Looking at the dusty little town of Angkor Borei today it may be hard to believe that you are looking at one of the birthplaces of Khmer civilisation, but Angkor Borei served as the late Funanese capital from the fourth to sixth centuries.
The earlier coastal ports, rich on trade between India and China, were dominated by ethnic Malay people so the gradual migration inland, culminating at Angkor, represented both a geographical and ethnic change. (Malays are traditionally seafaring and Khmers inland inhabitants.)
The site of Angkor Borei (the name means ancient city), strategically placed on the lip of the low ridge where the southern Delta meets the slightly raised Khmer Plateau, shows signs of earlier habitation, but is now generally accepted to be the late Funan capital of Vyadhapura. (Some historians do locate it farther north near Ba Phnom in Prey Veng province but ruins there are far less extensive and it makes little geographical sense.)
A large walled settlement has been identified under Angkor Borei, though unfortunately with a boom in border trade with nearby Vietnam much of the remains have long since been bulldozed to make way for new development. Being much closer to the border and now with better road links to Phnom Penh, the modern town of Angkor Borei has these days grown as a trading port at the expense of Takeo province's capital Daunkeo (commonly known as Takeo), and so you’ll see far more riverside hustle and bustle here.
There’s little to do in the town these days other than use your imagination, but happily a small museum has been set up to display some of the remarkable relics that were salvaged from looters and construction sites. The exhibition is very limited but has seen a clean-up and dusting since we last visited, and most items come with English explanations.
Many spectacular statues from Phnom Da have been transported to the National Museum in Phnom Penh, though the copies that once dotted the museum here have been shifted to the garden. What remains is a collection of mainly sixth and seventh century pottery, statues, steles and lintels from Phnom Da, Angkor Borei itself and other nearby sites.
The museum is located in the grounds of a derelict Buddhist wat. The ruined main worshipping hall can be seen directly opposite the museum, while a spectacular French-period building to the left as you look at the museum was once the monks’ quarters. The museum won’t take more than a few minutes of your time, so you could wander around town a bit and grab a cold drink before your return boat journey. A nearby riverside wat (replacing the museum ground’s one) is worth a peek and indeed many of the exhibits were found at this site during an upgrade of the temple.
From Angkor Borei it’s a 45-minute return trip to Takeo, with plenty of river life to savour. Expect delightful scenery and birdlife in the form of kingfishers, storks, herons, egrets, kites and so on. So forget about the actual individual sites as such: It’s the overall trip that’s great fun.
How to get there
Angkor Borei is 30 kilometres by boat from Takeo and is combined with Phnom Da for a $35 trip. Angkor Borei (and then Phnom Da) can be reached by an all-weather road but that’s via Phnom Chisor, so it means a 140 kilometre round trip from Takeo.
By Mark Ord.
Last updated on 3rd February, 2017.
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