The 20km open-air motorboat ride along Canal No 15, dug in the 1880s, to the impoverished riverine townlet of Angkor Borei is one of Cambodia’s great thrill rides. Angkor Borei is home to a small archaeological museum featuring locally discovered Funan- and Chenla-era artefacts. The boat then continues for 15 minutes to Phnom Da, spectacularly isolated Mont-St-Michel-style by annual floods, which is topped by a temple whose foundations date from the 6th century (the temple itself was rebuilt in the 11th century).
Angkor Borei, which can also be reached year-round via a circuitous land route from the north, was known as Vyadhapura when it served as the capital of ‘water Chenla’ in the 8th century. Angkor Borei was also an important centre during the earlier Funan period (1st to 6th centuries), when Indian religion and culture were carried to the Mekong Delta by traders, artisans and priests from India, as the great maritime trade route between India and China passed by the Mekong Delta. The earliest datable Khmer inscription (AD 611) was discovered at Angkor Borei, which is surrounded by a 5.7km moated wall that hints at its past greatness.
The twin hills of Phnom Da shelter five artificial caves, used for centuries as Hindu and Buddhist shrines and, during the Vietnam War, as hideouts by the Viet Cong. Exceptionally, the temple entrance faces due north; the other three sides have blind doors decorated with bas-relief nagas. The finest carvings have been taken to museums in Angkor Borei, Phnom Penh and Paris.
Nearby, on a second hillock, is 8m-high Wat Asram Moha Russei, a restored Hindu sanctuary that probably dates from around AD 700.