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, as everything of value has been removed to the museums in Phnom Penh and Angkor Borei for safekeeping. The ruins remain pretty imposing, however, constructed on top of two forty-metre-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 a later period, perhaps the seventh century.
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 ($2) 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.