Sunday, October 26, 2008

Unspoilt Sambor Prei Kuk

One of the evocative temples at Sambor Prei Kuk, known as Y Group M40!
Last week I enjoyed a FAM (familiarization) trip to Kompong Thom and more precisely Sambor Prei Kuk, to get a better look at the community-based services that have been set up by the locals aided by the German development organization, GTZ. The trip, with a bunch of fellow tour operators and journos from the Phnom Penh Post and Asia Life magazine, kicked off with a 2.30pm departure from the GTZ offices in Phnom Penh. We arrived in Kompong Thom in the dark after experiencing a thunderstorm en route and immediately went to inspect the new 20-bungalow Sambor Village hotel that is being built, with swimming pool and wi-fi next to the Stung Sen river just outside of town. At $50 a night it’ll be at the top of the hotel tree in Kompong Thom when it opens in late December. For my part I took a room at the dreary Stung Sen hotel, as the party of 20 was split between that and the newer Kompong Thom Village hotel. Joined by no less than the governor of the province, HE Nam Tom, for dinner at the Arunras restaurant, we finished off with a trip briefing, short film on the delights that the province has to offer and a fruit-shake on the sidewalk before bed.
A silk weaver at work on her loom in the village of Atsu
Some of the brick carving on show at Sambor Prei Kuk that includes winged creatures, horses, hamsas and much more
After breakfast next day, we boarded the bus for the bumpy 30kms ride to Sambor Prei Kuk, stopping off in Atsu village to visit a family-weaving project where we were given a demo and bought up most of their karmas before nipping into Wat Chey Sampeau to assess the possibility of a pagoda stay, noting a couple of broken pedestals in the grounds of the wat. At the complex of 7th and 10th century temples, our group was immediately surrounded by clamouring children selling their wares as we looked at the crafts hut, Isanborei, at the entrance, before we got on cycles, rented from local schoolkids, to begin our tour of the temples. For the next couple of hours we visited the three main groups of temples, stopping at strategic points to get the low-down from the local English-speaking community guides, all the while accompanied by the children still trying to sell their kramas - they didn't give up throughout our whole stay. The tracks through the forest were easy enough as we called into the groups at Prasat Yeay Poeun, Prasat Tao and Prasat Sambor but its hot and thirsty work on cycles, so the rest-stops to listen to the guides were welcome. We also saw some of the work of the Waseda University and their Khmer colleagues who are still excavating at the site and uncovering lots of artifacts and information about the site's past. The full chapter on Sambor Prei Kuk has still to be written.
A proud local posing with one of the Prasat Tao lions
Returning the cycles to the craft hut, we walked into the forest to our picnic-lunch spot next to the O Krouke river, passing en route the unusual square cella at Asram Moha Issey and the tree-engulfed Prasat Chrey. On typical wooden platforms, the setting was peaceful and the lunch provided by the community members was pretty good. Next on the agenda was an ox-cart ride back to the starting point, a nice add-on but a cushion is necessary to protect your rear-end. The community services at Sambor will certainly add new options to a visit to the site which is overlooked by the majority of visitors to Cambodia. Siem Reap and the Angkor temples are the big-hitter as you might expect, but Sambor has its own magic and making a visit easier for travellers and offering options like cycle and ox-cart rides, trained guides and picnics make it more appealing. Our coach then took us on a journey through the back-roads for a taste of the rural life on show and onto the revered mountain of Phnom Santuk after a quick stop in the stone-carving village of Kakoh. Only a few hardy souls managed the climb to the top of Santuk to view the collection of Buddhas on display, some hewn from the bed-rock of the mountain, before retracing our 809 steps to the bottom and heading for home, getting back to a wet Phnom Penh at 9pm. Sambor Prei Kuk has always been one of my favourite places in Cambodia and with the full backing of the local community, it would be wonderful to see more people enjoying this slice of unspoilt Cambodia.
Tree roots squeeze the life out of Prasat Chrey

The square cella of Asram Moha Issey at Sambor Prei Kuk


Post a Comment

<< Home