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Introducing Phnom Bayong

Affording breathtaking views of Vietnam’s pancake-flat Mekong Delta, the cliff-ringed summit of Phnom Bayong (313m) is graced by a 7th-century Chenla temple built to celebrate a victory over Funan. The linga originally in the inner chamber is now in Paris’ Musée Guimet but a number of flora- and fauna-themed bas-relief panels can still be seen, eg on the lintels of the three false doorways and carved into the brickwork. The site, once surrounded by two concentric walls (remnants are still visible), still attracts pilgrims and is tended by Buddhist nuns who live nearby in basic huts.

The steep walk up to the temple takes about 2½ hours return. The trail is not clearly marked, so it’s a good idea to hire a local lad (or five) with a machete (5000r or 10, 000r). Along the way you’re likely to see locals out collecting leaves and roots for the preparation of traditional medicines. Bring plenty of water and thick eyebrows (or at least a handkerchief to wipe the sweat from your forehead). The descent over smooth rocky inclines will help prepare your leg muscles for the next ski season.

In Kirivong town, Tran Hout Guesthouse (016 500033; NH2; r US$5-8) is friendly but its 17 tiny rooms are lightless and have poor ventilation.

Further west along the Phnom Bayong access road is Phnom Tchea Tapech, whose summit is marked by a jumbo standing Buddha reached by a monumental staircase. This new temple complex was inaugurated in late 2006.

Kirivong Waterfall, 2.5km west of the southern edge of Kirivong town, is popular with locals, especially on warm weekends, but it’s nothing to write home about – unless you like telling your friends about all the litter you’ve seen. Until it’s cleaned up (there are plans…), the only reason to head out there is to check out the market stalls selling the area’s most famous product: topaz and quartz, either cut like gems or carved into tiny Buddhas and nagas.