SIEM REAP AND KAMPONG THOM

SIEM REAP

SIEM REAP (6 miles from Angkor Wat) is the town where tourists stay when visiting Angkor Wat, which has no accommodation itself. Siem Reap has a good selection of hotels, guest houses and restaurants that can accommodate all budgets. There is an interesting market and lovely countryside around the town. The main market covers several blocks. Shops sell things like temple rubbings, stone and wood sculpture and silks. Touts not only work out of Siem Reap’s airport they also work out of the airport in Phnom Penh to get customers for guest houses. Siem Riep means "Victory over the Siamese."

In the 1990s, Siem Reap was a Cambodian provincial town with few facilities, minor surfaced roads and little in the way of nightlife. The tourism industry catered largely to backpackers. There were a couple of large hotels and a handful of budget guesthouses. Tuk-tuks and taxis were non-existent and the trusty motodup was the chosen means of touring the temples of Angkor. The proximity of the Angkorian ruins turned Siem Reap into a boomtown in less than half a decade. Huge, expensive hotels have sprung up everywhere and budget hotels have mushroomed. Property values have soared to European levels and tourism has become a vast, lucrative industry. The Siem Reap of today is barely recognizable from the Siem Reap of the year 2000.

A lot of development occurred in Siem Riep in the late 1990s and early 2000s and continues today. The airport is relatively new and modern. Poor families have been moved to make room for a Malaysian-financed resorts with luxury hotels and a golf course. Development slowed somewhat after the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s and then picked up again in the early 2000s. As of 2004, there were 71 hotels and guesthouses with 5,000 hotel rooms in Siem Reap, twice the number as 2000. The town itself grew from 83,000 people in 1998 to 108,000 in 2002.

Some of the development is quite ugly. New, hastily-built hotels line the road between Siem Reap and the airport. Some are nicely situated among rice fields and palms but require a taxi ride to get the town. Much of the development has taken place in ramshackle, chaotic manner. There are currently efforts to regulate the growth a little better There are plans to install the town’s first water and sewage system.

Though some of the town's previous ramshackle charm may have been lost the developments of the last few years have brought livelihoods, if not significant wealth, to a good number of its citizens. This has been at a cost to the underprivileged people living within and beyond the town's limits that now pay inflated prices at the central markets and continue to survive on poorly paid subsistence farming and fishing. If Cambodia is a country of contrasts Siem Reap is the embodiment of those contrasts. Despite the massive shift in its economic fortunes, Siem Reap remains a safe, friendly and pleasant town. There is an endless choice of places to stay or dine and a host of possible activities awaiting the visitor.

Susan Spano wrote in the Los Angeles Times, Siem Reap is an amiable tourist trap that has grown up since the late 1990s when sightseers began to return to Angkor. Now a city with a population of about 100,000, Siem Reap has a new branch of the national museum, an international airport, resplendent resort hotels and a flush economy driven by tourism. It is easy to visit Siem Reap without understanding the significance of bullet marks on the lintels at Angkor Wat; the limbless beggars around the downtown market; and the poverty, waste and deprivation left on the back streets in the wake of the civil war. [Source: Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, May 15, 2011]

Stephen Brookes wrote in the Washington Post, “Siem Reap is no longer the scruffy, can-we-leave-now backwater of a decade ago. It has turned into a vibrant town with a slew of five-star hotels, lively new bars and restaurants, high-end art galleries and any number of chic boutiques. For the energetic, there's golf, mountain biking or flying around in ultra-light airplanes. For the sybaritic, there are massages and exotic spa treatments. There are restaurants for the epicures, museums for the studious, orphanage tours for the empathetic, and even a classical cello concert every Saturday night. [Source: Stephen Brookes, Washington Post, November 4, 2007]

“So once we'd notched a couple of temples on our belt, we hired a tuk-tuk -- one of those motorcycle rickshaws you find all over Southeast Asia -- and set out to explore the town. Siem Reap may be changing fast, but it still has a small-town feel. We would spend our evenings exploring the lively streets of the French Quarter, where surprises awaited us at every turn: huge, black deep-fried spiders (a Cambodian delicacy) from street stalls, delicately hand-tinted photographs at art galleries, elegant silks from tiny boutiques, massages from blind masseuses at the Seeing Hands Spa, even a net-covered garden bistro where thousands of butterflies fluttered around us as we ate.”

Siem Reap Province is located in northwest Cambodia. It is the major tourist hub in Cambodia, as it is the closest city to the world famous temples of Angkor (the Angkor temple complex is north of the city). The provincial capital is also called Siem Reap and is located in the South of the province on the shores of the Tonle Sap Lake, the greatest sweet water reserve in whole Southeast Asia. The name of the city literally means Siamese defeated, referring to the victory of the Khmer Empire over the army of the Thai kingdom in the 17th century. [Tourism of Cambodia]

Siem Reap province is 10,299 square kilometers in area. It is located in northwest Cambodia and bordered by Oddor Meanchey Province to the north, Preah Vihear and Kampong Thom Provinces to the east, Banteay Meanchey Province to the west and Tonle Sap to the south. Much of the province, especially the southern part, consists of typical wet plains covered by rice fields and agricultural plantations. The northern part of the province is hilly area covered by forests. A distinguishing feature of Siem Reap Province is the smaller, but important Siem Reap River. It rises from Phnom Kulen, meanders through the northern part of Siem Reap Province and eventually empties into the Tonle Sap Lake.

The population of Siem Reap Province is about 903,030 people or 6.3 percent of the country's total population (2007, provincial government data), with 440,395 male and 462,635 female. The population density is 87.7 people per square kilometer. Much of the economy is focused on the foreign tourism due to presence of the famous Angkor temples. Since 2000 the economy has grown at double-digit rates. In 2007 more than 1,000,000 people visited the province. Fishing is the second most important industry after tourism. Thousands of tons of fish are annually exported to other provinces within the country or outside Cambodia. Farming is still done by the vast poor rural population.

The cool season in Siem Reap Province is from November to March with temperatures ranging from 23 to 29 degrees C. The hot season is from March to May with temperatures ranging from 27 to 37 degrees C. The rainy season is from May to October. Temperatures are 24 to 34 degrees C, with humidity up to 90 percent.

Impact of Tourism on Siem Reap: Ker Munthit of Associated Press wrote: “ Nineteen-year-old Ra Pheap is a garbage sweeper at Cambodia's world-famous Angkor Wat archaeological site, and is keenly grateful for the influx of tourists to the centuries-old monuments - it's because of them she has her $50 a month job. Suos Samnang, a 17-year-old souvenir vendor, also knows that her livelihood is closely linked to the busloads of camera-toting foreign visitors that arrive everyday. But as they witness the frenzied construction of hotels and guest houses to tap the flow of visitors' dollars in this once-quiet town, even these two poor country girls realize that the blessings of tourism are mixed ones. "I am worried that this will cause more pollution and migration to the town. The number of people living here just keeps growing. The streets are getting more crowded now," Suos Samnang said. And some experts are even more concerned than that. They fear the unregulated development -- specifically, unrestricted local pumping of underground water to meet rapidly rising demand -- may literally be undermining Angkor's foundations, destabilizing the earth beneath the famous centuries-old temples so much that they might sink and collapse. [Source: Ker Munthit, The Associated Press, November 21, 2006]

“The steady boom has already transformed Siem Reap into a bustling town filled with luxury hotels and vehicles. Its streets are adorned with billboards promoting the latest mobile phones, pizza and burger joints and shopping malls. Several notable old buildings have been razed to make way for visitors' lodgings, and honky-tonk strips have sprung up catering to low-budget travelers. "The identity Siem Reap had for centuries is gradually disappearing, or maybe almost disappeared," said Teruo Jinnai, director in Cambodia of the U.N. cultural organization UNESCO, and a 10-year resident of the country. "You have restaurants, massage parlors, hotels, and it's very sad to see that."

