Kampong Cham: A Day Away from Phnom Penh
Kampong Cham is a charming colonial town of wide boulevards and manicured gardens on the Mekong River. Located about 3-hours drive from Phnom Penh, this under-appreciated tourist destination makes a worthwhile day trip.
Kampong Cham derives its name from kampong, meaning riverside and Cham, the ethnicity of the local people who descended from Chinese Muslim traders. The Champa Empire once rivaled the Angkor Empire in power and influence. The town was also an important trading post during French colonial times. Coincidentally, Cambodia’s first bridge to span the Mekong was recently completed at Kampong Cham.
Located nearby is Prasat Kuh Nokor, an ancient pre-Angkor temple complex from the 11th century and the reign of Suryavarman II. Nestled within this pre-Angkorian ruin is Wat Nokor, a contemporary pagoda with lavishly painted murals. The two together create a unique mix of old and new. The temple ruins are notable for numerous carvings of lions, dragons and dancing Apsara figures, many of which are as intricate as the stone carvings at the more famous temples in Siem Reap.
After a traditional Khmer lunch, the afternoon will be spent exploring two nearby hilltops: Phnom Pros (Man Hill) and Phnom Srei (Woman Hill). The latter hill’s steep peak is reached by climbing 308 steps to a pagoda that offers brilliant views of the vast plantations below. Between the two hills is a small building containing a grim reminder of Kampong Cham’s past as one of the largest “killing fields” during the brutal regime of Pol Pot.
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