A hill top and a silk farm
Published/Last edited or updated: 24th February, 2019
Phnom Santuk is a small hill to the southeast of Kompong Thom with an active monastery at the summit offering up impressive views for free.
Reached via a 809-step staircase lined by kitschy statues of poor quality and an abundance of elderly beggars, we recommend climbing to the summit in early morning or late afternoon—not at midday as we did. Once at the summit you can enjoy the beautiful views, and chat with friendly English-speaking monks and Cambodian teens interested in practising the English skills they learn in school.
Also at the top is a gilded pagoda with white walls covered in Khmer script, surrounded by a series of figurines and lesser shrines and temples, including a reclining Buddha carved into the rock face. Curved cement bridges connect various small temples and statues of people, horses and gods.
A large UFO-like structure rises up from the main lookout point with a statue of a man underneath—we were told by locals it’s supposed to be King-Father Sihanouk in his youth. Overfed macaques, as with most Khmer pagodas, wander lazily around the grounds, sifting for crumbs through rubbish left behind.
There are more interesting hills to climb in Cambodia, such as Phnom Bok near Siem Reap or Phnom Udong near Phnom Penh, but if you combine this with sites along the route such as Prasat Kok Rocha and the below-mentioned silk and carving village, and it is a worthwhile half-day out.
Right before the entrance to Phnom Santuk is a sign on the right side of the road for Santuk Silk Farm. It’s set about 10 metres down the dirt road on the left. The organisation employs local women from Svay Kal village and was originally set up by ex US serviceman Bud and his wife Nevin, who formerly ran a silk weaving co-op for amputees in Preah Vihear. When we last passed through in 2019, we learnt that Bud had passed away, but Nevin maintains an active hand in running the show. She speaks excellent English and is quite the livewire—very entertaining company.
Tours are free, and they will show you their plot of mulberry trees, whose leaves feed the silkworms, then take you into the shed where the worms live and explain the whole egg-through-molting process of making silk, which is quite interesting (if you have never seen it before). Then you can see where the silk is boiled and extracted and finally how the women spin the silk and eventually weave it. While there is a small sales desk, we encountered no pressure to buy. It’s a pleasant stop if you’re planning to visit Phnom Santuk anyway.
Also nearby is the carving village of Svay Kal which is famous for its carvings from sandstone from the local hills, so if you’re passing this way it’s worth a peek. Bear in mind that this village with its abundant supply of stone has created Buddhist and Hindu images for centuries (as well as more recently elephants and assorted animals), so you could well be looking at the descendants of the guys who created the wonderful statues and lintels found at Sambor all those centuries ago.
All three of the above are easily reached from Kompong Thom by scooter, tuk tuk or car. Expect to pay around $12 for a trip to all three by tuk tuk and allow two to three hours depending on how quickly you can climb 809 stairs.
Address: About 15 kilometres southeast of Kompong Thom, off National Road 6
Coordinates (for GPS): 105º0'6.59" E, 12º38'43.38" N
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Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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