorities had asked people to open up their villas to guests if necessary.

"Everybody made money ," said Graham Cleghorn, owner of Minefield Studios,

which sold about 100 specially handprinted eclipse T-shirts at $15 a pop.

"Thousands of happy tourists will go home saying what a great place Angkor Wat

is."

He said on eclipse day cars were renting for $100 a day.

"I think we saw the future today," said a longtime ex-pat resident of Siem

Reap.

Any problems were small. A couple of tourists moaned that the popular Bayon restaurant

ran out of bread one day and noodle soup the next day. One fast boat from Phnom Penh

ran out of gasoline on the Tonle Sap lake and spent four hours waiting for a fisherman

to bring extra fuel. Passengers jumped in the water to cool off while they waited.

Angkor Wat was the most popular place to watch the eclipse. Star gazers began arriving

at sunrise, setting up picnics, lighting incense and gazing at the shrinking crescent

of sun through smoked glass or strips of black film.

Two or three thousand people climbed the small mountain near the temple to watch.

A handful of people chose the Bayon or one of the more isolated temples. In villages

near Siem Reap, villagers watched the image of the eclipse in pools of water.

Moments before the eclipse reached totality at 10:58 am, many Cambodians rushed to

light incense and offer a prayer inside the temples.

"We have to offer up black candles, black incense, blackened chickens to scare

off bad spirits who could have arrived with the eclipse," said Pou Sothirak,

Minister of Industry.

Drums played and classical dancers performed before a table laden with pigs' heads,

bananas, flowers and other offerings.

Thousands of people shouted and cheered as the moon moved in front of the sun,

bathing the area in a shadowy darkness, with only the bright rim of the sun visible

around a black center. Inside the temples, pigeons flew in different directions as

if they were preparing to roost; and on the ponds outside, frogs started croaking.

Cambodian beliefs about eclipses are deeply held. According to one legend, the Hindu

god Rahu is a demon with an ugly face and an enormous mouth who tries to swallow

the sun and moon. How he spits the sun out - how the moon moves across the sun -

can spell prosperity or a bad harvest.

One old monk in Siem Reap passed a favorable verdict on the eclipse.

"I think the collapse of the sun will remove the war from Cambodia," said

Sao Vy, adapting the ancient legends a little, from a pagoda at the Bayon.

Radiant tourists expressed different views after the event. Aschinger Manfred, of

Linz, Austria, said it was his sixth eclipse. What was the difference between each?

"The country and the people," he said.

An Italian astronomer who photographed the spectacle at Angkor Wat said an eclipse

itself wasn't particularly important to astronomy.

"It's not important. With satellites and space telescopes and coronographs now,

it is important only for the popular magazines," said Walter Ferreri, of the

University of Torino.

But he said the viewing was spectacular because the weather was very good. Venus

and Mercury were easily visible.

A man from Japan who came with a group of 22 amateur photographers said it was his

third total eclipse and the best one he had ever seen.

"The last one was in Hawaii and it was a loser. It was raining and so we couldn't

see it," said Mochizuki Kazutaka.

The next eclipse will be visible from Mongolia in 1997. Another will be in Sumatra

in 1998, and Austria and other parts of Europe in 1999. As for Cambodia, it will

have to wait 75 years for another - and Siem Reap 300 years.

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Hun Sen: Stay where you are, or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that the two-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Kandal provincial town Takmao could be extended if people are not cooperative by staying home. “Now let me make this clear: stay in your home, village, and district and remain where

  • Businesses in capital told to get travel permit amid lockdown through One Window Service

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration has issued guidelines on how to get travel permission for priority groups during the lockdown of Phnom Penh, directing private institutions to apply through the municipality's One Window Service and limit their staff to a mere two per cent. In

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Ministry names types of business permitted amid lockdown

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training singled out 11 types of business that are permitted to operate during the lockdown of Phnom Penh and Takmao town, which run through April 28. Those include (1) food-processing enterprises and slaughterhouses; (2) providers of public services such as firefighting, utility and