This hilltop pagoda with an active monastery embodies both the good and bad of modern Cambodian culture.
It has a beautiful view from the top of the wat, as well as friendly English-speaking monks keen to have a chat and Cambodian teens interested in practising the English skills they learn in school. It also has kitschy statues of poor quality located along the 980-step path to the top of the hill and an abundance of elderly and child beggars, whose requests can become a bit relentless.
Some portions of the path are quite steep, so be prepared to feel a little out of breath when you arrive at the peak. Steps are tile and must have been built in the relatively recent past, with small, cement figurines of humans lining up along either side. There are a few places to stop and look along the way, with a couple of Buddha statues built into the rocks and an outcropping offering a lovely view.
At the top is the main, gilded pagoda with white walls covered in Khmer script, surrounded by a series of figurines and small temples. Curved cement bridges connect various small temples and statues of people, horses and gods. A large UFO-like structure rises up from the main lookout point with a statue of a man underneath — we were told by locals it’s supposed to be King-Father Sihanouk in his youth. Macaques, as with most Khmer pagodas, wander lazily around the grounds, sifting for crumbs through rubbish left behind. Nothing — beside the views — is picturesque, but it’s a popular spot for Cambodians as it is considered to be one of the most sacred sites in the country and an opportunity to do-as-the-locals-do in Kompong Thom.
There are more interesting hills to climb in Cambodia, such as Phnom Bok and Phnom Udong, but if you combine this with sites along the route such as Prasat Kok Roka and the silk and carving village it is a worthwhile half-day out.