Some 35km south of the capital down National Route 2 are the two small but appealing temples at Tonle Bati, while another crumbling, peaceful temple lies some 30km further south off the same road at Phnom Chisor. Tonle Bati can be easily reached on the bus for Takeo: buy your ticket directly from the bus operator for the best price, and get off by the Sokimex petrol station – where there’s a large hoarding showing the temple – and take a moto the final 2.5km to the temple; alternatively, you can do the whole journey from the capital by moto and tuk-tuk ($8–12 return). To see Phnom Chisor, the Takeo bus also stops along the main road where enterprising moto drivers are on-hand to take you the final 2km for around $1. Alternatively, take an excursion operated by one of the capital’s travel agents or guesthouses.Read More
The peaceful site of Tonle Bati is set on the banks of the Bati River in a well-tended grove of coconut and mango trees, where you can swim and picnic as well as seeing the two temples. You will be met immediately by a gaggle of young girls selling flowers, who will most likely follow you around until you leave, even if you’re adamant about not buying. The first temple you come to on entering the site is the larger of the two, Ta Prohm. Constructed by Jayavarman VII – creator of the magnificent Angkor Thom – on the site of a sixth-century shrine, it’s dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva (though Jayavarman eventually adopted Theravada Buddhism). The main entrance is from the east along a short laterite causeway, edged by flowers and shrubs; piled up to the side at the entrance are broken chunks of masonry, some elaborately carved with scenes from the Churning of the Ocean of Milk or the Ramayana.
At the centre of the inner enclosure are the temple’s five sanctuaries, its antechambers built in a cruciform shape, with shrines to the cardinal directions. Above the entrance, a carved stone image of a reclining Buddha has been colourfully coated in paint. The main sanctuary, of sandstone, contains an upright Buddha image, while the antechambers house damaged stone linga. Another image of Buddha, over the north arm of the cruciform, has been superimposed with a carving of a six-armed Vishnu, a change probably made when the Angkorian kingdom reverted to Hinduism after the death of Jayavarman VII.
Well-preserved carvings decorate the outside of the sanctuary and several tell unusual tales. High up on the northeast corner is a scene of two women and a kneeling man: one woman carries a basket on her head, containing the afterbirth from her recent confinement; the midwife, shown standing, was not given sufficient respect during the birth and has condemned the new mother to carry the basket for the rest of her life; her husband is shown begging for forgiveness. The corresponding spot on the northwest corner shows a king sitting next to his wife, who is said to have been unfaithful; below she is put to death by being trampled by a horse.
The north gopura used to contain a statue of Preah Noreay, a Hindu deity who is said to bestow fertility upon childless women; although the statue is still undergoing restoration at the National Museum, women continue to arrive here to seek his help.
Phnom Chisor and around
Phnom Chisor and around
Originally known as Suryadri (“Sun Mountain”), Phnom Chisor was built early in the eleventh century by Suryavarman I and was once a site of some significance, housing one of four sacred linga installed by the king in temples at the boundaries of his kingdom. A hot and tiring flight of 412 steps ascends the hill from the south, though there is a shady pavilion halfway up in which to rest, and refreshment-sellers on hand at the top and bottom. A modern pagoda is established at the summit and there are a burgeoning number of sanctuaries scattered about. One of the more interesting, to the right from the top of the steps, is Prasat Preah Ko Preah Kaew, containing images of the cow and small boy from which it gets its name: according to one far-fetched legend, also repeated at the Preah Ko shrine in Lovek, despite having been warned not to, a pregnant woman climbed a mango tree to eat some fruit, and fell; the shock induced labour, and from her womb emerged a baby boy and a cow.
At the far, northern, end of the hill, the ancient temple of Prasat Boran still retains some well-preserved carved sandstone lintels. The temple was built opening to the east, from which side you get a good view across the plains to Angkor Borei. From the eastern doorway, the old entrance road leads straight to the foot of the hill and still retains its two gatehouses. In the entrance, two stone basins are filled with water, which is ladled out for blessings using a couple of large seashells. The achars say the basins used to fill naturally – presumably from a spring – but after a US bomb came through the roof of the central sanctuary in the 1970s (thankfully it didn’t explode) this stopped; to this day the roof remains covered with corrugated iron. The internal doors to the central sanctuary are very fine and decorated with images of Shiva standing on the back of a pig – although no one knows why. To the east a path leads around the hill to a small cave shrine, really more a collection of rocks, but containing enough room for two or three people to squeeze inside the crevice. An achar here dispenses blessings for a consideration, and will sell you one of his handkerchiefs decorated with holy symbols for protection and prosperity.