Bustling Kompong Thom is usually the town travellers pass through en route along the smooth National Road 6 from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, stopping for a bite to eat at the enormous Arunras Restaurant. Set on the Stung Sen river, this backwater town is also the jumping off point for visiting Sambor Prei Kuk -- ruins from the Chenla period predating the famed Angkorian temples to the north, as well as Phnom Santuk, a rundown hilltop temple similar but inferior to Phnom Udong in Kandal Province. This is also the area from which Cambodia's most notorious despot, Pol Pot, hailed.
About a half million people reside in the province, Cambodia's centremost, and its terrain is how one envisions the country's landscape, with flat, green rice fields being plowed by villagers on water buffalo extending as far as the eye can see. The province is resoundingly rural, with Kompong Thom the only town of any great size in the entire province.
The province shares a small boundary with the waters of the Tonle Sap -- where the Stung Sen river empties out. We've read reports of being about to travel downriver to the villages on the lake's edge, but haven't got around to trying that ourselves. Ask around in Kompong Thom for details -- and please do let us know if you do it!
Though there's little to do in Kompong Thom proper, its small-town atmosphere has charm, with statues -- including one of dolphins made from weapons handed over after the country's civil war -- dotting a riverside park flanked by a row of popcorn stalls, evening fruit shake vendors in front of Kompong Thom market, and friendly locals.
The town is also a bit of a transportation hub -- if you're looking to head to Preah Vihear, Route 64 heads north from here to Tbeng Meanchey from where you can organise onwards transport to the temple. Preah Khan also lies north of here, via Route 64, though it's probably easier approached via Siem Reap.
Kompong Thom, once called Kompong Pos Thom, derives its name from a legend. Long ago, it says, a pair of big snakes lived inside a cave and emerged every Buddhist holiday to be worshipped by the local people. Since Thom means big and Pos means snake in Khmer, the town became referred to as such, with locals eventually shortening the name to Kompong Thom. Don't expect anyone to actually be able to tell you where the cave is -- though many will undoubtably try!
Text and/or map last updated on 30th September, 2009.
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