On the highway to Kompong Thom Province, smack in the middle of Cambodia, we came upon a series of stonemasonry businesses, apparently run by a few families.
Kompong Thom isn’t a major tourist destination, although it supplies many of the stone Buddhas you might buy in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. Some of the statues are massive—wealthy Khmers, someone explained, buy these to donate to their local pagoda.
Road #6, the busy and chaotic road between the capital and Siem Reap (home of the Angkor temple complexes), traverses Kompong Thom. So lots of tour buses rumble through the main city there, briefly disgorging a few dozen Malaysians or Koreans long enough to enjoy a strong coffee at the bustling Arunras Restaurant (home of the best-ever mee kiew noodle-dumpling soup).
The province is also home to an important pre-Angkorian site—a sprinkling of root-choked 7th century temples called Sambor Prei Kuk, buried in the forests. It’s a lovely, haunting place. Not many tourists make it there, and the only tourist infrastructure is a makeshift “ticket booth,” a thatched-roof shelter serving extremely fresh chicken soup (free-range in the most literal sense), and a gaggle of little girls who guide you to the temples, hoping you’ll then buy a cheap krama (scarf) from them. They have learned enough English to say, “Be careful, the root,” “Be careful, the rock,” “Seventh century,” and “Bomb holes.” Yep, the site is riddled with bomb craters from the American bombing campaign of the 1970s.
Supposedly, the anti-personnel mines have been cleared. Still, I treaded with care.
More on that later.
Related post: Morning in Phnom Penh