Cambodia is quickly developing into one of the most popular tourist destinations in Southeast Asia. We have put together a list of the highlights that Cambodia’s south has to offer every visitor to the Kingdom of Wonder.
A provincial capital, Takeo is located on the fringe of a vast floodplain that forms a vital wetland area. Although not on the tourist map, Takeo’s broad streets are visited by those en route to the impressive early Khmer temple of Phnom Da, not far from town. As a result, the town has several facilities, including modest hotels, Internet cafés, and a couple of banks with ATMs
There are not that many impressive sights here, although the lakeside promenade has a certain charm, including an old pier. The Provincial Museum, a short distance from the lakefront promenade, is also worth a visit for its local archaeological exhibits. Visitors could also try the town’s culinary speciality, bong khorng (giant prawns) fried with garlic and lemon juice, served in several restaurants and street stalls.
A highly enjoyable boat ride from Takeo takes visitors to the small riverside settlement of Angkor Borei, one of the oldest pre-Angkorian sites in Cambodia. This scruffy, isolated town was earlier known as Vyadapura, the capital city of the ancient Hindu kingdom of Funan, which rose to prominence between the 1st and 6th centuries AD.
The town’s unpaved streets and general air of poverty provide little evidence of its illustrious past; it was once a key centre of Hindu civilization and culture. Many of its residents are ethnic Vietnamese – the border with Vietnam is just a few miles to the east – and visitors will be able to catch a glimpse of fishermen wearing conical hats, typical of Vietnam’s rural folk.
The Takeo Archaeological Museum, located on the canal bank, is a reminder of the area’s former glory. This interesting museum has a small, eclectic collection of artefacts from the region, including Funan-style ceramics that date back 2,000 years, lingas (phallic symbols), a 6th-century Standing Buddha, a 12th- century sandstone statue of Lakshmi, Hindu Goddess of Wealth, and ancient images of the Hindu gods Shiva and Vishnu.
Situated 2 miles (3 km) south of Angkor Borei, Phnom Da is an exquisite, partly ruined temple. Standing on the summit of an isolated hill, it has exceptional views over lush, green paddy fields stretching deep into Vietnam 5 miles (8 km) away, and across the wetlands to Takeo. Phnom Da’s ruins, rising to a height of 59 ft (18 m), are approached by 142 steps leading up the hill, and visitors are usually guided by barefooted local children.
The temple’s red-brick foundation dates from AD 514 and its intricate carvings have been weathered by centuries of rainfall, while the walls are cracked and penetrated by plants. Despite its dilapidated condition, there still remains much to admire – carved pillars, bas-reliefs of nagas, and an imposing stone doorway. However, most of the carvings have been taken away to museums in Phnom Penh and Angkor Borei. Below the temple are several cave shrines that are still used for religious offerings and prayers of good fortune.
Located on the east bank of the Mekong, Neak Luong is a busy transit town with a devastating history. During the Vietnam War, the town was bombed by a US B-52, which dropped a 20-ton (18 tonnes) load on the town centre, resulting in the deaths of almost 150 people.
This incident is depicted in the opening sequence of the 1984 British movie, The Killing Fields. Today, travellers along Highway 1 on their way to the Vietnamese border and Ho Chi Minh City regularly pass through Neak Luong.
Car ferries also shuttle people and transport across the Mekong River, which can result in long waits during busy times. Japan has agreed to fund the construction of a 121-ft (37-m) high bridge here, but the project has been fraught with delays. The town also has a huge, bustling market where locals peddle fruit and a variety of fried snacks such as crickets and spiders. Other than this, there is little reason for visitors to stay in Neak Luong.
A provincial capital roughly halfway between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, the town of Svay Rieng is bypassed by most travellers, except those desperately in need of a meal or a drink. The Vietnamese border at Bavet is a short journey from here.
Bombing of Neak Luong
On August 6, 1973, American B-52s accidentally destroyed Neak Luong in an attempt to arrest the advance of the Khmer Rouge to Phnom Penh. The 20-ton (18 tonnes) load dropped on the town led to the deaths of almost 150 civilians. This incident was immortalized in the film The Killing Fields (1984), where US journalist Schanberg, played by Sam Waterstone, and his Cambodian fixer Dith Pran, arrive in Neak Luong after reports of the bombing. They find a devastating scene – a smouldering town and bloodied survivors who beg Schanberg to photograph their misery. Days later, the US Congress called a halt to the bombardment known as Arclight. Journalists, including John Pilger, argue that this bombing campaign was a key factor in driving people to support the Khmer Rouge.