While most provincial Cambodian towns may scrape the bottom of the barrel at times in order to offer up any alternatives to Siem Reap’s jackpot tourist attractions, Kompong Thom’s very own Leaning Tower is genuinely worth a peek for the trickle of more adventurous travellers who do make it to this central Cambodian town.
Angkor Wat or Bayon this temple is not — nor does it rival Kompong Thom’s own magnificent Sambor Prei Kuk — but Prasart Kok Rocha is a quirky site of some historical importance, and it offers an excuse to explore the friendly and attractive little village where it’s situated.
The solitary sandstone tower dates from the 11th century and the reign of Suryavarman I, and apart from it leaning over at fair angle, is in relatively decent condition. Locals say the incline is due to a US bomb having fallen nearby, though natural subsidence, or a combination of the two, is more likely.
What makes the tower of particular interest, apart from its tilt, is a collection of quite remarkable lintels, either in situ or on the ground nearby. While the north doorway has a slightly cartoon-like relief typical of the Suryarvarman period, the south door has a much older carving re-used by the 11th century builders. (The western lintel is missing while the eastern one depicting Indra on his three-headed elephant Airavata lies on the ground.)
Above the south entrance is this splendid Prei Khmeng-style lintel dating from the seventh century while laying nearby are equally stunning eighth century Kompong Preah period and Sambor period carvings.
Furthermore, local villagers and farmers have deposited additional carvings, lintels and even an inscription that they’ve found in the region on the ground beside the tower for safe keeping, thus creating something of an impromptu local museum. Some of these appear to date right back to the sixth and early seventh century Sambor period. This priceless collection of ancient carvings lies scattered on the ground in what is today a primary school yard.
The ruined temple site lies some 10 kilometres east of Kompong Thom town, just off the south side of National 6, a further couple of kilometres. The trek might not be worth it if you’re not a history buff, but would be great as an additional stop-off if you’re off to Phnom Santuk.