Much of Takeo province disappears in an annual inundation by the waters of the Mekong and Bassac rivers, leaving Takeo town isolated on the shore of a vast inland sea, and outlying villages transformed into islands. As the waters recede, an ancient network of canals, which once linked the area to the trading port of Oc Eo (now a ruined site across the border in Vietnam), is revealed. These continue to be vital for local communication and trade, and getting around the area is still easiest by boat – indeed, for much of the year there is no alternative.
More about Cambodia
Find out more
A key port on the trading route with Vietnam, the town of TAKEO (pronounced ta-kow) consists of two separate hives of activity: to the south, a dusty (or muddy, depending on the season) market and transport stop on NR2 – which has little to recommend it unless you want to visit one of the karaoke parlours – and to the north, a more picturesque area around the Rokha Khnong Lake, canal and port. Takeo makes a good base from which to visit the only Funanese sites so far identified in Cambodia, Angkor Borei and the nearby Phnom Da, which can be combined on a boat trip from town; an informative museum at Angkor Borei displays artefacts and statues unearthed at both sites. Since Takeo is only two hours from Phnom Penh, it’s possible to visit these sights on a day-trip.
The pleasantly leafy town of ANGKOR BOREI, some 25km from Takeo, sits on the banks of the Prek Angkor, a tributary of the Bassac. It’s well known to scholars as where the earliest known example of written Khmer was discovered, and archeological excavations have identified many features of the pre-Angkorian town, including a moat 22m wide, a section of high brick wall and numerous extensive water tanks. Unfortunately, there is now little to see of the site apart from the finds in the fine local museum.
Angkor Borei can be reached year-round by boat, 20km up a canal and river, an interesting journey through wetlands that are home to a variety of waterbirds, with all types of boats coming and going. The museum is the main draw, but you can also explore the excavated Funan-era archeological sites here and at nearby Phnom Da.
Ironically for a site that has given its name to a style of sculpture, the remains of the temple of Phnom Da are now rather bare; everything of value has been removed to the museums in Phnom Penh and Angkor Borei. The ruins remain pretty imposing, however, constructed on top of two 40m-high mounds built to protect the temple from rising waters. Experts differ on the temple’s vintage, some believing that it was built in the early sixth century by Rudravarman, others that it dates from later.
Boats moor at the small village at the foot of Phnom Da, where local children will offer to show you up meandering paths to the top of the hill, passing at least three of the site’s five caves on the way. On the higher of the two mounds the ancient Prasat Phnom Da comprises a single laterite tower, visible from way off and dominating the landscape. The tower’s four doorways boast ornate sandstone columns and pediments of carved naga heads, though all but the eastern entrance are false.
On the lower hill, to the west, is a unique Hindu temple, Ashram Maha Russei, dedicated to Vishnu and built of grey laterite. Dating from the seventh century, the structure is a temple in miniature, the enclosing walls so close together that there’s barely room to squeeze between them. On the outside, a spout can still be seen poking through the wall, through which water that had been blessed by flowing over the temple’s linga would once have poured.