The countryside around Battambang is dotted with old temples and other worthwhile sights. Heading south, Prasat Banan and Phnom Sampeau can be combined for a good half-day trip by moto or remork-moto (tuk tuk). Moving north, a half-day excursion can take in Wat Ek Phnom, Wat Somrong Knong and a few other sites.
Combined admission to Phnom Sampeau, Prasat Banan and Wat Ek Phnom costs US$3 (if you purchase a ticket at Prasat Banan, it’s valid all day long at the other two, although at the time of research there was talk of discontinuing this deal).
A detailed guidebook on many sites in the area is Around Battambang (US$10) by Ray Zepp, which has details on temples, wats and excursions in the Battambang and Pailin areas. Proceeds go to monks and nuns working to raise HIV/AIDS awareness and to help AIDS orphans.
Roads to Wat Ek Phnom
The rural lanes that squiggle out from Battambang are brimming with paddy-field panoramas and tiny villages where traditional crafts and produce are made. The roads leading to Wat Ek Phnom temple are particularly rewarding to explore and make for a great half-day circuit, soaking up a mix of historic sights and village life. Some highlights:
Wat Somrong Knong Built in the 19th century on the site of a pre-Angkorian temple complex, this wat was used by the Khmer Rouge as a prison and it's believed that around 10,000 people were executed here. The complex today houses the gorgeous main pagoda and a mishmash of ancient ruins, glittery modern structures and memorials to those who perished here.
Prahoc Factory Here visitors can see the bustling local industry behind Cambodian prahoc (fermented fish paste), and the photogenic bamboo trays of fish drying in the sun along the roadside.
Pheam Ek The industry of the village of Pheam Ek is making rice paper for spring rolls. All along the road, in family workshops, you’ll see rice paste being steamed and then placed on a bamboo frame for drying in the sun.
Wat Ek Phnom Hidden behind a colourful modern pagoda and a gargantuan Buddha statue is this atmospheric, partly collapsed 11th-century temple measuring 52m by 49m and surrounded by the remains of a laterite wall and an ancient baray (reservoir). A lintel showing the Churning of the Ocean of Milk can be seen above the eastern entrance to the central temple, whose upper flanks hold some fine bas-reliefs.
This town, located on NH57 20km southwest of Battambang towards Pailin, is home to two small yet interesting temples. Prasat Yeay Ten, dedicated to Shiva, dates from the end of the 10th century and, although in a ruinous state, has above its doorways three delicately carved lintels that somehow survived the ravages of time and war; the eastern one depicts the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. The temple is situated on the east side of the highway, so close to the road that it resembles an ancient Angkorian tollbooth.
Behind Prasat Yeay Ten is a contemporary wat; tucked away at the back of the wat compound are three brick sanctuaries that have some beautifully preserved carvings around the entrances.