If you want to break up your journey, you could check out two minor attractions off the road between Skone and Kompong Thom: Wat Hat Nokor, a small but enchanting eleventh-century temple around 20km north of Skone, and, close to Kompong Thom, Phnom Suntuk, a sacred hill with multiple pagodas and rock-face carvings. Travelling between the capital and Kompong Thom on private transport you could, at a pinch, visit both sites en route.Read More
Wat Hat Nokor
Wat Hat Nokor
Wat Hat Nokor is a small rural pagoda with tranquil, well-tended grounds surrounding a simple, charming laterite-and-sandstone eleventh-century temple built by Suryavarman I. The temple was never finished, and it’s assumed that either the architect died or war intervened during its construction. A single gopura on the eastern side of the temple gives access to the courtyard enclosing a cruciform sanctuary, Prasat Kuk Nokor, which once contained a linga and niches housing statues of Shiva and his wives. The central section of the south wall has collapsed, but you can still see a chamber built into the wall, where the sick came to be cured using holy water blessed by flowing over the linga in the central sanctuary. The library in the southeast corner of the courtyard was formerly used as a prison by the Khmer Rouge. The achar has a visitors’ book that he’ll no doubt get you to sign, and it’s polite to leave a donation.
The wat is about 2km west of the village of TAING KOK. Public transport will drop you either in the village or at the turning for the pagoda; motos are readily available at the turning for the journey to the temple (8000 riel including waiting time). If you’re using public transport on to Kompong Thom, you’ll need to flag down a taxi or minibus, best done from Taing Kok’s small market.
Something akin to a Buddhist theme park, the 180m high Phnom Suntuk is most easily visited as a half-day trip by moto from Kompong Thom (20,000 riel including waiting time). Conspicuous in the flat countryside, the hill is accessed by a wide road, indicative of how busy it gets on Sundays and public holidays. A steep staircase of 809 steps wends its way up the scrub-covered hill, squeezing past massive boulders, with occasional rest-stops and gaudy shrines where you can pause for breath. Traditional medicine vendors display their wares on the steps, mainly tree bark and twigs to be boiled up in water to produce multipurpose tonics and cure-alls. At the summit, the pagoda is a hotchpotch of garish statues and pavilions, mostly contemporary. Most alluring are the older Buddha images, many carved into the rock face around the hill, although no one can tell you when they were carved.
Near the vihara, a large overhanging rock creates a natural shrine with several small Buddha carvings, and there are more small shrines tucked away in crevices behind the rocky hillside. To the west, a narrow stony path leads part of the way down the hill to a collection of rock carvings, including an impressive reclining Buddha. Back at the foot of the hill, you might want to pause to sink a glass of sugar-cane juice or fill up on Khmer fare at the veritable village of food and drink stalls here. Heading back to Kompong Thom on NR6, you can stop off at the little village of Samnak where there are usually some small stone carvings to buy from local craftsmen (though small doesn’t necessarily equate with light). Also in the village, is Santuk Silks – a silk enterprise run by Vietnam veteran, Bud Gibbons, where you can see silk worms munching on mulberry, watch spinners and weavers at work, and usually buy a scarf or two from the weavers.