Wat Maha Leap

A great river trip

Photo of , , Kompong Cham

What we say: 4.5 stars

A rare entirely wooden wat in Cambodia believed to be more than 100 years old, Wat Maha Leap was one of the few pagodas the Khmer Rouge left standing in Kompong Cham province, supposedly because of its ominous supernatural powers.

It looks rather bland, but the interior reveals towering gilded teak columns supporting a beautifully painted, sky blue roof. Each pillar required a whole tree. Sadly, a large beam fell down in early 2012, partly destroying the central altar and access has been restricted, although a smile and donation should find the key.

We found Wat Maha Leap, while not as large, to be reminiscent of the magnificent Wat Phra That Lampang Luang in northern Thailand. Beside the temple, monks pray and converse in their red, stilted dormitories and you may see an old woman arranging betel nut to dry in the sun. At the rear of the wat is a stupa-strewn cemetery and an unexceptional reclining Buddha, plus a yellow cremation tower.

In wet season, the area beyond the Buddha is often totally under water, and covered in lily pads. Horses, cows and goats meander throughout the grounds. Follow the dirt path to its end and find palm trees rigged with ladders and friendly villagers drinking sweet syrup. The men who tap the trees enjoy offering their nectar. Highly recommended.

The trip is best in the early morning, before the sun is high and when there is a better selection of boats docked in two places, near the underpass of the Kizuma Bridge and almost directly across from Mekong Crossing hotel. Alternatively, secure the services of a motodop (or ride yourself if you are experienced with unsealed roads) to take the same route as horse-drawn tobacco carts.

More details
How to get there: Wat Maha Leap is south of Kompong Cham on a tributary of the Mekong referred to as Tonle Thoit (small river) and is best reached by boat from Kompong Cham. The trip takes about 30 to 45 minutes each way and en route you'll enjoy splendid riverside scenery. A trip here is best combined with a trip to the weaving village at Prey Chung Kran, a further 20 minutes downriver. Boatmen will charge around US$40 to $45 for a trip including waiting time to both Wat Maha Leap and the weaving village; trips to the temple alone cost about $35. A boat could comfortably hold five plus guide and pilot.

By moto, the temple is a 40-minute rural ride and can be the beginning of a circular tour, making the 3,000 riel ferry crossing to Koh Sotine and Koh Paen before returning to the mainland. A good English-speaking guide and motodop, such as Mr Why (T: 011 293 951), will cost around $15 for the day.
Last updated: 8th September, 2012

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