Pinpeat Orchestra

Pinpeat Orchestra is basically a Cambodian musical band playing traditional Khmer music on traditional Khmer instruments. Pinpeat Orchestra music sounds very oriental but for the most part it doesn’t appear to have any beginning or end, rather the musicians just improvise by randomly striking notes on their instruments that then blend into a musical piece that sounds just as any other musical piece by Pinpeat Orchestra. Still, even though lacking in variety, Pinpeat Orchestra is the classical music of Cambodia and does have the oriental feel you would expect from such ensemble.

Photo: Pinpeat Orchestra with Roneat Ek on the Left, Sampho in the Middle and Skor Thom on the Right

Photo: Pinpeat Orchestra with Roneat Ek on the Left, Sampho in the Middle and Skor Thom on the Right

Pinpeat Orchestra Instruments

Vast majority of Pinpeat Orchestras I’ve seen playing in Cambodia had their music based on percussions. Most Pinpeats were solely percussions based, while few smaller ensembles that make their living by selling CDs at Angkor Wat temples also used fiddle like string instrument called “tro”.

Roneat (Khmer Xylophone)

Roneat is the most typical instrument found in a Pinpeat Orchestra. Some traditional Cambodian bands use Roneat as their sole instrument. Roneat looks like Xylophone but uses wood bars suspended on a string. Person playing Roneat usually holds two mallets one in each hand and strikes two wood bars at the same time in what seems as completely random order.

Photo: Pinpeat Player on Roneat - Khmer Xylophone

Photo: Pinpeat Player on Roneat - Khmer Xylophone

Sampho Drum

Sampho is a barrel shaped drum with heads on both sides. Person playing Sampho uses both hands to strike the drum each on either sides of the barrel. Sampho player usually sets and keeps the tempo of the song being played.

Photo: Sampho Drummer Playing Part on One Head of the Drum

Photo: Sampho Drummer Playing Part on One Head of the Drum

Skor Thom

Skor Thom is a set of two barrel shaped drums played with sticks. Not all bands use it. Sometimes Sampho is enough to keep the beat going.

Kong Thom

Kong Vong Thom is a gong circle which along with Roneat makes for an important part of a Pinpeat Orchestra. Gongs of different sizes are hung on the strings of a circular frame. Just as it goes with Roneat, player playing Kong Thom holds two mallets in his both hands and strikes two gongs at the same time in what appears as random order.

Ching Cymbals

Ching cymbals are the most irritating part of every Pinpeat Orchestra. It’s a pair of small cymbals held between the fingers of hands which when struck together sound like those ringers on old bicycles. You can typically hear it long before you can hear the rest of the band. If you are walking towards the temple and can hear a sound which sounds as if someone was running their bicycle ringer amok, you may actually hear the whole Pinpeat Orchestra once you get closer.

Photo: Pinpeat Orchestra with Sampho, Roneat, Skor Thom and Kong Vong Thom

Photo: Pinpeat Orchestra with Sampho, Roneat, Skor Thom and Kong Vong Thom

In Siem Reap, there is a Pinpeat Orchestra with members who are victims of landmine accidents. They play each night on Pub Street in Siem Reap. You could be sitting in the Temple Bar with loud music and this ringing of Ching cymbals will be in your ears, giving you the headache non stop. If you go to a quiet restaurant a block away, you will be too far to hear the band, but ringing of Ching cymbals will be there tearing your eardrums like there’s no tomorrow. It’s an extremely loud and invasive sound and it comes from two tiny cymbals each size of half of your palm. Luckily, not all Pinpeat Orchestras use Ching cymbals so you don’t have to go shoot yourself in the head each time you want to watch Apsara dance.

Yes, Apsara dancers always dance to traditional Khmer music which is played by a Pinpeat Orchestra. My first exposure to live Pinpeat Orchestra was at Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine and when I saw amateur Apsara dancers at Wat Keseram they were also dancing to the music played by live Pinpeat Orchestra. Even though I was told on several occasions that typical Pinpeat Orchestra also uses wind instruments, I have never seen one that does. Fiddle like Tro was the only instrument used on top of the above mentioned ones. Both bands mentioned in this paragraph only used the instruments listed – no wind, no Tro. That’s my personal experience.

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Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine

Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine blew my mind right out because of the unprecedented circumstances surrounding my discovery of it. The presence of thousands of Cambodian Flying Foxes that circled over Royal Independence Gardens where the shrine is located gave it the movie-like feel. Subtle but pronounced illumination of shrine’s edges and distinct roof draws eyes of passers-by after dark and since it was the beginning of Pchum Ben Festival, Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine was enveloped in a haze of smoke from hundreds of burning incense sticks which is part of Khmer ritual surrounding the Festival of the Dead. There was no other temple or shrine anywhere in Cambodia that would leave me with profound impressions similar to those I felt after visiting Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine.

Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine - Beautiful Little Shrine

Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine - Beautiful Little Shrine

History of Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine

As its name suggests, Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine is dedicated to two Buddhas: Preah Ang Chek and Preah Ang Chorm. Two standing statues located inside depict these two Buddhas: Preah Ang Chek is the taller Buddha and Preah Ang Chorm is the shorter Buddha. Local Cambodians believe that Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine provides protection for entire town of Siem Reap. Legends have it that when Khmer Rogue, who were on a mission to destroy religion in Cambodia, entered Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine and attempted to remove both Buddha statues, these were growing heavier by the second until they’ve reached such weight that Khmer Rogue cadres were unable to move them. Aside from beliefs of its indestructibility, Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine is also believed to bring good fortune to newly married couples and is therefore frequently visited by newlyweds on their wedding day.

Buddhist Devotees Gathered Round Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine to Commemmorate Pchum Ben Festival

Buddhist Devotees Gathered Round Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine to Commemmorate Pchum Ben Festival

Inside Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine

As soon as I was done admiring heart-stopping Fruit Bats I proceeded to pay the visit to Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine. The place was incredibly busy with whole families coming in and out all the time. There were Buddhists praying at every part of the shrine, whether it was inside before the statues of two Buddhas or outside by large pot where devotees put their burning incense sticks.

Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine Photographed at Dusk, Before Full Night Set In

Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine Photographed at Dusk, Before Full Night Set In

Pilgrims and Beggars

From what I found out, Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine is a place of great reverence for pilgrims and beggars. It was easily noticeable that all visitors entering the gates of Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine gave the beggars some money. There were quite a few of them and from my independent observation, they were cashing in big time. Out of hundreds of families I saw come in, virtually every members would give them some. They probably made more cash there in one day that all those families see in a year.

Despite my solid and well reasoned philosophy that I don’t give to the beggars, I caught myself breaking my own rule on the steps to Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine. There was this boy who was incredibly crooked. He was crawling around the ground with all limbs and facial features crooked really badly. He was obviously not faking his condition and it seemed pretty bad, however as I have observed later, he was not disabled enough to safely grab at handed money and store it in his large pockets. He truly needed massive pockets to store all those bills that were coming in large numbers from everyone entering the shrine. My beef with him was that he came chasing after me as I was walking in, and did the same as I was walking out. I told him I gave him already and just because he sees me again, it doesn’t mean I was gonna give him again. I did not have this type of budget, no matter how much I would like to help. He was extremely hard to get rid of as he knew real well how to use his disability to his advantage.

Crooked Beggar who Makes a Lot of Money at the Steps to Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine

Crooked Beggar who Makes a Lot of Money at the Steps to Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine

Street Vendors at Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine

The area along National Road #6, on south west corner of Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine houses several street vendors selling flowers, decorated coconuts, incense sticks and live birds. These items could be bought by the Buddhists heading to the shrine and used as offering for the Buddha statues inside. Most of these made good sense to me, except from live birds. I don’t know how they capture these beautiful, wild birds, but somehow they do and keep them in small cages where many of them are cramped together. Bottoms of these cages are sprinkled with dead birds who suffocated in confined space, or were trampled by too many other birds inside, or simply beat themselves to death trying to escape.

Some Cambodians Make Their Living by Capturing Wild Birds and Selling them at Shrines for Release by Buddhists

Some Cambodians Make Their Living by Capturing Wild Birds and Selling them at Shrines for Release by Buddhists

People who buy these birds, hold them between their palms they keep locked together as if in a player, often close to their mouth with eyes closed while they utter a prayer in their minds and then they release them. This is an extremely sad sight for me as I feel strongly for the animals and while some of those released birds take off happy to be returned back to their wild homes, many try to fly but go straight for the ground. Their wings are too crippled from being caged for so long, or they’re broken from overcrowded cages, or they are otherwise disabled and can’t fly anymore. You can find these dead birds sprinkled all over the grassy padding of the Royal Independence Gardens and it’s truly a sad sight. I couldn’t believe this abuse of birds was happening and that local Khmer people think it’s really awesome. They think Buddha likes it when they release the birds in the wild, but they don’t take into account what birds go through in order to be available for sale and subsequent release. Very sad :(

Dead Bird in Royal Independence Gardens - Some People Turn This into Business

Dead Bird in Royal Independence Gardens - Some People Turn This into Business

Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine on Pchum Ben Festival

The shrine was so alive it was breathtaking. The shriek of thousands of bats above was dubbed by chatter of hundreds of people below. There was a traditional Cambodian band playing traditional Khmer music on the right hand side of the terrace, several Buddhist Monks were kneeling on the left to accept offering from devotees and give them blessings. The inside of the shrine was getting filled up with offering from devoted Buddhists. It was dark outside but the smoke from incense sticks and the lights of the shrine created a peaceful and mellow atmosphere in which anyone could enjoy themselves by just sitting and observing. Which is exactly what I was doing. I found Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine to be a magical place and visited it often. Besides, the Fruit Bats were the coolest thing in all of Cambodia.

Traditional Khmer Band Playing Music at Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine

Traditional Khmer Band Playing Music at Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine

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Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine at Night Photo Gallery

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Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine at Night Photo Gallery

Gallery

This gallery contains 15 photos.

This photo gallery contains pictures of Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine in the Royal Independence Gardens in Siem Reap taken at night. This was also the first night of Pchum Ben Festival so the shrine was being continuously … Continue reading