Much of Takeo (pronounced ta-kow) 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 to local communication and trade, and getting around the area is still easiest by boat – indeed, for much of the year there is no alternative.
A key port on the trading route with Vietnam, Takeo town consists of two separate hives of activity: to the south, a dusty (or muddy, depending on the season) market and transport stop on National Route 2 – which has little to recommend it unless you want to visit one of the karaoke parlours – and to the north, a more interesting area around the lake, canal and port. The lakeside, southwest of the canal, has been given a face-lift and there is now a park with views over the marshy, lily-covered lake, which makes a pleasant spot for an early morning or sunset stroll.
Taking up a beautiful spot in the middle of the lake, the home of former Khmer Rouge chief of staff, Ta Mok, has since been turned into a police training facility. Evidently paranoid about his inhumane crimes coming back to haunt him in later life (gruesome enough to have him nicknamed “The Butcher”), Ta Mok had the house built here in 1976. Although you can’t enter the building, it is worth wandering across the bridge to stroll in the grounds.
You could also while away a little time at the port watching large wooden boats arriving from Vietnam laden with cheap terracotta tiles destined for Phnom Penh; the vessels are easily identified by the protective all-seeing eye painted on their bows. A crumbling square behind the waterfront is evidence of Takeo’s colonial past, and there’s a small market here, Psar Nat, which is busy in the early morning and late afternoon with local farmers and fisher-folk. The town’s shophouses are sadly neglected, but still retain a discernible sense of French style.
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; 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.
You can hire a boat in Takeo (about $30) and make the trip to Angkor Borei in forty minutes (the onward leg to Phnom Da takes fifteen minutes), either across open water between June and January (approximately), or by canal and river the rest of the year. There are also occasional boat taxis to Angkor Borei (4000 riel per person one way), but you’ll probably face a long wait both to go and to come back. It is really best to allow a full day if you want to do justice to both sites, though a half-day excursion is sufficient to get a feel for them.