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An exterior view of the pagoda at Kampong Preah temple in Kampong Chhnang province.
An exterior view of the pagoda at Kampong Preah temple in Kampong Chhnang province. Facebook

Preserving forgotten pagoda

To get there, it’s a three-hour drive from Phnom Penh, then a 40-kilometre journey to a remote area of Kampong Chhnang province. At the end of a largely abandoned road, you’ll find it: two archaeological treasures on a hill so remote that in the rainy months of September and October, the buildings are only accessible by boat.

For decades, the pre-Angkorian Kampong Preah temple and an early 20th-century pagoda have sat on the hill in Boribor district with few visitors. Now a group of heritage enthusiasts are hoping to raise awareness – and money – to halt its slide into disrepair.

The project is led by English teacher and Sovrin Magazine Editor Srin Sokmean, who has recruited local residents and an archaeology tour company to host a day trip to the site on August 13 to learn about its largely forgotten history.

He plans to donate the proceeds to the local pagoda committee to make repairs to the wat and eventually build fences around the temples, if given permission by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.

“Today, people love modern things,” Sokmean said. “However, it doesn’t mean we need to ignore the past.”

Locals are unsure how old the pagoda is, but say it has been around for at least 100 years and that Pol Pot himself burned down the neighbouring wooden dining hall in the ’70s, according to Sokmean.

The two possibly pre-Angkorian towers, which fall under the purview of the Ministry of Culture, were restored in 2011, but have fallen victim to thieves, he said.

The pagoda, however, doesn’t fall under the ministry’s remit, and with locals too poor to maintain it, it is in rough condition.

There is also some debate over when the older temples were built. Sok Thouk, director or the provincial Department of Culture, said the structures were built between the ninth and 11th centuries.

But Chen Chanratana, an archaeology professor and founder of the Khmer Heritage Foundation, said the towers are more likely from the pre-Angkorian era, between the 7th and 8th centuries.

“Not many people know there are pre-Angkorian temples right here [near Phnom Penh],” Chanratana said.

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