KOMPONG THOM The Province of A Thousand Temples
By: Ann Creevey. Pictures by : Nathan Dexter ( November, 2001 Volume 1 No.6 )

Set in the heart of Cambodia in the Tonle Sap Lake area, this huge, landlocked province is abundant in fish stocks, rice and timber. Although at the halfway point in the journey between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, most travelers stop only briefly at the provincial capital of Kampong Thom with its sleepy boulevards and stately colonial architecture nestled around the wide, brown waters of the Tonle Sen. The province contains eight districts, 81 communes and 737 villages and is home to five per cent of Cambodia's total population. But besides its pleasantly relaxed atmosphere, the province has much to offer the visitor. At Sambo Prey Kuk, 179 ancient temples predating Angkor loom out of the forest and, besides their haunting beauty, they are acknowledged to be the most important structures architecturally as a key to understanding Angkor. The magic holy mountain of Phnom Santuk stands to the south of town, and countless pagodas and natural treasures such as forests and rivers give Kampong Thom one of the most varied and beautiful countryside of any of the Kingdom's provinces.
Hotels and inexpensive guesthouses are readily available for those who wish to spend some time here, and the road is good for most of the way to and from Phnom Penh, which is just three and a half hours away from this timeless, mysterious province. Sambo Prey Kuk Three groups of temples dating from as early as the sixth century are scattered through the forest here. Built of brick, they are still impressive architecturally although most of the carvings and lintels have long since gone. But the most striking feature of the area around this link between the ancient past and Angkor is the air of peace surrounding the 179 structures discovered and cleared of undergrowth so far, linked by winding dirt paths. Sambo Prey Kuk is about 38 kilometers from the provincial capital of Kampong Thom. The turnoff is off the main road to Preah Vihear. Although it is a dirt road, it has been improved as is passable by car and moto.

Phnom Santuk

Nearly 1000 stairs wind their way up this mountain to a beautiful hilltop pagoda about 12 kilometers south of Kampong Thom Town. The turnoff is off the main road to Phnom Penh and marked by a sign. This mountain and the pagoda are famous throughout Cambodia as a place of magic, where stones float and a coconut thrown into a magic well will emerge again in the Tonle Sap. There is a rough and ready road to the top if you want to avoid the stairs. This is barely navigable by car or off road motorbike. The pagoda itself is spread out into several areas and shaded by trees. Boulders around its perimeter have been carved with images of the Buddha and another carving inside represents Buddha's footprint. This is a tranquil place and affords stunning views over the surrounding countryside.

Wat Kampong Thom (Entry Saing Vorak Pagoda)

Kampong Thom province has too many stunning temples, both ancient and modern, to mention them all, but Entry Saing Vorak Pagoda, or Wat Kampong Thom as it is known locally, is probably the one most travelers see. Situated just across the river on the road from Kampong Thom town to Siem Reap, the ornate twin towers of the mohakodi (monastery) are some of the most impressive examples in Cambodia. Believed to have been originally built in the 17th century, it was destroyed by the Khmer Rouge after 1975 and only rebuilt around 1984. There are more than 100 monks and novice monks housed in the pagoda. The architecture and impressive statues are worth viewing.

Koh Ker-Style Lion Statue

Rearing up in the style typical of the lion statues of the Koh Ker (Preah Vihear) period of architecture, the lion statue now situated in the public park on the banks of the Tonle Sen is a prime example of 10th century Khmer art. This statue came to Kampong Thom before 1962, when Preah Vihear, where the Koh Ker temple complex is located, was part of the province. It was previously situated in front of the Office of the Provincial Service of Culture and Fine Arts building. The statue was made circa 922 AD and weighs about one and a half tones with its pedestal. It faces west, to scare away negative forces and with the positive forces of the Tonle Sap Lake and its associated prosperity in abundant fish and forests at its back. The lion is one of a pair. The other is in Guiume, France.

Prey Prah

A popular picnic spot with locals during the dry season, this is a typical Khmer "beach" resort, perfect for swimming and picnics, located beside the Prey Prah River, about 15 kilometers from town. The turnoff is from the road to Siem Reap.