Phnom Banan is some 22 kilometres to the south of Battambang, but worth a visit if you’ve time to spare. Like Ek Phnom, Banan is also originally 11th century-built, though it saw a Buddhist makeover during the 12th century and reign of Jayarvarman VII. The temple is constructed on top of a hill overlooking the Sangkar river and there’s a 358-step climb to the top, where five towers precariously remain.
This site has been quite badly pillaged –- some looks recent -– and its carvings are in poor condition, though some of the Buddha images in the sandstone main tower are rumoured to be original. Hopefully the others plus missing lintels are in the Battambang museum.
The heavily wooded hillside may well still hide mines so don’t go off piste and while we’d be loathe to condone cutting down trees, you do have problems seeing the wonderful view from the top of the hill through the vegetation and branches.
At the summit a few industrious drink sellers are likely to emerge, and they will also be happy to show you around the temple and then the small caves below on the left (when looking at the ruins from the stairs). These are well worth exploring, though note the cave entrance is almost at the base of the hill, so be sure you are finished with the ruins before you agree to go down. Be warned that the entrance to the caves is so small you need to wriggle through on your belly.
If it is a slow day — very common here — all the children will offer to come with you, but they will all expect something for coming along. Overall, while Phnom Banan isn’t as impressive as Wat Ek, the drive out here is pleasant and can be combined with other stops on the way to make a half-day trip.
By Mark Ord.
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