Sambor Prei Kuk
We’d say the best reasons to stay in Kampong Thom are the elusive temples hidden in the surrounding jungles. After arriving in the town, we were determined to find these fabled ruins. Fortunately, outside the central Arunras Hotel there were plenty of tuk-tuk drivers who know the way to these places and for USD20 we were taken to the most striking of these temples: Sambor Prei Kuk (you can hire a moto for USD15 or a cab for less than USD35, but we found a bumpy tuk-tuk ride was much more entertaining).
Sambor Prei Kuk was built 400 years before Angkor Wat and the architectural style is said to have inspired the crowd drawing money-maker over in Siem Reap. Personally, we thought Sambor Prei Kuk was far more charming for its lack of legions of tourists. Its forgotten atmosphere was enchanting, and the tumble of stones emerging from the roots of trees were beautiful and eerie.
Note We hired a guide for worthwhile sum of USD6. Be sure to stay on the path to avoid the risk of landmines; the area was heavily bombed during the Vietnam War and you can still see the craters!
Further afield but worth the trek is Preah Khan of Kompong Svay. This day trip was more expensive, costing us USD130 for a taxi, but after seeing the roads on the 100km route from Kampong Thom, we were glad not to have endured a bone-rattling tuk-tuk. This huge temple complex was incredible. Although looted and crumbling into the forest, the towers and sculptures that remain there transported us into another place and time.
Our third day trip was to the more modern-looking temple of Phnom Santuk, much closer to town and only a USD12 tuk-tuk away. Buddhist stone carvings and gaudy painted architecture made this place feel a little tacky after the decaying splendour of the older temples, but the site was still charming and after huffing and puffing up 807 steps, we had a fantastic view across the Cambodian countryside.
Walking & cycling tours
You can tour the town itself in a day, too, both on foot and by bicycle. There’s a one-room museum where you can spend a quarter of an hour admiring some impressive stone figures and friezes, and a run-down colonial mansion where the main attraction are the hilarious fruit bats.
Our highlights of wandering around Kampong Thom were the night market and the riverside activities, where we got a real sense of rural Cambodian life. We also discovered that Sambor Village hotel runs boat tours, so for just USD10 you can enjoy a blissful sunset cruise on the river.
Suntuk Silk Farm
Suntuk Silk Farm is another rewarding experience just south of the town on the main highway. We saw live silk worms and watched locals hand-weaving silk scarves that you can buy for under USD30.
Further afield – zip lining & tree houses
If the bugs bring the wildlife explorer in you, we’d recommend heading northwards through Beng Per Nature Sanctuary and into Preah Vihear Province in search of BeTreed Adventures. We slept in a treehouse, ziplined through virgin forest and watched gibbons in the jungle at this magical haven. Although it was well off the beaten path, the 133km route from Kampong Thom was so blindingly scenic we’d do it again twice over.
Kampong Thom was a fabulous respite from the busier, more touristy parts of Cambodia and we whole-heartedly recommend it for anyone keen on witnessing authentic rural life or discovering forgotten temples and Southeast Asian nature.