More than a century old, sacred Wat Maha Leap is one of the last wooden pagodas left in Cambodia. Located south of town, the beautiful pagoda was only spared devastation by the Khmer Rouge because they converted it into a hospital. The wide black columns supporting the structure are complete tree trunks, resplendent in gilded patterns. The Khmer Rouge painted over the designs to match their austere philosophies, but monks later stripped the temple back to its original glory.
Many of the Khmers who were put to work in the surrounding fields perished here; 500 bodies were thrown into graves on-site, now camouflaged by a tranquil garden.
The journey to Wat Maha Leap is best done by boat from Kompong Cham. Follow the Mekong downstream for a short distance before peeling off on a sublime tributary known as Small River, which affords awesome glimpses of rural Cambodian life. A guided trip on a 40HP outboard (US$50 round trip, including stops in nearby weaving villages) gets there in less than an hour each way. Dary Sang at Lazy Mekong Daze can arrange the trip.
Small River is navigable only from July to December; at other times, travel overland. It’s pretty difficult to find on your own without some knowledge of Khmer, as there are lots of small turns along the way, so hire a moto (motorcycle taxi; US$12 per return trip, including a stop in Prey Chung Kran weaving village; one hour each way). A remork-moto (tuk tuk) should cost about US$25 return. It’s 20km by river and almost twice that by road.