Phnom Srey and Phnom Pros

Two hills face one another in a near stand-off, each topped with their own pagodas: The rather lovely, grand and ornate pagodas on top of Phnom Pros (Men’s Hill), and a rather shabbier cluster on top of Phnom Srei (Women’s Hill). But Phnom Srei is higher, which may have prompted the pagoda version of compensatory overachievement on the other side of the gulf between them.

This is another Kompong Cham sight with Oedipal undertones. According to this version of the legend, a powerful man returns from journeys afar, and falls in love with a woman who is his mother. She protests his suit for marriage, and comes up with a cunning compromise.

The men and women of the town are to separately construct two hills. If the women’s hill is higher, then she will no longer have to accept her suitor-son’s proposal.

And so they set to it. But the women had a plan, and mounted a lantern high. The men, seeing the light, mistook it for Sirius and lay down their tools. More fools them.

At the top of 308 steps, Phnom Srei offers splendid views over the countryside with Kompong Cham and the Mekong easily visible, while further in the distance the rising plateau of Mondulkiri can be seen. Atop the hill there is a small temple but the whole area feels a little unkempt.

Phnom Pros is far smaller than Phnom Sray but the trio of tall temples abutting each other have been built at the summit in an attempt to compensate for the hill’s small size. Unlike Phnom Srei, Phnom Pros is overrun with fat monkeys and vendors will happily sell you ambulant to feed them. Phnom Pros is a popular spot to have your fortune told, though you’ll need pretty good Khmer language skills to get much out of it. Phnom Pros is also more heavily trafficked by locals by the ease of its access.

Between the two hills (which are walking distance apart) there is a new garish wat, a library and a Chinese cemetery. The library has a selection of mostly Khmer books, with a particular emphasis on fortune-telling handbooks — the curator here speaks fluent French. A sculpture garden is attached, with a large Bayon-style head, anatomically correct deer and various other temple paraphernalia. A wide range of legends surrounding the building of these two hills exist, most of which centre around the men being stupid, lazy or generally slack, thus allowing the women to build a bigger hill — ask your motodop for his interpretation on the legend, and don’t expect the same tale from any two.

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