“Culture shock aside, the health and quality of life of many of its 120,000 residents is imperiled by the boom, as is plain to see when traffic snarls the roads and streets get flooded by rain because of clogged sewers. "This tremendous growth added to population increase has been exacerbating pressure on infrastructure," said a World Bank report on Cambodia's tourism sector last year. "Energy, water, sewage and waste are all significant problems." It noted that hotels are not legally required to have sewage treatment facilities, though larger ones do have their own plants. "But most guesthouses reportedly dump used water directly into the river, causing noticeable river pollution," it said, adding that E. coli, the bacteria found in human feces, has reportedly begun seeping into local wells.

“At least as threatening over the long run is the uptake of water, with unrestricted pumping from the water table underlying the area. "Water is being drawn from 70-80 meters (230-260 feet) underground by hotels and treated for use," warned the World Bank, noting that no one was quite certain how this affects the aquifers, or underground layers of rocks and sand, from which it is pumped. Already though, "one of Angkor's temples is reportedly falling into a sinkhole, suggesting that the underground aquifers may be rapidly disappearing," said the report. Japanese Ambassador Fumiaki Takahashi, whose country has drawn up a development master plan for Siem Reap to deal with the tourism boom, said most of its hotels are pumping underground water for their own use, "and there is no control." It is the Cambodian government's "urgent task" to control the practice, he said, because "if you take too much water, it might affect the Angkor site. In the long run, the underground water will go down and the site would sink." The plan of the Japan International Cooperation Agency calls for tapping underground water from near Phnom Kraom, a hill near the edge of the Tonle Sap lake about 7.4 miles south of the town, to avoid depletion of Siem Reap's underground water and reduce the risk of endangering the fragile temples, he said.

Deputy Tourism Minister Thong Khon said the government is ready to accept the master plan to address existing problems and accommodate future growth. He sees a bright future for Siem Reap, in which the province won't just be a destination for touring the temples but will also become a hub providing air links for tourists to enjoy the sandy beaches of southwestern Cambodia and ecotourism in the jungles of the northeast. He envisions that by promoting a diversity of destinations, the crowds will be distributed around the country, and the Angkor temples won't get "too jammed up."

Ra Pheap, the 19-year-old sweeper, said she knows the onslaught could damage the delicate monuments. She is employed by a Cambodian company that sells entry tickets to the temple site, and the visitors there are essentially paying her salary. With her earnings, she has reduced her family's reliance on rice farming and been able to help pay for Japanese-language classes for her younger brother and sister. "I want them to become tour guides because I am confident more tourists will visit here," she said.

GETTING TO SIEM REAP

The majority of visitors to Siem Reap arrive by air from Phnom Penh and Bangkok. There are also regular flights from Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City and Vientiane. Visas are available on arrival at the Siem Reap and Phnom Penh airports. From Phnom Penh, there are also daily boats and buses going to Siem Reap. Some visitors make their way to Siem Reap overland from Thailand via the Aranyaprathet/Poipet border crossing.

The road to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh is in good condition, but driving in Cambodia is still challenging in the extreme, and should be attempted only by experienced riders. Speeding taxis, slow cows, and oblivious children are the norm. The trip by motorcycle calls for a dirt or road bike, no smaller than 250cc. It can be made in a day, but two days with a layover in Kampong Thom is a more relaxed alternative and allows time to visit the pre-Angkorian ruins of Sambor Prei Kuk.

Leave Phnom Penh via the Japanese Bridge and follow National Highway No 6 north 75 kilometers to the Skun intersection. (Skun is known for its exotic foods - check out the fried spiders, turtle eggs and more at the roadside stands.) Bear left and follow the NH No 6 to Kampong Thom - about 2-3 hours. In Kampong Thom, the Arunras Hotel (062-961294), Stung Sen Royal Hotel (012-309495) and Mittapheap Hotel are all decent mid-range places. Arunras Guesthouses and Restaurant next to the hotel is the place to eat cheaply. From Kampong Thom to Siem Reap the trip takes another 2-3 hours.

By Airplane to Siem Reap: ??? Siem Reap Airways offer several daily flights to/from Phnom Penh. http://www.siemreapairways.com/; another cheap opportunity is http://www.airasia.com/; or www.laoairlines.com/. You can make your flight booking throught http://www.tourismcambodia.com/flights/.

Airport Departure and Arrival Tax: Domestic: US$6. International: US$25 Siem Reap Airport: The airport sits 6 kilometers from town, close to the temples, occasionally affording spectacular views of Angkor Wat during landings and take offs. Outside the terminal is a ticket booth for registered taxis into town. Independent taxis and motorcycles wait just outside the airport. The price is the same for both: motorcycles are $2 and cars are $6-7 into town. Most hotels offer free transportation from the airport but you must notify them in advance of your arrival.

By Bus and Shared Taxi to Siem Reap: Several guesthouses, travel agencies and bus companies offer daily bus transport between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. It is a smooth 314 km, 5-7 hour trip. The bus makes usually two stops along the way (at Skun and Kampong Thom). All charge the same, $3.50 (14,000R) one-way. The earliest buses depart starting at 6:30am and the last buses between noon and 1pm. Bus companies that run between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap: Neak Krorhorm Travel: Phnom Penh office at the corner of Street 110 and Sisowath Quay. Siem Reap office opposite the Old Market.GST: Phnom Penh bus station near the southwest corner of Phsar Thmey (Central Market). Phnom Penh Public Transport Co.: Phnom Penh bus station near the southwest corner of Phsar Thmey (Central Market).

Phnom Penh to Siem Reap - Leaving 7:30am and 12:30pm, Operated by all companies listed below. Tickets are $5 one-way and $9 for Mekong Express Luxury bus. 1) Mekong Express Limousine, #87 Eoz, St. Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Tel: (855) 23 427 519. 2) Ho Wah Genting, Corner Street 217 and street 67, Phnom Penh 12209 Cambodia. Tel: (855) 23 210-359, 210-859. 3) GST Express Bus, #13 Street 142, Phnom Penh 12209 Cambodia. Mobile: (855) 12 838-910, 12 895-550. 4) Capitol Tours, #14 Street 182, Phnom Penh 12258 Cambodia. Tel: (855) 23 217627, 724-104. Fax: (855) 23 214-104.

Shared taxis: Local share taxi depart from southwest corner of Central Market in Phnom Penh for 25,000 riel per person (5-8 hours). A private taxi costs you US$38-$45 for the whole car. 5-6 hours. (Due to rising fuel costs, prices are in flux.)

Siem Reap Ferry Dock: Boats and ferries to Siem Reap arrives at Chong Khneas near Phnom Krom, 12 kilometers south of Siem Reap. There is always transportation waiting at the dock. Mototaxis charge about $2-$3 and cars $6-$7 for the 20-30 minute ride into town.

