We were having a good time in Bali, but not good enough. The whole motorbike situation in Seminyak is really annoying and in all honesty the beach is not that cool. So we decided to shorten our stay and go back to Cambodia, the best place to get pampered in Southeast Asia.
It was Eitan’s idea. He visited Cambodia for the first time in 2001, and he claims it was love at first sight. My first time was in the beginning of our 5 month trip to Southeast Asia with hand luggage and I fell for it too. It’s undeniable: the food is delicious, massages are fantastic, the place is beautiful and Cambodians are friendly, polite and very professional people.
Since we had already been to the most popular places, we decided to do nothing (a passion of mine) and visit unusual places, such as Oudong. For over 250 years Oudong was the capital of Cambodia until one day in the middle of the 19th Century King Norodom decided to leave. He set up his capital in Phnom Penh. Oudong remained in oblivion for decades.
Unfortunately, the Khmer Rouge came into power and with the support of the United States they ravished the country. Oudong didn’t escape the atrocity and almost all of the temples and shrines were severely damaged. Today Oudong is a temple on a small mountain, surrounded by endless Cambodian fields.
Oudong is located just 25 miles (40 km) north of Phnom Penh, so it takes almost an hour to get there. From Phnom Penh there are of course organized day trips to Oudong, but just as everywhere else in Southeast Asia we decided to do it on our own. We took a tuk-tuk in front of our Pavilion Hotel. Our tuk-tuk driver was not only inexpensive but safe, knew his way around and fantastic company.
The trip to Oudong was fun in its own. We saw traditional Cambodian houses on pillars and plenty of temples and mosques. It seems Cambodia’s Muslim minority lives north of Phnom Penh. Bear in mind that a tuk-tuk ride from Phnom Penh to Oudong and back costs between 30 and 40 USD. A private car with a driver is slightly costlier.
Organized Tours to Oudong
On the other hand, if you don’t feel like going alone and rather join an organized day trip to Oudong, we recommend THIS TOUR. A couple of months ago we sent some friends of ours, and they loved it. It’s a half-day tour that takes approximately 5 hours.
A certified and professional driver picks you up early in the morning from your hotel in Phnom Penh. No worries, the vehicle has AC. The tour includes the entrance ticket, a guide, and lunch on your way back at a good restaurant. You also stop in Kompong Luong to check local silversmiths.
What is Oudong Like
The old temples of Oudong crown the mountain of the same name, Oudong. Don’t forget to check the memorial at the base of the Oudong Mountain dedicated to the victims of the Khmer Rouge. Tuk-tuks and cars park nearby. From there you have to climb some 500 steps to reach the top.
Take your time and admire the views: lush green hills covered in blooming trees. There are monkeys too! When we reached the top we were rewarded by relaxing views. To our surprise, we had the place mostly to our own, with just a few tourists around.
The Three Stupas
The main site perched on top of the mountain consists of one large new temple, three main stupas, and several smaller temples. Damrei Sam Poan stupa was built by King Chey Chetha II (1618–26). The ashes of his predecessor King Soriyopor, the founder of Oudong, are there.
The Ang Doung stupa, in the middle, was named after the father of King Norodom. Built in 1891 by King Norodom it houses King Ang Duong’s (1845–59) ashes. The last stupa is Mak Proum, the funeral stupa of King Monivong (1927–41). It is the one that contains four faces looking into four directions.
Look for the incredible 1000 Buddhas beneath Wat Oudong. You will recognize this stupa from the elephants that adorn it. If you can’t find the entrance, ask around. Cambodians are the nicest people in the world! The place is beautiful and pretty much in use. Local people visit to pray, so be respectful and enjoy the atmosphere.
We strongly recommend you come down the northern slope of the hill. After a couple of minutes, you will see four stupas on top of a hill. These are also part of the compound. If you keep going down the west slope, you will reach Sontte Wan Buddhist Meditation Center. The eastern slope takes you back to the little town.
When to Visit Oudong
The weather in Cambodia is warm all year around. There are two main seasons: dry and wet. From October to April, there is little rain. On the other hand, from May and September, it rains cats and dogs. Generally speaking, the best period to visit is from November to January. Both the temperature and humidity drop a bit.
From March to June the heat can be unbearable, so try to visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Apparently, the place can get busy on weekends since many locals come here for a picnic, so visit on a weekday.
Be sure to bring some socks with you. Taking your shoes off is mandatory so you don’t want to burn your feet going all the way up! Also, don’t forget to bring a hat and some sunscreen. Try to bring your own water in a recyclable container. Don’t worry if you didn’t. Local vendors sell snacks and refreshments at the base of the mountain.
The views from the top are spectacular. Therefore, don’t forget your camera and take plenty of photos. The entrance to the temples is free, but there are kids offering to tour you around the mountain. Be polite to them, these nice children are here to help!
Going on an Excursion from Phnom Penh or Spending the Night?
Since Oudong hill and its temples are within an hour’s drive from Phnom Penh, they make for ideal day trips. At the same time, the temples and stupas in Oudong are not the best in Cambodia.
