In the heart of Central Cambodia lies the town of Kampong Thom, halfway between Siem Reap (150km) and Phnom Penh (170km). While still off the beaten track for the time being, this provincial town on the Stung Sen river is gaining popularity amongst tourists fast. Rather than getting caught in the Angkor Wat hysteria they opt to behold some of most significant Khmer temple sites in a more peaceful and tranquil setting. Even more so, they also come to experience what might be the purest of rural Cambodia.
How to get to Kampong Thom
Conveniently situated along national route 6, buses and minivans stop over at Kampong Thom on their route from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and vice versa. Take about 3h-3h30m into account for the journey.
For bus/ferry/train schedules and tickets within Cambodia I always use the transport planning tool below from BookmeBus.com to book online. Especially during high season and public holidays it makes sense to book ahead to secure your seat(s). The tool is incredibly easy to use, just fill out your place of departure, your destination and travel date. It will show the complete schedule and ticket price of all related transport. Make your choice and book instantly.
Once in town most explorations in the city center can be done on foot. It’s also possible to rent a bicycle or motorbike if you want to venture beyond the center or to the countryside (and you should). If you’d rather not steer yourself then make use of the moto taxi’s in the town or hire a tuk-tuk to take you out of the city.
Things to see/do in Kampong Thom
Taking a boat ride on the Stung Sen river is a real treat. Either go for a full day ($30) or an hour ($10) and see how the locals live on the water. The Sambor Village Hotel organizes boat tours that also make a stop at the boat temple Sampow Trailok Traileak, which is a weird looking temple indeed.
Criss cross through the country side
Rent a bicycle or motorbike and just get lost in the countryside. Once you venture off route 6 the small roads will take you through villages, dense forests and endless rice fields. Take in the soothing views of rural Cambodia and experience village life close up.
Start your ride by heading South of Kampong Thom on road 6 to the interesting site of Prasat Kok Rokar the inclining temple tower. Next is Phnom Santuk (admission $2), the hill with a pagoda on top that requires you to climb 809 steps to reach it. The Santuk silk farm on the foot of the hill is where you can witness the silk production process from worm to krama (Cambodian scarf). The small village of Svay Kal where historically carvings are made from local sandstone is just a bit up the road.
Ancient temple site
Sambor Prei Kuk is a temple site featuring more than a hundred remaining structures with some of them older than Angkor. Dedicated to the Hindu Gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva the somewhat neglected state of the temples only adds to the mystique. Surrounded by luscious green forest some of the structures are overgrown by trunks and roots of large trees. Most noteworthy is the lack of tourists, which gives the whole scene a magical atmosphere. The temple site is situated 30 km North East of Kampong Thom on road 219 and opens from 7am to 5pm, admission $3.
If you like to indulge in adventurous activities, then always make sure to travel with the right travel insurance. One that also covers your medical care abroad and includes evacuations and repatriation. I use World Nomads, because they are the true specialist in travel insurance and their price for the service is unbeatable. They cover a range of adventure sports and activities like scuba diving and even your motor bike rental adventures (if you follow the rules). You can buy cover online, even if you’re already in the middle of traveling.
Knowing they had my back has always given me great piece of mind. Fortunately I never had to claim anything, but fellow travelers I met on the road told me that the online claims process went very smooth.
Where to stay in Kampong Thom
There are but a few guesthouses and hotels in Kampong Thom. Most of them are in the city center and along the part of route 6 that cuts through town.
Vimean Sovann Guest House
Dirt Cheap = up to $10
Clean and basic, but spacious rooms. The small cafe downstairs is fantastic. Not too far from the city center and the Stung Sen riverside.
Dirt Cheap = up to $10
Khmer style hotel that offers clean rooms just a few steps from the town center, but in a quiet area. They rent out motorbikes for your out of town ventures. Some of the staff don’t speak English, but they are very friendly and willing to help.
Sambor Village Hotel
Mid Range = from $30 to $75
Undoubtedly the most popular choice of stay in Kampong Thom and with good reason. The hotel boasts an outdoor pool, free wifi, inclusive breakfast, free bicycle use and Stung Sen river views. As a result this hotel is almost always completely booked, so be quick.
To compare prices and read reviews check out Agoda.com. The best prices, regular discounts and off season deals.
Where to eat in Kampong Thom
Love Cafe & Pizza is where you can satisfy your Western comfort food crave. Charming owner Vicky offers home made hamburgers, fries and pizza in a cozy setting. They are located at the Democracy street off Route 6 towards Sambor Village hotel near the riverside. I think this used to be the ‘Run Amok restaurant’.
Prum Bayon. Authentic Khmer food and Cambodia beers in a typical Khmer setting near the central market. Good prices starting at $2 per meal.
Finally, around the same central market street food stalls are set up from afternoon. Locals flock here for cheap and authentic dishes in a lively atmosphere. And so can you.