The foothills of western Cambodia”s wild Cardamom Mountains stretch all the way to Kampong Chhnang. The provincial landscape is one of rolling green hills, and many of these have become traditional Khmer sites of worship.
With the exception of one hill across the Tonle Sap River, none of the hills around Kampong Chhnang have ancient temples. What the do have are modern wats, freakish boulders, and spectacular views of the countryside.
On a recent trip to the provincial capital with my friend, Srey Mom, I stopped off at a number of these hills to check out what each one had to offer.
1. Phnom Krang Romeas
Just a few kilometres out of Kompong Chhnang, Phnom Krang Romeas is the site of a modern temple and a popular excursion for Khmers. It”s hard to see what attracts them to this spot except its elevation.
There are a number of temple buildings with attractive murals and sculptures, and an empty field behind the temple affords fair views of the landscape northeast of Kampong Chhnang.
You can get there by taking backroads from town, or by taking National Route #5 toward Battambang, or as part of a loop including both ways. It sits just off the highway, at the turnoff next to handicraft shops.
The most famous hill in the area, with the possible exception of Phnom Kong Rei across the river, Phnom Santouch features some unusual topography.
The giant boulders that dot the hilltop are almost invisible from the base due to the tall, verdant trees that cover its slope.
A road circles the base, allowing different perspectives, and takes you past Wat Santouch at the hill’s base. A footpath of rough stones takes you to the top.
Once at the top, giant boulders litter the clearing, including one massive stone, six or seven meters tall, balanced on its side on top of other stones.
Another set of stairs takes you the a shrine, erected of course at the highest possible point, featuring a gold reclining Buddha and lovely views of the countryside.
The best views are to be had from the top of some nearby boulders, provided you’re nimble enough to scale their sides.
This hill is on the road back to Phnom Penh. It’s accessed through a temple arch and marked with a small sign. Drive up to a parking area, then walk the steps to the first level.
There is a large, open gathering place. When we arrived, there were many people there having their breakfast on mats on the floor, and they called us over to join them.
We carried on along a path to the right, where more boulder outcroppings gave choice vantagepoints to view the landscape south of Kampong Chhnang.
We could see many hills from up there that were similar. They were blanketed in jungle, but all littered with enormous grey stones.
Back, we took another set of stairs up to the second, and top, level. There was a shrine there, with a resplendent painting of the Buddha, against a backdrop of psychedelic colours.
Further along the rocky footpath was another shrine and next to it another big outcropping of boulders. We clambered up top to take a look to the west, with the faint, dark outline of the Cardamom Mountains in the distance.