Udong (the Victorious) served as the capital of Cambodia under several sovereigns between 1618 and 1866, during which time ‘victorious’ was an optimistic epithet, as Cambodia was in terminal decline. A number of kings, including King Norodom, were crowned here. The main attractions today are the twin humps of Phnom Udong, which have several stupas on them. Both ends of the ridge have good views of the Cambodian countryside dotted with innumerable sugar palm trees. Phnom Udong is not a leading attraction, but for those with the time it’s worth the visit.
The larger main ridge – the one you’ll approach first if approaching from NH5 – is known as Phnom Preah Reach Throap (Hill of the Royal Fortune). It is so named because a 16th-century Khmer king is said to have hidden the national treasury here during a war with the Thais.
At the base of the stairs leading up to the ridge, close to the road, is a memorial to the victims of Pol Pot, which contains the bones of some of the people who were buried in approximately 100 mass graves, each containing about a dozen bodies. Instruments of torture were unearthed along with the bones when a number of the pits were disinterred in 1981 and 1982. Just north of the memorial is a pavilion decorated with graphic murals depicting Khmer Rouge atrocities.
Ascending the stairs, the first structure you come to at the top of the ridge is a modern temple containing a relic of the Buddha, believed to be an eyebrow hair, which was relocated from the blue stupa in front of Phnom Penh railway station in 2002. Follow the path behind this stupa along the ridge and you’ll come to a line of three large stupas. The first (northwesternmost) is Damrei Sam Poan, built by King Chey Chetha II (r 1618–26) for the ashes of his predecessor, King Soriyopor. The second stupa, Ang Doung, is decorated with coloured tiles; it was built in 1891 by King Norodom to house the ashes of his father, King Ang Duong (r 1845–59), but some say King Ang Duong was in fact buried next to the Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh. The last stupa is Mak Proum, the final resting place of King Monivong (r 1927–41). Decorated with garudas (mythical half-man, half-bird creatures), floral designs and elephants, it has four faces on top.
Bushwhack your way along the trail beyond Mak Proum and you’ll come to a line of three small viharas. The first is Vihear Prak Neak, its cracked walls topped with a thatched roof. Inside this vihara is a seated Buddha who is guarded by a naga (prak neak means ‘protected by a naga’). The second structure also has a seated Buddha inside. The third structure is Vihear Preah Keo, a brick-roofed structure that contains a statue of Preah Ko, the sacred bull; the original statue was carried away by the Thais long ago.
Another 120m or so along is the most impressive structure on Phnom Preah Reach Throap, Vihear Preah Ath Roes. The vihara and the statue of Buddha, dedicated in 1911 by King Sisowath, were blown up by the Khmer Rouge in 1977; only sections of the walls, the bases of eight enormous columns and the right arm and part of the right side of the original Buddha statue remain. The Buddha has been reconstructed and the roof has now been rebuilt.
Southeast of the large ridge, the smaller ridge has two structures and several stupas on top. Ta San Mosque faces westward towards Mecca. Across the plains to the south of the mosque you can see Phnom Vihear Leu, a small hill on which a vihara (temple sanctuary) stands between two white poles. To the right of the vihara is a building used as a prison under Pol Pot’s rule. To the left of the vihara and below it is a pagoda known as Arey Ka Sap.