Saturday was a busy day. After visiting students from CLA, a friend and I hired a car and drove down to Angkorian period site of Phnom Chiso. When I was here in 2005 working at Angkor Borei, we made a weekly trip back and forth to Phnom Penh for a little R&R. We drove by this site every time and I always wanted to stop and visit, but never got the chance. Hiring a car cost $45 RT, which was a bit more expensive than I expected but the price of gas here has gone up dramatically. The site is about 90 minutes outside of Phnom Penh. On the way down our driver took a really bumpy dirt rode that was in poor shape but on the way back we took the better road that I think was a bit faster.
Phnom Chiso is a Hindu temple built on a mountain top in the plains of Takeo Province. According to Lonely Planet, the temple was built in the 11th century when it was known as Suryagiri. There is quite a steep climb to the top but along the way there are several opportunities to stop and have a drink. Interestingly enough some mysterious organization called the Canada Fund donated several benches for travelers to relax on- they were everywhere! Note: There is an easier climb to the top from the Northern entrance, we chose to go up and down the steeper climb at the Southern entrance.
At the top of the climb you are rewarded with a small, crumbling, but beautiful Angkorian temple surrounded by a fairly large complex of more modern Buddhist temple buildings.
The Phnom Chiso temple itself is in pretty bad shape, although most visitors to Angkor will tell you that makes for a more photogenic experience. Walking through the temple, I was excited to find that several of the still intact buildings were still being used as places of worship, although now for the Buddha- not Siva or Vishnu. The main central temple has actually been updated with a tin roof.
Inside this central temple we were greeted by an older man who lit incense sticks for us to give to the Buddha and showed us one of the ancient lingas that belonged to the temple originally (it was too dark to take a decent picture). He was also selling “
sak” yoan which are magical Khmer inscriptions (often tattooed on one’s body for protection). I bought one for $1, which is a pretty good deal for a bit of luck. Later that afternoon another older man approached selling a different kind of sak yoan, also for$1, which my friend Brendan bought.
Here are some more photos from inside the temple complex.
The real appeal of Phnom Chiso is the amazing view of the countryside. Once you walk through the main temple complex you come out to this beautiful view.
We stopped and had lunch on one of the Canada benches and enjoyed the view and cool breezes for quite awhile. If you look at the photo below you might be able to just barely make out some laterite steps heading down to the plain and then a road heading out with two small sanctuaries (Sen Thmol and Sen Ravang). Behind Sen Ravang is a large square sacred pond called Tonle Om. This road and these temples head off in the direction towards Angkor.
Here’s some more photos of the beautiful view.
What is really amazing is how well you can see into the countryside. Last year when in Thailand I visited the Angkorian temple Preah Vihear (which is perpetually locked in some kind of border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia). It is bigger, but similarly perched on a mountaintop. Unfortunately it is so hazy that it is hard to see or get good photos of the countryside from that vantage point. The view at Phnom Chiso is definitely more breathtaking, in my humble opinion.
In this photo you might just barely be able to make out the mountain Phnom Da in the distance, which is quite close to Angkor Borei and home to one of the earliest Khmer temples and some of the earliest Khmer stone sculpture. (It’s the smudge on the horizon to the left of the tree/bush).
On the way back to Phnom Penh we also made a quick stop at the small 10th century Angkorian site of Prasat Neang Khmau. This is within a modern Buddhist temple complex and consists of two brick towers (prasats). There was a third but it has been replaced by a modern structure. What is also special about these prasats is that they still contain some remnants of an old Khmer inscription.
All-in-all it was an excellent day trip out of the city!