By Boat Between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap: Daily ferries ply the Tonle Sap river and lake between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. The end of the trip to Siem Reap is marked by a hill, Phnom Krom, near the ferry dock at Chong Khneas 12 kilometers south of Siem Reap. During the dry season, the ferry stops short of the dock and passengers transfer to smaller boats to traverse the final few hundred meters.

Ferries depart 7:00am daily from the Phnom Penh Port on Sisowath Quay. Ferries depart Siem Reap daily at 7:00am from the dock at Chong Khneas. Passage is around $18-$25 and should be purchased a day in advance (251 kilometers, 4-6 hours). Drinks are sometimes available. Tickets can be purchased through hotels and travel agencies cheaper than at the ferry offices. Though generally safe, these ferries are local transport and have experienced breakdowns, groundings and other difficulties. Travel is best during the wet season (June-November). Dry season low waters can mean smaller, less comfortable boats and occasional groundings.

There are eight boat companies currently providing services between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and one boat company operating Phnom Penh to Chau Doc. Since there is limited numbers of passenger travel, boat companies are taking turn to cruise, one company a day. 7:00am is the departure time and half hour shall be arrived prior to the departure. Ticket shall be bought at least one-day advance for the assured seat but it is also available at location. All boats are equipped with air-conditioner, toilet and Video TV. Enjoy your ride, experience your journey with rooftop and you will have the benefit of spectacular scenery and see the true Cambodian villagers.

Boat Companies: 1) Khemara Express Boat: High Way No 5A In Front of Soksan Club: Tel: 023 430 777; 2) Soon Ly Boat: Tel: 023 725 797/ 012 728 055; 3) Channa Boat: Tel: 023 725 788; 4) Royal Express Boat: Sangkat Sras Chork Khan Daun Penh, Road No 5. Tel: 023 725 538; 5) Angkor Express Boat: Sisowath Squay International Phnom Penh Port. Tel: 023 426 892; 6) Rambo Express Boat: Tel: 012 846 818/ 011 876 678; 7) Mittapheap Boat (Friendship): Tel: 023 880 857/011 876 555; 8) Hang Chau Boat: Sisowath Squay International Phnom Penh Port. Tel: 012 883 542.

Compagnie Fluevial Du Mekong offers very leisurely paced boat trips between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap on a traditionally crafted wooden riverboat with deluxe facilities. 3-day excursions. Tel: 023-216070; http://www.cfmekong.com.

SHOPPING, HOTELS AND RESTAURANTS IN SIEM REAP

Shopping in Siem Reap: Siem Reap is an excellent place to buy Cambodian souvenirs, handicrafts, textiles and art. Only Phnom Penh offers a comparable selection, but much of what is available in Siem Reap is unique to Siem Reap. Until recently, the Old Market (Phsar Chas) and vendors at the temples were the only places to buy souvenirs. Over the last few of years there has been a small boom of new shops, galleries and boutiques, offering a more varied selection of quality handicrafts and silks as well as original artistic creations - paintings, prints, carvings and such.

The Old Market still has the widest variety of souvenirs, as well as the best selection of items such as baskets, silver work and musical instruments. It also offers an interesting local ambiance, but the boutiques, galleries and specialty shops offer generally higher quality items and a more sophisticated selection of Cambodian products. Of particular interest are the traditional craft workshops and silk farms where you can see crafts in the making as well as buy the final product.

When purchasing local crafts, be selective in your purchase as there might also be some fakes. Most of the crafts, particularly the carvings, silk products and silverwork are hand-made, making each piece a unique work. Masters as well as students produce much of what is available, so some pieces are significantly better than others. Angkor Handicraft 1 is located 1.5 kilometers from Siem Reap in Stoeng Thmey Village. Angkor Handicraft 2 is seven kilometers from Siem Reap in the Angkor Compound.

Accommodation in Siem Reap: Siem Reap has an ever-growing number of hotel and guesthouse rooms, and a variety that is wide enough to satisfy all tastes and requirements. Though staying right in the middle of town is a bit more convenient to the Old Market and Sivatha road area, the town is relatively small making any location almost equally convenient as any other.

Less expensive mid-range rooms with a/c, cable TV, and hot water are available in a variety of styles and look and begin at about $15 or $20 but average $25 - $60. More expensive usually means newer, more stylish rooms, and more hotel services. Budget guesthouses, usually family-run, cost $2-$10 a night. Dozens of budget places are scattered across town, with a concentration in the Wat Bo and Taphul Village areas. Almost all guesthouses and hotels can arrange anything a tourist might need including tours, transport and information. For more information or booking, please visit: www.tourismcambodia.com/hotels.

There are now several four and five-star hotels in town, especially along the airport road. The Sofitel chain opened a sprawling resort in 2000. The premier hotel is the Raffles Grand Hote d’Angkor. It originally opened in 1932 and reopened again after an extensive $30 million renovation in 1997. Rated as one of the top 25 hotels in Asia by Travel and Leisure magazine, it has a 115-foot pool and a lovely, well-maintained 15-acre, $3 million garden, which sits between the hotel and a palace used by King Sihanouk. Among the celebrities that stayed here in the old days were Graham Greene, Somerset Maugham and Jackie Kennedy. Viroth’s Hotel d’ Angkor has also been highly was ranked by travel magazines

Stephen Brookes wrote in the Washington Post, “Dozens of new luxe hotels have been built, varying from the blandly elegant Sofitel (with its own golf course outside town) to the sleek, sexy Amansara, built in 1962 as a guesthouse of then-Prince Sihanouk. The recently renovated Amansara is one of the most striking examples of modernist architecture in Asia. With off-season prices so ridiculously low, we tried several; our favorites were La Residence d'Angkor, an atmospheric place set on a quiet, leafy street near the river, and the amazing Hotel de la Paix, a cheerfully over-the-top art deco palace in the heart of town. With flaming sconces on the roof, hanging beds in the courtyard restaurant and Stolichnaya at the breakfast buffet, it's not for every taste. But we found it decadently luxurious, and my wife cried when we left. We both cried, a little. [Source: Stephen Brookes, Washington Post, November 4, 2007]

On a small boutique hotel outside town, Geoffrey Dean-Smith wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Navutu Dreams Resort & Spa is just a short drive from the center of Siem Reap, and then a bone-jarring 10 minutes over potholes into the countryside of sugar palm plantations and rice fields. This family owned boutique establishment has 18 luxury rooms, a tropical spa with massages, a resident yoga teacher and a restaurant offering delectable Asian dishes and fine wines. The Imperial Sweet Curry with organic jasmine rice was sensational. I finished up with chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream. Bliss. [Source: Geoffrey Dean-Smith, Los Angeles Times, November 17, 2013]

Amansara in Siem Reap: Jane Perlez wrote in The New York Times, “For exotica with luxury in Asia, it is hard to beat the Amansara in Siem Reap, an enclave of refinement close to the glorious temples of Angkor. Like all Amanresorts hotels, it is very expensive. But if you are going to see Angkor only once, what the heck. As you would expect for the price, you get attentive service: there are five staff members for every guest and the hotel's guides take guests to the temples on routes not used by tour buses. Amansara was built in the 1960's as Prince Sihanouk's guesthouse. The single-story structure became a hotel and in the 70's, as political conditions worsened, a state guesthouse for the Khmer Rouge. Ultimately, it deteriorated. After a restoration, the villa opened to guests late in 2002, retaining the modernist look of stark white exteriors and plenty of glass. Given that many new hotels in Siem Reap are huge, hastily erected concrete piles, the Amansara is definitely in a discreet class of its own. [Source: Jane Perlez, The New York Times, July 13, 2005]

Set behind a high white wall, you are on the main drag of what has become a busy town. Pedicabs with uniformed drivers and comfortable open-air cabins can take you on excursions to boutiques and restaurants. But once you have spent hours at the temples, there is little reason to leave the cocoon of the compound. The 12 suites are arranged around a swimming pool and a grassy courtyard. They are spacious, even though a lot is packed in, including a freestanding white bathtub overlooking a private courtyard. The furniture is clean-lined, the tones are muted and the polished gray terrazzo floor is cool. There are plenty of closets, a large desk behind a king-size bed, a sitting area with a sofa and a circular table. Two sinks with large mirrors are near the bathroom. It's definitely open-plan living.

