Kompong Thom

Kompong Thom

Heartland Cambodia

Long-regarded as not much more than a place to break the journey between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, Kompong Thom is beginning to attract those who are able to recognise its charms as a real Cambodian market town and a staging post for two of the most gorgeous temple sites that Cambodia has to offer.

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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.

Atmospheric Preah Khan. : Nicky Sullivan.
Atmospheric Preah Khan. Photo: Nicky Sullivan

The first of the notable temple sites is Preah Khan of Kompong Svay, which used to occupy a near-mythical position in Cambodia-traveller lore. This enormous 25-square-kilometre temple-city complex used to be only accessible to the more unhinged of motorcyclists, who were prepared to risk some of the most difficult roads in the country in order to get there. But no matter how punishing the journey, or how many times they fell off and did themselves damage, it was always worth the trip. Now the journey is much easier and, while a little long, hugely rewarding not just for the temple but also for the breathtaking scenery on the way.

Sambor Prei Kuk, the second site, is a pre-Angkorian complex whose brick temples are dotted about within tranquil woods and are among the loveliest we have seen in the kingdom—and it’s only a short trip away from Kompong ... Travelfish members only (Full text is around 1,500 words.)

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