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South Cambodia; Takeo Province

Our favourite sites in the rarely visited Southern Cambodian province of Takeo

Conveniently situated between the capital Phnom Penh, a short distance to the north, and the popular destinations of Kep and Kampot to the south, many visitors pass through Cambodia’s Takeo Province but, sadly, few stop. In our opinion – a big mistake. There are some excellent and varied spots to visit, to complement the better-known sites of Phnom Penh and Angkor, so here’s a rundown of our highlights of South Cambodia’s Takeo Province.

Ta Prohm Tonle Bati

Picturesque and well-preserved Angkor period temple situated beside the Tonle Bati Lake, some hour to an hour and a half south of Phnom Penh. The temple dates to the late 12th century and the reign of King Jayavarman VII, (of Bayon and Ta Prom fame), displays some spectacular carvings and sees virtually no tourists! The contemporary Buddhist monastery opposite the temple also houses an 11th-century sandstone tower, Prasat Yeay Pow, which features a spectacular Shiva relief and is also well worth a peek before heading off to nearby Phnom Tamao.

Ta Prom Tonle Bati
Ta Prom Tonle Bati
Phnom Tamao

The excellent Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre lies a short drive south of Tonle Bati. As the name implies, the Centre, run by an organisation named Wildlife Alliance, rescues wildlife from trappers, hunters, private zoos and so on with the ultimate intention – where feasible – to re-release them into the wild. Gibbons, otters and hornbills are some of the species recently, successfully, released into the protected forest surrounding the Angkor temples.

The vast park, set in an area of secondary forest, provided by the Ministry of Forestry and Fisheries, houses myriad indigenous species – including tigers and elephants – as well as exotic species rescued from private zoos. The Free the Bears organisation also has a presence in the park and at last count was taking care of no less than 120 sun bears and moon bears.

Cambodia, Phnom Tamao
A sambur deer acts as an improvised diving board for these long-tailed macaques

Interestingly, seeing food and protection are on offer, a number of wild animals have also moved into the park so macaques and langurs, as well as bird species such as adjutants, storks and herons are also now resident or regular visitors. Phnom Tamao is not only a fascinating spot to visit but, as the care of so many animals is hugely expensive and Wildlife Alliance relies on donations and entry fees, your visit is also in an excellent cause.

Phnom Chisor

Continuing south from Phnom Tamao, along National Highway 2, the next stop would be the hill-top, 11th-century, Hindu temple of Phnom Chisor. As with Ta Prom Tonle Bati, the temple is relatively well-preserved and features some impressive, carved lintels and pediments but what makes Phnom Chisor particularly rewarding – even to the most jaded temple-goer – are the spectacular views. Phnom Da lies to the south while the Bassak River is discernable beyond the expanse of paddy fields to the east. On a clear day you can see all the way to Vietnam.

Cambodia, Phnom Chisor view
Phnom Chisor; looking east towards the Bassak River and Vietnam
Wat Neang Khmao

This active Buddhist monastery, located at the junction of Highway 2 and the access road for Phnom Chisor, is nationally famous for being a prestigious study centre for novice monks while it also happens to house a pair of intact, 10th-centre brick towers. The wat is a lively one, the young monks friendly and the early period towers feature a pristine lintel so, time-permitting, another worthwhile stop.

Phnom Da and Angkor Borei

Continue south from Phnom Chisor and you’re entering the heartland of ancient Funan. This little-understood culture predates Angkor and flourished in the Mekong Delta and what is today Southern Cambodia Takeo Province in the early centuries of the first millennium. The riverside town of Angkor Borei is considered to have been the site of Funan’s capital. Few vestiges remain of the 1500-year-old city today but the small town is scenic and houses a quirky little museum. A short boat ride from town is Phnom Da, a low, wooded hill which is home to two well-preserved ancient temples.

Prasat Phnom Da is a brick temple atop the hill while the remarkable Asram Maha Rosei is an intact 6th-century shrine – one of the most ancient in Cambodia – lying amid trees at the foot of Phnom Da. What makes the trip so interesting, however, is getting there and back in a small motorboat travelling along ancient Funanese canals and waterways which offer bucolic scenery and plenty of glimpses of everyday life in the watery landscapes of the upper Delta.

Takeo Province
Phnom Da, Ashram Maha Rosei. (500 years older than Angkor Wat)
Daun Keow, (Takeo City)

This small, laid-back provincial capital isn’t exactly a highlight of Takeo Province but it is a pleasant, friendly little town and comes with a clutch of decent coffee shops and restaurants so makes for a good spot for a break. You could also take a short stroll along the waterfront or around the local market.

South Cambodia landscape
South Cambodia landscape

If you leave early to avoid traffic then several of these sites could be visited in a day tour from Phnom Penh – particularly Tonle Bati and Phnom Tamao which are conveniently located close to each other and lie a mere 40 kms from the capital. Even better, in our opinion, is to include them as stops on the way to and from the popular south coast destinations of Kampot and Kep. We favour the more laid-back, low-key latter town and include a 3-night stay in Kep on our Beyond Angkor tour which also, consequently, includes stops en route at Tonle Bati, Phnom Chisor and the Wildlife Rescue Centre.

For those doing the classic tours, Cambodia Overland or Highlights of Cambodia – or even Vietnam and Cambodia Overland – the above is offered as our 4-day Kep, Kampot and Takeo extension.

The sites of Phnom Penh and World Heritage temples at Angkor are of course the country’s big draws but, if you’re going all that way, we’d say…take a few more days to discover another side to this fascinating country.