It dawned on me the other day that I’ve settled into a routine and become a creature of habit. And so it was this morning. I went out for breakfast and then called a friend to arrange our usual Sunday get together. “I’m on my way to Phnom Penh,” he told me. Okay. Plan B was Otres Beach. Then I thought, “Why? Why not try some place different?” Without having a clue where I’d end up, I headed out Route 4. About 1/2 an hour later, I found myself turning off on the road towards Ream, but instead of going straight, I turned off on the new Sun Moon Resort Road.
Good move. There’s no resort out there as yet, but there is a good road through some beautiful scenery with almost zero traffic. I cruised down the road slowly, enjoying the scenery and the cool breeze on my face. I’d never been down this road before, but thought it led all the way to the beach where the resort is set to be built. After a few kilometres, I discovered I was only half right. There was a guard stationed at the point where the paved road ends and the old dirt road takes over. He told me the road was closed, so I turned around. For a few minutes, I thought about taking the road down to Ream and having lunch by the water, but then Wat Samathi caught my eye on a distant hilltop.
I’ve been to Wat Samathi several times before. It’s one of my favourite wats. The beautiful natural setting helps and the fact that there’s a lovely walking track around the hill makes it perfect. I’ve only been there with the family during religious festivals before. It’s always enjoyable, but I’ve always wanted to come on a day when no one was there and soak in the peaceful atmosphere.
A light rain started to fall just as I began my walk, but it was just enough to keep me cool as I walked up the staircase to the top. Just as I neared this Buddha, the rain started falling more heavily, so I took shelter under a tree.
The heavy rain didn’t last long, so I continued on my way. The natural setting, the cool weather and the Buddhas tucked here and there along the path were weaving their magic and for the first time in a couple of weeks, I was able to put my concerns about the state of the world out of my mind and enjoy the moment. Continuing on my way, I discovered a new temple was being built at the top of the hill. No one was working outside, but a painter was busy working on a mural inside. Here’s one he had already finished:
Continuing on, I discovered that work was being done on the wat’s main Buddha, too. The scaffolding around the statue didn’t inspire me to take a photograph, so I turned and started down the stairs to the parking area. As I walked, gazing across a sea of rice paddies, I was aware of the Buddha at my back. I like to think he is there to act as kind of a lighthouse of compassion, spreading light throughout Cambodia and beyond. We can turn our backs on a beacon of light like this, but when we do, our field of vision is dimmed by shadows. Not far away, in Phnom Penh, a power struggle is taking place — a struggle that can easily be resolved if both sides turn their eyes towards the Buddha on the hill at Wat Samathi. Beyond that, another power struggle is taking place — one that threatens the entire world. The players there don’t even know this Buddha on a hill in Cambodia exists, but there’s a word for peace in every language, a place for peace in every religion. The question is: Will they be able to listen before it’s too late or is the Buddha going to have to silently watch the world destroy itself?
Wat Samathi is a lovely place. It’s only 20 kilometres outside Sihanoukville. Next time you’re in the area, check it out. Here’s a map. Take the road highlighted in yellow near Sihanoukville International Airport. Look for the entrance just outside the village.