Cambodia’s phenomenal ‘Phnoms’

This item appears on page 14 of the November 2010 issue.
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According to legend, near the end of the 14th century a pious woman, Penh, discovered four Buddha images floating down the Tonlé Sap river in a hollow log. To commemorate the remarkable event, she commissioned the construction of a phnom (hill) at the site and a temple atop it. The city that exists there today is named after her creation, Phnom Penh (Penh’s Hill).

There’s another Phnom in Cambodia that is little known and seldom visited. Located approximately 7½ miles southwest of Siem Reap, Phnom Krom is the site of a late-ninth-century temple complex built by the Khmer king Yasovarman (AD 889-910).

Guardians flank the stairway up to Wat Phnom. Photo: Patten

Enclosed by a wall are the ruins of three temples. Dedicated to the Hindu deities Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu, they are built of sandstone. The temples have become badly weathered, and almost all of their carvings have been lost.

In December ’09 a tour friend Jennie Rose, of North Carolina, and I took a day off from our Vantage Deluxe World Travel tour “Cultural Treasures of Vietnam & Cambodia” to see Phnom Krom.

After we climbed the 400-plus steps to the top of the long stairway leading up the phnom, we encountered a uniformed guard and a man wearing a badge, both demanding to see our tickets giving us admittance to the archaeological site. Only if we returned to the entrance to ancient Angkor and paid $20 for a day pass would we be permitted to continue up the hill. Even saying we would pay the admission fee on the spot was to no avail.

Nevertheless, the panoramic view overlooking the vast expanse of the Tonlé Sap lake made the climb up the hill worthwhile. It was a spectacular perspective on the enormous freshwater lake.

Now with time on our hands, we decided to explore the small village at the foot of the hill. At the ornate gateway to the village of Phnom Krom were signs documenting the village’s relationship with its sister village of Suwon in South Korea. In recent years, Phnom Krom’s sister village has assisted in establishing schools, building a village hall, developing wells and improving medical services.

Continuing down the main street, we encountered a busy market and many homes with their brightly painted spirit houses.

Still farther down the road, an enormous Buddhist temple complex appeared, resplendent in bright colors and decorated with numerous wall murals with Buddhist themes. Obviously a major religious center, the temple was surrounded by numerous ornately decorated, commemorative stupas and auxiliary shrines.

This adventure was a side trip that easily could be worked into the usual tourist itinerary — but be sure, if you want to visit the ancient temples atop the hill, to have a day pass to Angkor in hand or you may be turned away as we were.

DAVID J. PATTEN

St. Petersburg, FL

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

According to legend, near the end of the 14th century a pious woman, Penh, discovered four Buddha images floating down the Tonlé Sap river in a hollow log. To commemorate the remarkable event, she commissioned the construction of a phnom (hill) at the site and a temple atop it. The city that exists there today is named after her creation, Phnom Penh (Penh’s Hill).

There’s another Phnom in Cambodia that is little known and seldom visited. Located approximately 7½ miles southwest of Siem Reap, Phnom Krom is the site of a late-ninth-century temple complex built by the Khmer king Yasovarman (AD 889-910).

Guardians flank the stairway up to Wat Phnom. Photo: Patten

Enclosed by a wall are the ruins of three temples. Dedicated to the Hindu deities Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu, they are built of sandstone. The temples have become badly weathered, and almost all of their carvings have been lost.

In December ’09 a tour friend Jennie Rose, of North Carolina, and I took a day off from our Vantage Deluxe World Travel tour “Cultural Treasures of Vietnam & Cambodia” to see Phnom Krom.

After we climbed the 400-plus steps to the top of the long stairway leading up the phnom, we encountered a uniformed guard and a man wearing a badge, both demanding to see our tickets giving us admittance to the archaeological site. Only if we returned to the entrance to ancient Angkor and paid $20 for a day pass would we be permitted to continue up the hill. Even saying we would pay the admission fee on the spot was to no avail.

Nevertheless, the panoramic view overlooking the vast expanse of the Tonlé Sap lake made the climb up the hill worthwhile. It was a spectacular perspective on the enormous freshwater lake.

Now with time on our hands, we decided to explore the small village at the foot of the hill. At the ornate gateway to the village of Phnom Krom were signs documenting the village’s relationship with its sister village of Suwon in South Korea. In recent years, Phnom Krom’s sister village has assisted in establishing schools, building a village hall, developing wells and improving medical services.

Continuing down the main street, we encountered a busy market and many homes with their brightly painted spirit houses.

Still farther down the road, an enormous Buddhist temple complex appeared, resplendent in bright colors and decorated with numerous wall murals with Buddhist themes. Obviously a major religious center, the temple was surrounded by numerous ornately decorated, commemorative stupas and auxiliary shrines.

This adventure was a side trip that easily could be worked into the usual tourist itinerary — but be sure, if you want to visit the ancient temples atop the hill, to have a day pass to Angkor in hand or you may be turned away as we were.

DAVID J. PATTEN

St. Petersburg, FL