48 year old Hachaouen rests on a hammock at Wat Ekonsai, in Siem Reap.
Hachaouen has been a monk for two years and travels to different pagoda’s (wats) to study the Buddhist teachings known as Dharmas. His face lights up as he talks of spending time at Angkor Wat, a sacred pilgrimage for many Cambodian Buddhists, despite originally being a Hindu temple.
Buddhism has existed in Cambodia at least since the 5th century and is practiced by 95% of the population. There are numerous Buddhist festivals throughout the year including Pchum Ben, when people visit pagodas and remember loved ones.
In Cambodia, almost every village has a Wat, the spiritual centre of the village where several monks reside. In Siem Reap, as with many towns, there are numerous Wats, all with their own character and beautifully decorated temples and statues. Wats are wonderful places to calmly spend some time, away from the hustle and bustle of the world outside, a sanctuary. These places are also places of study, of Buddhist teaching and all sorts of worldly subjects. You often find monks going from one wat to another for various classes.
While Cambodia has no welfare system and little state support for the poorest people, becoming a monk often provides an opportunity not only to learn the teachings of Buddhism but also a way to become educated. From my personal experiences of visiting wats all over the country, these spiritual sanctuaries not only provide a place for people to live and study but also a refuge.
This portrait was made with the kind support of Caspar Chater. To pledge a portrait, visit the support page.