Room service includes an early morning, pretemple excursion array of tropical fruit, coffee and juice is served on the terrace outside each room. The dining room menu - a choice of European or Cambodian - doubles as room service. Since the bathtub and sinks are in the main room, the bathrooms are minimalist: a shower in one area, a toilet in another. A brilliant blue Cambodian silk sarong hangs on a peg, alongside two cotton bathrobes. Watch out, the sarong costs $70 at the boutique. At dusk, a housekeeper runs the bath, adding a romantic touch of floating lotus flowers.

The manager, Toby Anderson, takes pride in trying to ensure that guests see the various Angkor sites in as compelling - and for those who want it, as adventurous - a way as possible. He initiated motorcycle rides through the jungle, with an experienced guide, to pre-Angkorian ruins. Also available: a helicopter to some of the far-flung temples - for $3,000. On the ride to the hotel from the airport, the driver avoids the main road, which is flanked by tacky hostelries. Instead, he takes a longer route that includes the distinctive towers of Angkor Wat. On departure, a hefty 1962 black Mercedes that is reputed to have carried Jackie Kennedy takes you to the plane.

The Crowd: Definitely rich, with a few gate-crashers splurging for special occasions: superthin, tanned Italian women and their husbands, Japanese honeymooners, Parisians and Americans, many of whom have stayed at other Amanresorts. A night costs $775, plus 10 percent service charge and 11 percent tax. This covers breakfast; lunch or dinner; house wine, spirits and beers; and temple tours. Amansara, Road to Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia; (800) 477-9180, (855-63) 760-335; www.amanresorts.com .

Restaurants in Siem Reap: There is no shortage of restaurants in Siem Reap. They have been opening steadily over the past couple of years. Siem Reap offers an excellent variety of restaurants. Shinta Mani and Hotel Grand D'Angkor lead the fine dining category though there are several places offering excellent cuisine in a stylish, refined atmosphere. There are also plenty of moderately priced Cambodian and international restaurants. Almost every restaurant offers Cambodian food. For the budget minded, check out the inexpensive Chinese places at the south end of Sivatha Blvd. or the local food stalls and noodle cookshops next to Phsar Char (Old Market).

Dinner Theater and Khmer Dance in Siem Reap: Attending a traditional dance performance is a must when visiting Cambodia. Several restaurants offer dinner performances. Nightly performances: Grand Hotel D’Angkor, Apsara Theater, Kulen II, Angkor Mondial, Chao Pra Ya, Tonle Mekong, and Tonle Sap. Some restaurants, such as the Dead Fish Tower, offer traditional music during the dinner hour. Shadow puppetry can be seen at Bayon 1 and La Noria Hotel. The Hotel Grande de Angkor has a restaurant and stage near the river that features nightly performances of the apsara-style dancers. The show and buffet dinner is US$ 22.

Pubs and Bars in Siem Reap: Pub Street in the Old Market area is the happening place to be in the evening these days offering several bars and restaurants, not only on Pub Street, but on nearby streets and allies. Things get going in the late afternoon and some places stay open quite late. The piano bar at Grand D'Angkor, and the live traditional music at Dead Fish Tower make for pleasant venues to begin the evening. Buddha Lounge, Ivy Bar, The Red Piano, Temple Bar, Linga Bar, Molly Malone's, Angkor What and not to forget the bars of the Pub Street where you can find popular early evening pubs, drawing tourists and expats alike, and getting more crowded as the evening progresses.

ANGKOR NATIONAL MUSEUM

Angkor National Museum is housed in a mammoth, 20,000-square-meter building. Opened in November 2007, the air-conditioned museum has a shopping mall-like feel that contrasts with the thousands-year-old artefacts contained within it. It's composed of eight separate galleries, all connected by a vaulted corridor with a series of fountains and lined with what seems like all the Angkorian limestone lion and demon heads missing from statues at the temples. After an explanatory film screening called Story behind the legend, you're pointed toward the galleries:

Gallery 1: “1,000 Buddha Images” is the only gallery that's just one large room, rather than a series of maze-like alcoves, and the sight of all these Buddhas at once is striking. Hundreds of small and miniature Buddha figurines, made of metals, jewels and wood, all individually illuminated, line the walls here, identified according to the period they were made during and where they were discovered. In the centre, life-size and larger Buddha characters are displayed. The display includes Buddhas from Banteay Kdei, Bayon, Angkor Wat and Preah Vihear.

Gallery 2: “Pre-Angkor Period: Khmer Civilisation and all the subsequent ones combine mural-size explanations and short films through maze-like rooms explaining Angkorian history. The styles of figurines precede the trademark Angkor style, and there's a large collection of lingas, lintels and colonnettes. Gallery 3: “Religion and Beliefs” explains several of the most significant Hindu and Buddhist religious stories and folk tales depicted on Angkorian temples, including the most memorable Churning of the Sea of Milk carved into the rear wall at Angkor Wat. Carvings of Buddhist and Hindu religious figures are concentrated here as well.

Gallery 4: “The Great Khmer Kings” focuses on King Jayavarman II, Yasovarman I, Soryavarman II and Jayavarman VII, those most responsible for Angkor's greatest constructions. Figures of the kings and relics from the temples they commissioned abound. Gallery 5: “Angkor Wat”: There's a large film gallery inside this section of the museum. It features beautiful, panoramic images of the temple and explanations of how it was constructed. There are also many restored figures from the temple itself as well as post-Angkorian wooden statues used for worship at the temple until several hundred years ago. Gallery 6: “Angkor Thom”: In addition to recovered artefacts from Angkor Thom, this gallery includes a history of and artefacts from the vast irrigation projects commissioned by the king who built Angkor Thom with his smiling face looking out from every tower: Jayavarman VII.

Gallery 7: “Story From Stones” is one of the most interesting. It's a collection of stone pallets with ancient Khmer and Sanskrit inscriptions. The writing on each slate is explained on placards below. The writing on them includes the declaration of the construction of a new hospital, lists of slave names, mediations of land disputes and adulations of kings and gods. Gallery 8: “Ancient Costume”: From Apsaras and kings to princesses and warriors, this room contains the busts and statues of distinct fashions and styles as they evolved throughout Angkor time. There's also a collection of ancient jewellery and headdresses. It's a clever segue to the final room -- the gift shop -- where upscale imitations of these fashions abound.

