Cambodia - Northwestern Cambodia (Chapter)
Northwestern Cambodia is first and foremost about remote temples, many of them pillars of the Angkorian empire.
Its forested slopes adorned with Buddha images and a series of pagodas, Phnom Santuk is the most important holy mountain (207m) in this region and a hugely popular site of Buddhist pilgrimage.
Santuk’s extraordinary ensemble of wats and stupas is set high above the surrounding countryside, which means there are lots of stairs to climb – 809, in fact. You can wimp out and take the recently paved 2.5km road, but if you do, you’ll miss the troupes of monkeys that await visitors along the stairway and the experience of winding up through the forest and emerging at a grouping of prasat-style wats (some of them still under construction) with more nagas and dragons than you can possibly imagine. Just beneath the southern summit, there are a number of reclining Buddhas; several are modern incarnations cast in cement, others were carved into the living rock in centuries past. A multitiered Chinese pagoda is decorated with porcelain figurines.
Phnom Santuk has an active wat and the local monks are always interested in receiving foreign tourists. Boulders located just below the summit afford panoramic views south towards Tonlé Sap.
For travellers spending the night in Kompong Thom, Phnom Santuk is a good place from which to catch a magnificent sunset over the rice fields, although this means descending in the dark (bring a torch/flashlight).