The old colonial town of KOMPONG CHHNANG, 83km north of Phnom Penh on NR5, is a quiet place to stop over for a day. As its name – meaning “Pottery Port” – suggests, the area is a major centre for the production of traditional terracotta pots (chhnang), which are despatched countrywide via ox cart (a slow but smooth method of transport which reduces the risk of damage to the fragile cargo). Several pottery-making villages can be visited nearby.
Kompong Chhnang dates back to colonial times, and has a rather more solid and permanent air than many of Cambodia’s other provincial capitals. NR5 runs right through the centre, forming a wide boulevard bounded at one end by the imposing Independence Monument (looking rather like a big red cake-stand) and the more modest Vietnamese Friendship Monument (resembling an overambitious bird table) at the other. Southeast of here stretches the sedate old French quarter, with rambling villas set amid spacious walled gardens, some of them still retaining old colonial touches – even the large Kompong Chhnang Prison, bang in the middle of the district, has a rustic air.
The opposite side of town, northwest from the centre and past the bustling Psar Leu market en route to the fishing port and Tonle Sap lake, is contrastingly lively and ramshackle. The 1.5km-long road to the lake is actually built on a causeway across the water, and although modern buildings block most views of the lake you can still see a few stilted houses with water lapping around their bases. At the end of the road the waterfront offers fine views over the lake to the pair of floating villages offshore, while the hectic fishing harbour is a photogenic chaos of boats, fishermen and hawkers.