It's $12 to enter the museum, plus another $3 if you want to bring in your camera and another $3 for an educational headset. Sadly, like ticketing and management of the Angkor park, the museum is owned and run by a private company, so little of your admission money goes to Cambodia or to temple restoration (though what the company paid for the concession might). Still, it's perhaps better than these artefacts remaining in the hands of private collectors. A connected has a few stores, including a Blue Pumpkin satellite, several souvenir shops and the sure sign of apocalypse.

Angkor Conservancy (in Siem Reap) is a compound of workshops, laboratories and storage facilities established by the French and now run by Cambodians. Housed in three large warehouse-like buildings, it contains many of the finest Angkor statues and art works to keep them out of the hands of looters and to repair and restore them. Many of the sculptures and bas reliefs missing from Angkor's temples are here not in private collections.

Among the 2,400 pieces in the conservancy are a few well-preserved life-size figures of ancient kings; a magnificent statue group of the god Vishnu and his two consorts; Buddhas protected by naga serpents, pediments, lintels ornaments, and stelae. Visitors are sometimes allowed in.

The conservancy is surrounded by barbed wire fences and watchtowers. In 1993, thieves machine gunned their way in and killed three civilians and made off with 10 valuable pieces. The conservancy and Angkor are now protected by 450-member team of French-trained motorcycle-mounted Heritage Police. Looting has largely been shut down in the Angkor area. If only the same could be said for remote Khmer sites in Cambodia.

SIGHTS IN SIEM REAP

Angkor Zoo (5 kilometers from Siem Reap on a dirt road on the way to Angkor, just past the ticket gates off of Charles De Gaulle Blvd) is a fairly small zoo that houses over 100 species of animals and birds, including bears, serow, peafowl, gibbons, muntjac, civets and cheetahs. Unfortunately the zoo has gone pretty much to ruins and is not very well maintained. If you wish, you can donate some money for the maintenance of the zoo. Porcupines to some extent always present a problem. They are expert excavators and cages often need solid cement floors to prevent their escape. Both groups of porcupines from Angkor are now in our two spacious, forested serow enclosures, one group in each. Other species share enclosures as a way to save money and use resources wisely.

Land Mine Museum (20 miles northeast of Siem Reap) offers information on land mines themselves and the destruction they can cause. Located on a rutted road parallel to the main road to Angkor Wat and also called the Civil War Museum, it is identified by a hand-painted sign and is housed in a shack. The mines and weaponry on display include bouncing betty mines, Russian rockets, Vietnamese fragmentation mines, poisoned spikes and other nasty stuffy. The founder of the museum Aki Ra, often accompanies visitors and offers explanation to visitors as they wander around. Many of the mines in the museum were disarmed by Aki himself. Aki opened the museum in 1999. he speaks pretty good English and Japanese and continues to hunt for mines in his free time.

Also on view are public service poster warning children to stay clear of mines, some Khmer Rouge cut-up-tire sandals and pictures made by Aki Ra that show atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge that he witnessed himself. If asked Aki will do a demonstration on how to look for and deactivate a mine. town. In 2000, local officials forced Aki to take down his sign on the main highway because they did not want tourists to link mines with Angkor Wat (the area has been thoroughly cleared of mines) but allowed the museum to remain open.

Susan Spano wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “With Khmer Empire architectural glories nearby, it would be easy to skip the Cambodian Landmine Museum and Relief Center. When I visited, I met its founder, Aki Ra, who at the age of 10 was given a gun by the Khmer Rouge and sent into the rice paddies to set explosives. After the war he devoted his life to dismantling 50,000 land mines left in the countryside and to raising maimed and orphaned children, work that last year won him nomination as a CNN Hero.[Source:Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, May 15, 2011]

Admission is free, but donations are appreciated. To get there, go past the Hotel Grande de Angkor (on the road to the Angkor ticket checkpoint) about 1 kilometers to a small sign on the right for the Civil War Museum. Turn right, and follow this road to a four-way intersection and turn left. There is a sign for the place here. Go about 1 kilometers and you will see it on the right.

Crocodile Farm (on the south end of Siem Reap) that has about 300 crocodiles of various sizes and dispositions. There is US$ 1 admission charge for foreigners and 1,000 riel for Cambodians. You can buy stuffed crocs on the premises. To get there head south on Sivutha Street, cross the bridge and it's down another kilometers from there.

Parks in Siem Reap: The Siem Reap River parkways and the big park in front of the Hotel Grand d'Angkor are nice for a jog, stroll and people watching, especially in the early evening hours when the locals are out in numbers. The river area is pleasant and the park is nicely landscaped. There are plenty of drink and snack vendors around. The king's Siem Reap residence is just across from the park.

Shooting Ranges (about 40 minutes on rough roads from Siem Reap) offers visitors a chance to shot AK-47s, Uzis, M-16s, M-50 machine gun, shotguns, pistols, bazookas and even B-40 rockets. The cost for shooting off 30 rounds from an AK-47 at a paper target about 90 meters away is $20. The same number of rounds fired from an Uzi will set you back $50. The B-40 rocket launcher costs about $200 to use. For $10 extra you can shoot at a live chicken. rabbit or cat. Dogs cost $15, cows, $300. Some places will let you shoot at car batteries or buckets of gasoline. The main range is inside an operating military camp. All the motorcycle guides know where it is. To get inside the base generally requires the payment of a $5 bribe.

Phnom Kulen National Park (50 kilometers northeast of Angkor Wat) was opened to tourists in 1999 by private owners who charge a $20 toll per foreign visitor. It takes approximately two hours to drive from Siem Reap and up a 487-meter-high hill height to a plateau stretches for 30 kilometers. The owners that charge admission developed the road up to the peak. It is only possible to go up before 11:00am and only possible to come down after midday, to avoid vehicles meeting on the narrow road.

Kulen is considered by Khmers to be the most sacred mountain in Cambodia and it is a popular place for domestic visitors during weekends and festivals. The hill is used as the ancient capital city II in AD 802 when the Phnom Penh king declared himself as god king and announced independence from Java, then giving birth to present day Cambodia. On the hilltop there are 56 Angkorian temples made of bricks and volcanic stones, but most of them are badly in poor condition. Hahendrapura, founded in the reign of King Jayavarman, is the only temple with its base intact. Visible sites include Prasat Krau Romeas, Rong Chen ( the first mountain temple), Sra Damrei ( Elephant pond) and thousands of phallic symbols carved a long river bed and divided in three areas for the Hindu trinity gods. These three areas are used for ritual bathing. At the summit of the hill you can see a Buddhist pagoda and a large reclining Buddha statue 8 meters length carved into a sandstone bock in the16th century. There is also a waterfall that splits in two spots. The first waterfall is four or five meters high and 10 to 25 meters wide in the dry and rainy seasons respectively. The second waterfall is 15 to 20 meters higg and 10 to 15 meters wide in the dry and rainy seasons respectively. The water is considered holy and Khmers like to bottle it to take home with them. The water eventually flows in to Tonle Sap Lake and is thought to bless the water ways of Cambodia.

