Anyone travelling overland between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap will pass through Kompong Thom province and its eponymous capital, which lies pretty much equidistant between the two; chances are you'll stop for a meal break in one of the town's restaurants. The dusty traveller pit-stops and highway-facing market may give an impression of bustle, but away from National Route 6 Kompong Thom is a rather sedate, quiet and even leafy little town.
Set aside the Sen river, Kompong Thom, actually one of the country's smaller provincial capitals, is the jumping off point for the spectacular 6th and 7th century ruins of Sambor Prei Kuk, a pre-Angkor, Chenla period capital lying an hour north of town. Increasingly, now that road conditions have improved, it's also used to reach the vast ruins of Preah Khan Kompong Svay. Larger even that Angkor Thom, this 11th and 12th century site lying just over the provincial boundary in Preah Vihear is finally becoming more accessible after years of isolation in mine-strewn jungle.
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 ploughed 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.
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 able 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, friendly atmosphere has charm, and there are enough minor sites to keep you occupied for a while: check out the museum, an interesting temple, the lively market and a dolphin statue made from weapons handed over after the country's civil war, situated in the park just to the south of the bridge.
Outside town, apart from the main attraction of Sambor Prei Kuk and Preah Khan, there are again a few minor sites of note worth checking out if you have time on your hands. Phnom Santuk, the silk farm and carving village and the locally famous Leaning Tower of Kompong Thom: Prasart Kok Rocha.
There are no organised tours as such, but some of the more enterprising tuk tuk drivers stationed outside of the Arunras Hotel will do their best to provide you with one. They'll offer themselves for hire for a trip around town, down the road to Santuk, Sambor Prei Kuk and even Preah Khan, or can alternatively arrange motorbikes or taxis. Basic English is spoken, with friendly service and reasonable rates. We'd recommend Mr B (T: (017) 582 008) or Mr Kong Yeourn (T: (092) 955 850). We were quoted Santuk etc for $10-12, Sambor Prei Kuk for $15-20 and a two-day return trip to Preah Khan for $100. We'd be wary about going too far down dirt tracks on tuk tuks but the guys will happily arrange alternatives for a small commission.
The town is also a bit of a transport 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.
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 undoubtedly try! In more recent times the province is infamous for being the birthplace of Pol Pot.
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Text and/or map last updated on 1st February, 2015.
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