National Geographic : 1968 Dec
Secluded shrine above the Mekong, this sacred cave near Pak Ou offers special blessings. Here a single girl pays her respect to the Lord Buddha in the hope of find ing a husband. The swift-flowing Mekong carries a pi rogue downstream toward Luang Prabang. The King of Laos makes a yearly pilgrimage to Pak Ou, where hundreds of images brought by monks line the ledges. Cotton strings around his wrists, guardians of the 32 souls of the body, will bring good luck to a bridegroom at a Lao baci ceremony. Weddings, births, farewells, or any occasion for well-wishing call for the ritual of baci. Here the tasseng,a village official, ties a string on Sourak at his wedding feast. His bride, Boua Lien, beams her joy. the northeast, from Laos. Here it splits into two great rivers flowing on into South Viet Nam-the second and third arms. The fourth arm is a reversible tributary called the Tonle Sap, meaning "sweet water." In the dry season, it flows into the junction. But now, in the rainy season, the swelling mainstream rises as much as 45 feet, and its water flows up the Tonle Sap to the Great Lake, also called Tonle Sap, 80 miles to the northwest (map, page 745). When the rainy season ends in November, the river switches again. Phnom Penh then celebrates the Festival of the Retreat of the Waters, with merrymaking on boats and barges, with pirogue races and fireworks. The Queen watches from the little floating 764 palace; so does her son, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the Chief of State. Her Majesty is handed a sea shell filled with Mekong water. She sprinkles her face and hair and salutes the rising moon. I drove along the Tonle Sap toward ancient Angkor, the outstanding tourist attraction in Southeast Asia. Angkor means "city." All of it-the whole gigantic complex of moats and buildings, delicate and huge-is a monument to man's mastery over water in the Lower Mekong Basin, once upon a time.* Angkor Wat is considered the finest of the temples. The Bayon, in the 2-mile-square en closure called Angkor Thom, is the most *See "Angkor, Jewel of the Jungle," by W. Robert Moore, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, April, 1960.