SIGHTS IN THE SIEM REAP AREA

Thmat Boey (4 hours away from Siem Reap Town or 7 hours from Phnom Penh) is in Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary. During the dry season Thmat Boey can be reached by 4-wheel drive vehicles. During the rain season motorbikes have to be used for the

Skoeun (near Phnom Penh) is famous for its spider brochettes. The mildly-toxic two-inch- long spiders are caught in the nearby forests, dipped in flour and powered peanuts and fried. Sold for about 20 cents a stick, they are served in restaurants and hawked from trays to passing motorists. One customer at a spider restaurant told the Phnom Penh Post. "It's not as tasty as cricket, but it could be good if you eat it with wine." Another said, "It's nice, it tastes good. They clean the stomach.”

Heidi Fuller-Love wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Skun is home to Cambodia's largest concentration of tarantulas. Tthe market stands were piled high with fried crickets, grilled locusts and braised a-pings, as the beleaguered arachnids are known locally. All around me school kids and old women were buying the spiders. They are black, hairy, as big as a hand and, at 50 cents each, didn't come cheap. "We fry them to destroy the poison, then dip them in garlic and salt," a vendor said.[Source: Heidi Fuller-Love, Los Angeles Times, November 20, 2011 ^^^]

“Steeling myself for the big one, I browsed the stands, sampling crickets (bland and crunchy) and locusts (meaty and the legs stick between the teeth) before buying a bag of tarantulas. Shutting my eyes, I dipped my hand in the bag, pulled off a leg and nibbled. Surprisingly, once the initial revulsion wore off, the taste was not so bad. The texture of the a-ping was rough and crispy like a pork crackling, but inside it was tender and fatty and tasted a bit like cod. "The head is the best bit," said an old woman, with half a spider in her hand, half in her mouth. I decided to take her word for it and offered her the rest of my bag. She accepted gratefully and made short shrift of the three arachnids inside. ^^^

“The edible insect exhibition at the Skun Spider Sanctuary, where I learned that arachnids are a gastronomic delicacy in Cambodia. "Along with lizards, scorpions and rats, they were introduced onto the menu during the famine under the Khmer Rouge regime, but now they have become so popular that there are fears they could be hunted to extinction," sanctuary employee Sopheap told me. ^^^

KAMPONG THOM

KAMPONG THOM PROVINCE is Cambodia's second largest province by area. Kampong Pos Thom, meaning the “Place of Big Snakes”, was the original name. Because originally a long time ago, at the dock of the Sen River next to a big natural lake, there was a big cave with a pair of big snakes inside. The people living around this area usually saw these big snakes every Buddhist Holiday. After that, the snakes disappeared, and the people of that area called it Kampong Pos Thom. Then, only short words Kampong Thom. During the French colony in Cambodia, the French ruled and divided Cambodian territory into provinces, and named them according to the spoken words of the people Kampong Thom Province.

Kampong Thom Province is located at the central point of the Kingdom of Cambodia and home to exotic lakes, rivers, forests, mountains and more than 200 ancient temples. Sambor temple and Prei Kuk temple are the two main temples in Kompong Thom as well as other less significant Angkorian sites.

The province has a total land area of 15,061square kilometers divided into 8 districts, 81 communes and 737 villages. The province borders Preah Vihear and Siem Reap Provinces to the north, Kratie Province to the east, Kampong Cham to the south and Kampong Chhnang to the west. Kampong Thom Province is divided into two parts: 1) East of National Road 6 covers 70 percent of the province and consists of forests and plateaus, which are rich in natural resources and good for profitable agriculture, forestry and animal husbandry; and 2) West of National Road 6 covers 30 percent surface and consists of wet plains extending to Tonle Sap Lake. This area is one of the best areas in Cambodia for rice cultivation and fishing. Two of the three core areas in Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve are located in Kampong Thom: Boeng Chhmar (14,560 hectares), and Stung Saen (6,355 hectares).

The total population of Kampong Thom is 708,398 person or 4.5 percent of the total population (2007, provincial government data), with 343,478 males (48.3 percent of the population) and 364,920 females (51.7 percent). About 85 percent of households are engaged in farmingm 4.6 in fishing, 15 percent are traders, and 1 percent are government's officers. A large chunk of Kampong Thom is located on the floodplain of the Tonle Sap. In 2003-04 it was a significant harvester of wild fish (18,800 tons) and the fourth largest producer of fish through aquaculture in Cambodia (1,800 tons). Most fish-raising is done by individual households, with a growing segment devoted to rice field aquaculture. Kampong Thom is also one of the largest producers of cashew nuts in Cambodia, with 6,371 hectares under production.

The cool season in Kampong Thom Province is from November to March with temperatures ranging from 20 to 28 degrees C. The hot season is from March to May with temperatures ranging from 30 to 35 degrees C. The rainy season is from May to October. Temperatures are 23 to 30 degrees C, with humidity up to 90 percent. Rainfall varies considerably from area to area, whereas the seaward slopes of the Southwest highlands (Kompong Som and Kampot provinces) receive more than 5,000 mm of rain per annum, the central lowlands average only about 1,400 mm.

Kampong Thom Town (165 kilometers from Phnom Penh) is the capital of Kampong Thom Province. It is a picturesque town on the banks of the Stung Saen River. Kompong Thom was a very powerful capital in Southeast Asia during the Funan period. Later on, during the French rule, the province was home to a large group named the Stieng, but they have long been assimilated into Khmer society.

Kompong Thom is a sleepy little town. The only hive of activity was the market place next to the Stung Sen River where you can buy brown palm sugar and Cambodian fragrant rice. The local taxi is an open-air wooden cart pulled by an antiquated motorbike. Its owner was an elderly man wearing spectacles with thick lenses. Preah Bat Chan Tuk Buddha Statue is visited by thousands every year making it one of the favored places in the city. It was built in the 16th century by King Ang Chan I. Prey Pros (16 kilometers northwest of Kampong Thom) is a resort located in Prey Priel village. Tourists can also enjoy an array of recreational activities such as fishing, swimming and boating.

Kampong Thom town located on the National Highway No 6 between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. It is a common place to have a break or eat something for people traveling between Siem Reap or Phnom Penh rather than a tourist destination, Some tourist use the town as a jumping off point to explore the pre-Angkorian Chenla capital of Sambor Prei Kuk and the remote temples of Preah Khan and Prasat Preah Vihear.

Ka Kos Village, 16 kilometers from Kampong Thom on National Highway No 6, is famous for its craftsmen who the rocks from the foot of Santhuk Mountain to make statues and various figures for house decoration. On sale in Kampong Thom are handicrafts such as silk shirts, traditional Khmer clothing and handbags. There is also a common markets where you can buy a variety of products.

Getting to Kampong Thom: The province has a very basic road network, which links Phnom Penh (165 kilometers) and Siem Reap (150 kilometers) with the National Highway No 6, and the separate National Road 64 to Preah Vihear province with a distance of 126 kilometers. After a rebuild of the former dust road that was long overdue, this is now one of the best roads in the Country. There is lots of bus companies going from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap or back, so while they pass Kampong Thom its easy to drop off there. The companies such as Sorya (near Central Marlket), G.S.T. or Capitol (Str. 182) go usually 7:00am, 8:00am, 9am and again midday 12am, 1pm, 2pm to Siem Reap. Prices to Kampong Thom are between US$1.5-2.5.