That said, we recommend spending the night in Oudong Village. By doing so, you get to know how life is in a real little town in Cambodia, with almost no tourist in sight. The whole vibe is super relaxed, and people are quite friendly. It’s the best way to experience a sense of rural Cambodia just an hour away from its bustling capital.
Oudong Village and Beyond
Where to Stay in Oudong
As you can imagine, and we would say, fortunately, there aren’t many hotels in Oudong. That’s probably the number one reason why spending the night in Oudong is such a good idea. Once the few tourists that visit the temples leave, you will have the place entirely for your own.
There are only two accommodation options. The closest hotel to the temples is the Khai Fong Guest House. They offer big rooms with air conditioning. Ask for a top floor room to enjoy great views. Another great option is the Farmhouse Resort and Spa, 19 miles (30 kilometers) away from the temples.
What to See in Oudong Village
The epicenter of the village is Oudong Market, a lively market place where you can buy snacks and soak in the atmosphere. To the south of the market, you will find a freshwater reservoir. Walk south from the reservoir to reach Vang Chas Pagoda. From there, it’s a 15-minute walk south to Wat Vihear Kpos, another temple.
Loop around to the west and continue north to reach Wat Chok Sor. To the east of the reservoir, you will find Sala Kou Pagoda, and a bit further away, Preah Dhomatrai Pagoda. These temples are not historic, but authentic community temples.
Moving around Oudong Village
Take note that the temples are not in Oudong Village proper but some 15 min. driving to the south. Likewise, though you can walk from the village to the temples in about an hour, we strongly recommend hiring a tuk- tuk to go to the temples, and to move around the village too.
Oudong village is safe and easy-going, but has no proper sidewalks. Hence, it’s best to avoid walking about. Besides, hiring a tuk-tuk gets you Cambodian premier service. Tuk-tuk drivers in the country are honest, reliable, and full of information. Of course, paying them a decent fee is mandatory.
Near Oudong Village
The Tonle Sap River is some 5km to the east of Oudong Village. Go on a tuk-tuk to explore the tiny village of Kampong Luong on the shores of the river. Once you reach the coast, ask your tuk-tuk driver to take you north to the Dangtong Pagoda. From there, go south to the Peam Chomnik Pagoda.
Then you have to go to the south to see the nicest pagoda in the area, Kampong Luong Pagoda. You can cross to the other side of the river through the Prek Kdam Bridge. There are two beautiful pagodas to see: Moni Sakor Pagoda and Prochum Rangsey Pagoda.
Mosques and Boats
Now it’s time to visit mosques. It seems the Muslim community lives along the National Road 5. You can visit the Masjid Nurussalam and the Masjid Al-Muttaqin mosques. These are modern-day temples currently in use, so please show respect. In that same area, you will find a silversmith neighborhood where locals produce handicrafts.
Finally, take note that you can do the same route on a boat. You can hire your own personal boat with a driver on the coast of Kampong Luong and tour the Tonle Sap River. The views of the pagodas from the river are memorable. Ask your driver to take you to the other side of the river too.
Where to Eat and Drink
In Oudong, as in anywhere in Cambodia, food is delicious. Of course, you won’t find any of the fancy restaurants of Siem Reap or Phnom Penh, but the food is still pretty good. Two blocks from Wat Chok Sor temple you’ll find Vat Pou, a traditional Cambodian restaurant. For fantastic views of the hill and the reservoir, go to Mlob Reach Heng Heng and Chuob Knea 99, both on National Road 51.
Regarding coffee, Bosba Coffee, near Wat Chok Sor, serves the best in town. They even have a real espresso machine! For tea, beer, and hammocks to chill, head to Bee Bee Green Tea on National Road 5. Finally, you can also eat at any of the restaurants overlooking the Tonle Sap River.
Back to the Present
Oudong is a unique place full of history. Truth be told, it is not nearly impressive as Angkor Wat or Sambor Prei Kuk. Nevertheless, there are no tourists so it’s easy to disconnect and travel back in time. Staring at the huge plateau we couldn’t help but marvel at the great civilization that lived, and still lives, in Cambodia.
On our way back, we had to wrap our tuk-tuk in plastic, to protect us from a heavy summer rain shower. Directly we went to have massages, followed by delicious dinner, and a dip in the pool. Trust me: Cambodia is the place to be if you like comfort, culture, beauty and pleasure. What a treat!
Where to Stay in Phnom Penh
As you can see it is fairly easy to organize your day trip to Oudong. But in order to enjoy the full package, you need to find a great place to stay. Phnom Penh offers hotels of all categories with great service. Once more, location is everything. Near the Royal Palace, we recommend the Pavilion.
If you like to be a bit away from the fuss, but surrounded by great restaurants and massage parlors stay at One Residence Hotel & Apartment. If you want to stay in front of the Mekong River then TAO Riverside Residence is for you. Finally, if you are into cool architecture and sophistication choose Raffles Hotel Le Royal.