Photo: The scenery along the route from Kompong Leaeng.

Kompong Leaeng and the ancient temples

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A half-day tour to picturesque Kompong Leaeng is a highly recommended way to spend some time while you’re in these parts of the country. The tour consists of a boat trip weaving through the Tonle Sap’s myriad islands to the far bank to get to the market town of Kompong Leaeng. From here, a 50 kilometre tuk tuk loop takes you through the countryside with stops at a series of pre-Angkorian temples, before a ferry takes you back to Kompong Chhnang.

If you think you’ve seen enough ancient ruins don’t worry, as these small sites can be just an excuse for a ride through sublime countryside. On the other hand, if your historical thirst hasn’t yet been quenched by Cambodia, then these well–preserved ancient towers are well worth a peek and are quite unlike anything you may have already seen at Angkor.

The ferry to Kompong Leaeng. Photo taken in or around Kompong Leaeng and the ancient temples, Kompong Chhnang, Cambodia by Mark Ord.

The ferry to Kompong Leaeng. Photo: Mark Ord

A car ferry departs at regular intervals from Phsar Krom for the opposite bank; as the embankment at Kompong Leaeng Is very steep, town tuk tuks are reluctant to do the trip. (This may conceivably change.) You can do the whole trip from your guesthouse door by moto—rental or taxi—but we wouldn’t recommend this either.

Why? Firstly, on your own you’ll have serious problems finding the route, let alone the non-indicated temples, and secondly, 50 kilometres on dirt tracks on the back of a moto is tough going compared to what can be a relaxing cruise through the villages and landscapes in the back of one of Kompong Leaeng’s splendid tuk tuks.

Arrival at Kompong Leaeng. Photo taken in or around Kompong Leaeng and the ancient temples, Kompong Chhnang, Cambodia by Mark Ord.

Arrival at Kompong Leaeng. Photo: Mark Ord

The tour is easily, and relatively cheaply, organised on your own anyway. For Kompong Leaeng you can hire your own boat or take the regular ferry. The former will set you back around $25-30 return while the latter costs 1,000 riel and has an upstairs passenger area affording splendid views. Ferry times are in our travelsection and it will take 30 to 60 minutes depending upon water levels.

On arrival at Kompong Leaeng (pronounced Leng), tuk tuk drivers will be waiting for you. We’re not sure if the boat driver gives them the heads up or if they wait there day after day waiting for same rare foreigner to turn up, but you’ll be spoilt for choice. The one we approached charged $20 instead of the standard $15, but as he spoke excellent English, and not wanting to have a grumpy driver taking us round for two hours, we just paid the price without a haggle. It is a two-hour, 50 kilometre drive, and our driver was extremely helpful making various non-scheduled stops. The unusual village tuk tuks here are of a stretch variety, seating up to eight people, and we mean tourists, not local families. Your quoted price will also depend upon how many passengers, and so how much weight, the tuk tuk has to carry.

More beautiful scenery around Kompong Leaeng. Photo taken in or around Kompong Leaeng and the ancient temples, Kompong Chhnang, Cambodia by Mark Ord.

More beautiful scenery around Kompong Leaeng. Photo: Mark Ord

The standard tour is a wide loop through the surrounding countryside and villages punctuated by three ancient temples sites, and anything else you fancy stopping off to see aside the road. The landscape is absolutely classic Khmer, with sugar palm-studded paddy, red laterite roads and traditional villages with wooded hills providing backdrops.

First sight up, after a 20 minute or so ride, is Prasart Srey. This brick tower—an adjacent pile of bricks is all that’s left of a second one—is set next to a contemporary Buddhist temple overlooking marshland running down to the distant river. Judging by architectural style we’d hazard a Jayarvarman I, late seventh century construction date, so late Sambor Prei Kuk period and way older than Angkor. Distinctive carved ‘flying palaces’ can be seen on the walls though the lintels are, sadly, seriously eroded. In the interior a recently placed Buddha image replaces what originally would have been a linga. The site is attractive and the tower quite remarkable.

Replacing the old lingga. Photo taken in or around Kompong Leaeng and the ancient temples, Kompong Chhnang, Cambodia by Mark Ord.

Replacing the old lingga. Photo: Mark Ord

Returning to the main track, the loop continues to a second tower, this time set alone by a copse of trees among extensive paddy. Again the spot is beautiful and the similar period tower, Prasart Bros, is in remarkable condition. When we visited at the end of rainy season the first path our driver indicated involved waist-deep water, so you may need to skirt around a bit, or ask locals, for a drier route. It’s around five minutes’ off the main track but clearly visible. Again, this is late period Sambor Prei Kuk and wall carvings can be seen but unfortunately the bad quality sandstone used for the lintels is much eroded. A stub of the original Shiva linga can still be seen inside though the broken, concrete steps are obviously a more recent addition.

The track continues through villages and paddy until it passes by a hill to the immediate right of the road. Here concrete steps—we lost count at 200 but there weren’t many more—lead to the top, where you’ll come across a pair of brick towers known as Prasart Punnrey. These small towers are of a later period, but in much worse condition and devoid of decoration, though there is a well preserved lintel on the ground. With nothing much to go on date-wise we’d have to assume the lintel is contemporaneous with the towers and place them around late 10th century and the possible reign of Rajendravarman. The ruins disappoint but the view doesn’t, so it’s worth the short climb.

The twin towers. Photo taken in or around Kompong Leaeng and the ancient temples, Kompong Chhnang, Cambodia by Mark Ord.

The twin towers. Photo: Mark Ord

From here it’s a 30-minute or so ride back to the jetty, where there are plenty of cold drink and snack stalls. In all, it’s around a two-hour trip and drivers are well aware of the ferry schedule. Including the boat journeys, you can call it a half-day tour.

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