If you want to shorten the time spent on the trip to Kampong Thom you may take on of the shared taxis, mostly leaving near the central market. As they aren’t really the comfortable version of travelling you’ll even have to pay more as with the bus (approx. US$3-6). Phnom Penh to Kampong Thom 12,000 riel Kampong Thom to Siem Reap 15,000 riel (5-6 hours). Kampong Thom to Tbeng Meanchey (4-6 hours) 26,000 riel

Phnom Penh to Kampong Thom: Security in all directions is no longer a problem. As mentioned earlier, the road from Phnom Penh is in good shape. Starting at the Japanese Bridge in Phnom Penh, head out National Highway No 6 to Skon, where you go left at the traffic circle (it has a statue of kids holding a bird). This takes you the rest the way.

Kampong Thom to Siem Reap: It’s a 145 kilometers ride, with the road in nice shape for a while after you leave Kampong Thom town, then it gets a little rougher, but much re-grading work has been done. It's not like it used to be; bomb crater holes used to be so deep that during the rainy season one could have a family picnic at a crater's shoreline.

Kampong Thom to Tbeng Meanchey: To take this 137 kilometers journey, you follow Highway 6 toward Siem Reap for 5 kilometers to the fork in the road. A sign in English will point to the right side of the fork for TM Chey (Tbeng Meanchey town, Preah Vihear Province) down on Highway No 12. The road here is much improved, as there has been a lot of resurfacing done to accommodate the droves of logging trucks heading to and from Preah Vihear province. The downside of the easier road is the dust that the trucks whip up as they chug along the road. It can be a real hazard as the thick dust clouds practically blind you from seeing possible oncoming traffic when you want to pass these slow moving vehicles. The final 37 kilometers stretch through the mountains and into Tbeng Meanchey is still tough going. This is how the entire road used to be - bomb craters, erosion galleys, and rocks are all here for your motorcycle fun. It can actually be enjoyable stretch, because the scenery is brilliant. This stretch can also be done during the rainy season, though the road may be slippery and dotted with small mud ponds after heavy rains. Enjoy it.

SIGHTS IN THE KAMPONG THOM AREA

Prasat Kok Rokar (14 kilometers from Kampong Thom) is a temple built of sandstone and laterite located in Rokar Phum, Srayov Commune, Stung Sen District. Built in the Khleng style at the end of 11th century during the reign of king Suryavarman I and dedicated to Siva, this isolated sanctuary (dimension: 6m x 5m x 8m) was built on the hill and faced to the east. The body of the central temple has conical form with porches opening to the east, and a door reached from the eastern entrance (three other doors were the false doors). The diamond column has octagonal forms, and the three lintels have various forms. Based on the study to the site, the sanctuary was formed in rectangular shape. The outside rampart has 25m x 25m size and Gopura from the four directions which jointed to the surrounding laterite rampart. Outside the rampart, there were likely moats surrounded as we saw some marks remain until now. In observation to the temple’s court, there were lintels and inscriptions available at the surrounding. The lintels has various style some in Sambor Prei Kuk, some in Prei Khmeng and some in Kulen style etc. This didn’t mean that the artists built the mixed styles.

According to the elderly resident there said that during the French colony in Cambodia, these ancient objects were brought from other temples to gather here in preparing to break into small parts that would then be used to pave the roads, but they didn’t construct the roads yet due to the war happened in the Country that why these ancient objects remained there. On the hill 1 kilometers from the temple, where they held midnight ceremony every full moon day with making virgin girls dancing around the fired place to pray for the rain. This ceremony could be participated by virgin girls only.

Phnom Santuk (17 kilometers south of Kampong Thom) is a cultural and natural site located in Ko Koh village, Ko Koh commune, Santuk district. The site include four mountains: Phnom Srah Kmao or Phnom Tbeng, Phnom Penhum or Phnom Kraper, Phnom Champa and Phnom Santuk. Phnom Santuk has changed names from Chorn Chong Kiri to Phnom Krop Tuk to its current name. Chan Dare or Chan Chare are two pieces of stone that join together in marked symbol and make a small hole. Since ancient times visitors have thrown coins into the small hole. When coins fall in there is a soft noise like a bird song or music with happiness.

There are three main tourist sights on Phnom Santuk. 1) Buddha statues have been carved from great mountain’s rock including three big Buddha statues reaching Nirvana, each has more than 10-meter length. 2) Prasat Touch is pyramid-shaped temple made of sandstone. It has three stories and three- meters high, and is located next to the ancient wooden temple (presently, it is made of cement) with a small rectangular pond. 3) Preah Bat Chann Tuk statue was carved on the stone shaped as food of a sacred human, and there are many other small sculptures. The statues were erected during the reign of Preah Ponhea Dharma Reacha (1474-1494) and have been maintained until now.

Prasat Andet Temple (27 kilometers northwest of Kampong Thom ) is a Kampong- Preah-style Angkorian temple located in Prasat Village, Sankor Commune, Kampong Svay District, Kampong Thom Province. The temple was built in second half of 7th century (627-707) during the reign of king Jayavarman I and dedicate to the God Hirihara. Made of brick with masonry, laterite and sandstone, Prasat Andet is built on a 5.30- meters high artificial hill and has a rectangular shape: 7.50-meter length, 5.50-meter width and 1-meter thick (interior to exterior). It was facing to the East. The lintel of Prasat Andet features carvings of garlands.

The coronet is ornamented with rings. Between of the rings garland and flower designs. In ancient times, this temple contained a Harihara Statue standing on a decorative royal throne. This statue is now in National Museum in Phnom Penh. One side of the body Harihara statue is Siva. The other side is Vishnu. The framed door is one meter wide, two meters high and 20 centimeters thick. On the northern framed door, are saw marks of a cloven hoof of tiger cat that used to go to the upper box of the door, which remained the marks until now.

Bird Sanctuary of Boeng Tonle Chmar (30 kilometers from Stoung) is near the villages of Nesat, Kamong Kdei, Svay Kor, Mo Doung, Kampong Bradom and Msa Trang Tboung in Peam Bang Commune. The people living in this area live on floating houses that move up and down according to the water levels in the jungle and flooded forest. The bird sanctuary of Boeng Chmar covers a land area of 400 hectares and has an interconnecting network of water channels. It lies along Boeng Kla Lake, known for its flooded forests. This area is connected by two big river tributaries (Stoung and Stung Chik Kreng) flowing down to Boeng Chmar. Beong Chmar is the sanctuary for many kinds of birds.

SAMBO PREYKUK

Sambo Preykuk (25 kilometers northeast of Kampong Thom, 150 kilometers southeast of Siem Reap) is a historical site located in Sambo village, Sambo commune, Prasat Sambo district. The site was once an old capital named Isanapura and a religious center for the worship of the Hindu god Shiva. Many temples were built in Sambo Preykuk during the reign of King Isanavarman I (A.D. 616- 635) in the 7th century. The temples of Sambo Preykuk constructed of solid brick, laterite and sandstone and decorated by bas-reliefs. The lintel, pillars and the door frames are all made of sandstone. So far, 140 temples have been discovered in the forest.

Sambor Prei Kuk was the capital of Chenla in 7th century. Chenla was a former vassal of the Funan kingdom that was one of the first state in Southeast Asia, but it gradually gained its power and eventually King Citrasena Mahendravarman of Funan in the early 7th century. The ruins lies off the main road going towards Phnom Penh. If you expect grand temple ruins you will be disappointed. Sambor Prei Kuk is a group of ancient temple ruins scattered within a shady forest. They pre-date Angkor Wat and made up a capital city during the reign of King Isana Varman 1, the son of King Citrasena. Few tourists know of it. The main temple group known as Prasat Sambor is dedicated to Gambhireshvara, one of Shiva’s many forms. The few visitors that come are often swarmed by child peddlers hawking bracelets and trinkets.

