After paying 1USD each, the kids are free, we made our way up the pink naga lined, lion guarded staircase to the landing just under the main temple at the top.
Young entrepreneurs lay in wait with cages full of tiny birds. For another dollar you could set one free. Liberating a trapped animal, a 'good' thing to do, is a way of accumulating Buddhist merit, a credit towards being born in a superior position in the next life. Of course this requires someone to trap the bird first which I imagine does the opposite! The freed birds often do not remain free either. They are frequently recaged ready to help their little 'owner' make another dollar in exchange for a few seeds.
West of the vihara is an enormous bell shaped stupa containing the ashes of King Ponhea Yat who reigned from 1405 to 1467.
In a small pavillion near the door an eclectic shrine to the smiling, plump, bespectacled genie Preah Chau, revered by the Vietnamese, her head backlit by a multicoloured halo.
The smokey vihara, rebuilt in 1434, 1806 , 1894, and most recently, in 1926, houses window sized murals depicting the life of Buddha.
The ceiling too is painted but years of incense and candle smoke has dulled the colours making them difficult to see in the dim light.
Wooden monks in brown robes sit cross legged around the central buddha a lotus bud and riel note in their laps.
Today, many people come here to pray for good luck and success in lives much harder than that of lady Penh. When their hopes are granted they return with offerings; garlands of flowers, bunches of mauve and cream lotus buds, fruit or riel pledged when wishes were made.
Back at the bottom of the hill Sambo, Phnom Penh's resident elephant, waits patiently for her next rider.
But the kids were hot and hungry so we called it a day and went back to the cool of their hotel pool.