This weekend I had what will probably be one of my last trips outside of Phnom Penh before I leave (and until my next trip back to Cambodia sometime next year). I went with a friend up to Kompong Thom to check out the major pre-Angkorian center of Sambor Prei Kuk as well as a the nearby mountain site of Phnom Santuk. SPK will have it’s own post coming soon but for now I’ll just focus on Phnom Santuk. The full story and photos are after the jump!
We spent the night in Kompong Thom town at the friendly and reasonably priced Mittapeap ($7 for a fan room with 2 beds). Anyone who has visited Cambodia might remember Kompong Thom as the halfway point between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. The busses usually stop here for a quick bathroom break.
About 7 km south of Kompong Thom town on the way to Phnom Santuk is a small temple called Prasat Preah Theat. It’s about 4 km off the road in a pretty little village and on the grounds of a school. The tower itself is leaning pretty heavily.
Detail from a lintel at the temple
There was an inscription at the site and inside the prasat a few broken pieces of lintels etc.
After this quick detour we headed on to Phnom Santuk. To get to the top of Phnom Santuk you have to climb up a heartbreaking 809 steps. Fortunately it is shaded most of the way.
About 3/4 of the way to the top is a little stopping point with a scenic view (see photo above).
When you get to the very top there is a sprawling modern temple complex filled with tons of interesting little spots, rock carvings, and tiny nooks.
Inside this little nook above was a very friendly Buddhist Nun who has been living on Santuk for 5 years. She told me about the 5 reclining Buddhas that are also on the site. If I understood her correctly there were 4 old ones down along the side of the mountain and one new one they put up top close to the modern buildings.
Here’s what I think is the newer reclining Buddha.
This is another larger reclining Buddha that had another nun watching over it and singing.
Buddha #3 was HUGE and my favorite- really beautiful carvings
Buddha #4 is a bit smaller
And Buddha #5 was another large carving
Up at the top was another Buddhist footprint being watched over by another friendly Buddhist Nun. These ladies were really eager to smile and create a warm atmosphere.
There was a mural in one shrine with a large Buddha that seemed to be depicting a Chinese visitor- anyone have any ideas about this story?
I’ve been having a hard time finding background information on Phnom Santuk. From what I can tell many of the oldest carvings date back to the Post-Angkorian period and the reign of King Ponhea Dharma Reacha (1474-1494). It was recorded by the French scholar Lunet de Lajonquiere in 1902 (and he seems to have been unimpressed by the carvings). Phnom Santuk seems to have been continuously used since this Post-Angkorian period and there definitely seem to be some modern upgrades. But this whole region was inhabited during the Angkorian and probably pre-Angkorian periods as well- so perhaps the significance of this spot extends back in time. I will update this post if I find out any more info!
This is a website detailing a visit to Sambor Prei Kuk and Phnom Santuk back in 2003.
Andy Brouwer has been to this site several times and has some great resources:
-An older visit of his (paired with Sambor Prei Kuk) here.
A different website describes recounts a legend about the mountain here.
The temple was also apparently a strategic location during the Cambodian civil war.