Built at the end of the 6th century, the ruins are touted as the oldest structures in the country, covering an area of five square kilometers. About 100 small temples are scattered throughout the forest. Left in the open and not maintained, some of the structures are just mere remnants of their original building, perhaps a broken wall here, a vine-choked edifice there. There are 52 temples in recognisable condition, and another 52 sites where the original structures are now buried in the ground, visible only as small hills.The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts together with the Waseda University, supported by The Foundation for Cultural Heritage and the Sumitomo Fund, have started the Sambor Prei Kuk Conservation Project to restore these ruins. Many decorative details in Khmer architecture and sculpture are classified as Sambor style: the name was derived from these monuments.

Ruins at Sambo Preykuk: Prasat Sambor Group (Northern Sanctuaries) is comprised of 11 sanctuaries separated from each other with the one at the middle, and had two-wall rampart. The sanctuaries were built of brick and limestone and decorated with carvings and bas-reliefs influenced by India. The main sanctuary houses 14 temples (only 8 remains), and was surrounded by two-wall rampart. These temples were constructed in various plans: square and octagonal shapes. The top of the temples were carved in lotus petals of sandstone, but some parts were cracked down and buried into the ground and the pile of bricks. Some inscriptions in Prasat Sambor (Northern Group) are dated in the 10th century under the reign of the King Rajendra Varmanii.

The Robang Romeas group that is located about two kilometers northward from main temple area, contains other inscriptions of the king Suryavarman I period. Some decorative details date to the late Angkor period. Decorative details of Prasat Tao (Central Group) are similar to the style of the remains belong to the period of the king J ayavarman II, Particularly, characteristic lion statues resembles the statues found in Phnom Penh. From these reasons this architectural complex is said to be constructed in this period.

The Lion temple group comprise 18 temples with two ramparts closed to the pond. The reasons why the people called Lion Temple is because on the tops of all stairs from the four directions, there were sitting lions with forelegs standing up, hind-legs humbling down, its head rose up and its mouse opened to the sanctuary. The rampart outside are made of laterite were 328 meter in length, 310 meter wide and enclosed 101,650-square-meter surface. This rampart had Gopura entrances on the east and west sides that are connected by the other laterite ramparts. In between rampart 2 and 1, at the Northeastern side near the rampart 1, there is a rectangular pond (42.10 meters x 34.20m). The bottom of the pond is covered by laterite and surrounded by stairs. The small stairs of the Southern side are made of sandstone. Now the pond is empty during the dry season. When we enter from the Eastern Gopura on either side of the road, we see two sanctuary hills were built on high terrace with the tracks of the round column made of laterite lining up in 0.40 meters height.

Prasat Yeai Poeun Group comprised a total of 22 sanctuaries (5 have octagonal shapes) with two wall rampart, and was built of brick, masonry, laterite and sandstone in rectangular from in 7th century (600-635) during the reign of Isanavarman I to dedicated to Shiva. They were built on a hill with Gopura from the eastern and western entrances joining to an outside laterite rampart. The inner rampart reached by gateways from the four directions and joined to the brick rampart carved in various clustering figures. Along the sanctuary contained the eastern and western Gopura joined to the laterite rampart (304m x 274m or 83,296 square-meter surface). Gopura contained framed door with diamond columns and a lintel built of sandstone. Eastern Gopura contained a buried large inscription (size: 2.41m x 0,9m x 0,15) inscribed with 17 lines of script. This inscription was brought to be kept in Kampong Thom Museum.

Behind in the Kroul Romeas Group, there were four more sanctuaries made of brick and built during the reign King Suryavarman 1(end of 11th century). These sanctuaries were built on a rectangular hill, and faced to the East. One of sanctuaries was not completely built yet, it was likely built in later period. The lintel was carved in the form of bow without the modal. At the southeastern side, there were two temples recognized as the original ancient khmer styles.

PRASAT KUHAK NOKOR

Prasat Kuhak Nokor(79 kilometers from Kampong Thom) is located in Trodork Poung Village, Pong Ror Commune, Baray District and contains the Buddhist complex of Wat Kuhak Nokor. To reach it take National Road 6, then turn west through the gate of Kuhak Nokor pagoda and go two kilometers. These sanctuaries were built on the flat ground, on a square terrace made of laterite and sandstone facing to the East with the rampart surrounding it. The rampart has a 35 meter length (east to west) and a 25 meter width (north to south). It is one meter high and 0.8 meter thick with two gateways: The Eastern Gateway is nine meters high and is divided into 3 rooms. The western gateway is small and has square shape.

The buildings are made of laterite and decorated of sandstone. East of the temple, there are two ponds: a small one that has about one-meter depth,45-meter length and 20-meter width, and a big one that has 160-meter length, 88-meter width and more than one-meter depth. Prasat Kuhak Nokor contains: 1) The throne, which is square and made of sandstone and decorated by lotus flowers and pointed-diamonds, and has square hole at the middle; 2) a male standing statue remaining from thigh to shoulder; 3) a male standing statue remains from thigh to the navel; and 4) a male coiling statue that is difficult to identify as all that remains is the end of an arm and the sole of the foot (local people called the statue “Neak Ta Bark Kor.”

Prasat Kuhak Nokor was built in 10th -11th century by the king Suryavarman I (1002-1050). But in the same year (1002), another document said there was a king named Preah Bat Jayviravarman who who was also on throne (1002-1010). The two kings claimed that they were on throne at the same year, this lead to war between king and king until 1006. King Suryavarman I conquered Yasodharpura city, however the war still lasted for four more years. In 1010, the king Suryavarman I gained control over the entire territory.

Prasat Phum Prasat (27 kilometers from Kampong Thom, 500 meters off the main road) is located in Prasat Village, Prasat Commune, Snatuk District. This temple was built of brick, masonry and sandstone in 8th century (706) in a Kampong Preah style and dedicated to Siva. The sanctuary was built on the flat terrace without the false door and faced to the east. In the ancient period, the door were made by two wooden boards-one carved with sculptures of male divinities at another one carved with female divinities. The southern framed door was inscribed with five lines of inscription, and its back was mostly erode. The lintel was ornamented by the garlands; the diamond column we carved with carousing motifs; and the upper corner of the temple contained the segments of Linga and Yoni. Southeast of the temple, there were other two more temples (at present, they became the small hills).

South of the large temple there was a hill called Toul Samrong or Toul Nak Ta Samrong; and east of this hill, there was a Pou tree in which the local people call Toul Nak Ta Deum Pou (the hill of the body tree spirit). In ancient time, this was where the former royal palace was located and royal valuables were kept. When it was excavated the valuables were taken away by the French. This sanctuary was in seriously ruined condition in 1996 when bricks of the southern and western towers fell down due to the trees growing and the strong wind blowing on them. Later Buddhist monks constructed a new temple, which further damaged the ancient sanctuary. Beside the Prasat Phum Prasat, there was an inscription buried into the ground which its upper part was inscribed with six lines of Sanskrit scripts. This inscription was found at six kilometers near the Police Post on National Road 6.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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