optional side trips from Phnom Penh

Sambor Prey KukDay Trips from Phnom Penh

Stick around Cambodia's bustling capital and soak it all in. If you are not in a rush we have plenty more for you to see off the beaten track, like an island that specializes in silk weaving, a lost city that predates Angkor Wat, and some tasty deep fried tarantulas.

Sambor Prey Kuk

This morning you set out from Phnom Penh for Kampong Cham and Sambor Prey Kuk, a ruined city that pre-dates Angkor Wat and that was recently granted UNESCO World Heritage status. Along the way you will make a rest stop at an outdoor market in Skun, where Khmer  people drive from miles around to buy deep fried tarantulas and other insects. The spiders, which are often compared to soft shell crab, are prized for their power to cure car sickness.

Take a little time longer to deleve deeper into the many colorful, historic places that surround Phnom Penh. We have some great optional independent side trips that include Sambor Prey Kuk and the Silk Village.

Tasting something like soft shell crab, the locals swear by their medicinal powers to cure, among other things, car sickness. (We have often wondered why people would brave the possibility of car sickness just to buy the spiders that cure it.)

Don't fill up on bugs. We make a stop in Kampong Cham at a simple local restaurant with food so good that you might later write Michelin to encourage the awarding of a star. It's that good.

Not much farther along the road to Siem Reap is Sambor Prey Kuk. A local guide will take over when you arrive. After a brief history lesson about the Kingdom of Chenla, you will begin to explore the tree-engulfed ruins of 7th-century Prey Kuk.

Brick stupas and sandstone doors and lintels emerge from the forest as you walk along pleasant jungle paths. In this monumental city the first Jayavarman King was born. He began the dynasty that ruled the Khmer Empire that built Angkor Wat and spread to Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.

This peaceful Eden is pockmarked by enormous craters from saturation bombing Richard Nixon ordered to annihilate Khmer Rouge forces that were detouring through Cambodia to reach Southern Vietnam. Remnants of gigantic yoni pedestals hint at the scale of phallic pillars, statues, and monumental carvings that were later looted from here.

Although Sambor was bustling centuries before Angkor Wat, some of the Hindu ruins are remarkably still in superb condition. Others have been devoured by the forest. In some cases you can see the roots of fig trees wrapped around structures that no longer exist.

Sambor Prey Kuk is also included in our The Road Less Traveled. our overnight trip by car between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Because that trip makes an overnight stop in Kompong To you will have time to see other things in the the area besides Sambor Prey Kuk.

Silk Village in the Mekong

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Photos: Douglas Thompson