Something akin to a Buddhist theme park, the 180m high Phnom Suntuk is most easily visited as a half-day trip by moto from Kompong Thom (20,000 riel including waiting time). Conspicuous in the flat countryside, the hill is accessed by a wide road, indicative of how busy it gets on Sundays and public holidays. A steep staircase of 809 steps wends its way up the scrub-covered hill, squeezing past massive boulders, with occasional rest-stops and gaudy shrines where you can pause for breath. Traditional medicine vendors display their wares on the steps, mainly tree bark and twigs to be boiled up in water to produce multipurpose tonics and cure-alls. At the summit, the pagoda is a hotchpotch of garish statues and pavilions, mostly contemporary. Most alluring are the older Buddha images, many carved into the rock face around the hill, although no one can tell you when they were carved.

Near the vihara, a large overhanging rock creates a natural shrine with several small Buddha carvings, and there are more small shrines tucked away in crevices behind the rocky hillside. To the west, a narrow stony path leads part of the way down the hill to a collection of rock carvings, including an impressive reclining Buddha. Back at the foot of the hill, you might want to pause to sink a glass of sugar-cane juice or fill up on Khmer fare at the veritable village of food and drink stalls here. Heading back to Kompong Thom on NR6, you can stop off at the little village of Samnak where there are usually some small stone carvings to buy from local craftsmen (though small doesn’t necessarily equate with light). Also in the village, is Santuk Silks – a silk enterprise run by Vietnam veteran, Bud Gibbons, where you can see silk worms munching on mulberry, watch spinners and weavers at work, and usually buy a scarf or two from the weavers.

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