Just over 22 kilometres to the north of Kompong Cham, at the side of a picturesque road that skirts the Mekong River, you’ll find Prasat Han Chey on top of a hill on the far side of an iron bridge. It is, perhaps, one of the more kitsch pagoda grounds we’ve come across.
A road on the hill’s south end (turn left at the crossroads with a sign that says 400m) is rocky, steep and covered in slippery wet clay during the wet season. The road on the hill’s north side — paved and gradual — is recommended.
Once at the top, visitors find a rather large monastery intertwined with several pagodas, an extensive statue garden and 1,500-year-old Angkorian ruins. While historians visit the site to study early Angkorian culture as it existed during the Chenla period, local villagers visit to pray during the P’chum Ben festival in September.
The views over the Mekong are fabulous and make the trip worthwhile in their own right. But taking the time to explore, get chatting to the monks, and watching local visitors as they pose for selfies in front of the various exotica — see below — are all to be savoured.
Re the exotica: statue gardens with a seemingly random assortment of animals surround the old stone temples, new clay pagodas and monk dormitories. The grounds include life-sized deer, crocodiles, peacocks, dinosaurs and mythic beasts. And then there are the giant fruits and vegetables, which teach you the value of not thinking too much about things.
Several vendors sell sugar cane juice, fried noodles and fertilised duck eggs, so you can enjoy a meal at one of the picnic tables overlooking the Mekong River below and the Mondulkiri plateau in the distance.
By Nicky Sullivan
Last updated on 11th September, 2016.