KAMPONG THOM PROVINCE
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
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.
Sambor Prei Kuk
Sambor Prei Kuk (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 Sambor Prei Kuk during the reign of King Isanavarman I (A.D. 616- 635) in the 7th century. The temples of Sambor Prei Kuk 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 (Sambo Preykuk) 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 Sambor Prei Kuk
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.
Sambor Prei Kuk: UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Temple Zone of Sambor Prei Kuk, Archaeological Site of Ancient Ishanapura was designated a a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2017. According to UNESCO: “The archaeological site of Sambor Prei Kuk, “the temple in the richness of the forest” in the Khmer language, has been identified as Ishanapura, the capital of the Chenla Empire that flourished in the late 6th and early 7th centuries AD. The property comprises more than a hundred temples, ten of which are octagonal, unique specimens of their genre in South-East Asia. Decorated sandstone elements in the site are characteristic of the pre-Angkor decorative idiom, known as the Sambor Prei Kuk Style. Some of these elements, including lintels, pediments and colonnades, are true masterpieces. The art and architecture developed here became models for other parts of the region and lay the ground for the unique Khmer style of the Angkor period. [Source: UNESCO]
Sambor Prei Kuk has distinctive characteristics in terms of architecture and city planning, both of which were influenced by Indian culture. In addition, there are also some unique aesthetic decorations, such as the sculpture of a castle, coin-shaped picture frames on the brick walls of religious buildings, and lintels used to furnish religious venues in the artistic style known as Sombor Prei Kuk Art. This cultural heritage site also has a landscape design with water management system allowing water flowing cycle and water collection for all year utilization. [Source: Thailand National Committee on the World Heritage Convention]
The ancient Ishanapura civilization came from Indian culture and played an important role in the Khmer Empire, influencing the social, religious, and artistic structure and contributing to unique traditions, values, and arts. This is particularly true of the Chenla Kingdom, the linking hub between Hinduism and Buddhism, which impacted many societies throughout Southeast Asia. Sombor Prei Kuk is also one of the largest monastic sites in Southeast Asia with traces of evidence from brick and stone constructions, similar religious beliefs, and languages, representing a civilization that continues to exist into the present.
Languages and inscriptions found at Sombor Prei Kuk are evidence of the initial use of Khmer and later addition of Sanskrit language. This area was a centralized governance center and the foundation of the Khmer royalism that existed until the beginning of the 20thcentury. In addition, carvings on the lintels of Sombor Prei Kuk Sanctuary depict a pattern of musical instruction and musical instruments, which is important evidence of ancient musical education in Cambodia. In the past, Ishanapura was the center of the cosmos in terms of governance, language, and religion.
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
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.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, 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.
Last updated August 2020