A wonderful, little visited spot
Published/Last edited or updated: 7th February, 2017
The wonderful little late Angkor-period temple of Ta Phrom lies just an hour or so south of Phnom Penh. It’s in a remarkably good state of repair, has plenty of excellent carved reliefs, a picturesque lakeside setting and was built during the reign of the main man himself: Jayarvarman VII. Plus, hardly any visitors come here!
Ta Phrom at Tonle Bati (Bati being the name of the adjacent lake, which differentiates this site from the more illustrious temple of the same name at Angkor), is one of the best temples to be seen outside of Angkor. It conveniently lies close to the earlier and equally spectacular site of Phnom Chisor, as well as the excellent Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.
The site was probably occupied over a considerable period of time but the main temple you see today—aside from a bit of dubious 16th century tweaking—dates from the late 12th century. Constructed during the Jayarvarman VII period, the temple is Buddhist and unusual in that it never saw the fundamentalist Hindu backlash and defacing of carvings that the Buddhist temples at Angkor underwent.
There’s an exterior laterite wall, an inner laterite walled enclosure with gopuras and a sandstone central shrine. Other than a few of the aforementioned 16th century lintel ‘makeovers’, many splendid reliefs can be seen in situ while every inch of the central shrine is covered with tapestry reliefs, apsaras and guardian figures. Note as with all Angkor period temples, the entirety would have been covered with stucco and painted so none of the rough laterite would have been visible. (If you look carefully you can still see some sections of stucco.)
The area between the two enclosures is now a garden, with many more splendid carvings lying on the ground aside the paths. There’s usually a drink and snack vendor in the carpark though kids selling flowers and vendors thrusting incense sticks in your face can be very persistent.
Across the road in the grounds of a contemporary, lakeside Buddhist wat is another sandstone tower, Yeay Peau, also considered to be a late 12th century construction. Beyond this is the small lake, Tonle Bati. This is a popular weekend picnic spot for locals and you’ll find here cafes and bamboo eating salas, some of which float on the lake itself. If you were making a trip into this neck of the woods from Phnom Penh, you could consider visiting Phnom Tamao in the morning, having lunch here and then heading on to Phnom Chisor and Takeo in the afternoon.
Ta Phrom and Tonle Bati lie a kilometre or so off Highway 2 at the 35-kilometre marker from Phnom Penh and there is a sign in English. As there’s no public transport, as with neighbouring sites, you'll need to organise a day trip from Phnom Penh or Takeo and find a couple of adventurous travellers to split a taxi with. You can reach it by motorbike but only after an arduous ride through the congested southern suburbs of the capital (if coming from the capital).
If you’ve a bike in Takeo then the return ride up highway 2 is a far more pleasant and less traffic clogged experience while a return taxi fare should be around $40 including waiting time. You can increase your value for money by including Phnom Tamao though your driver may request a few dollars more. Even with an early start Tonle Bati plus the Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre makes a full half day trip from either Phnom Penh or Takeo.
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.