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Temple watch: Angkor's ancient Route 66

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An ancient highway known as Route 66 links Angkor with the temples of Beng Mealea and the vast temple of Preah Khan Kampong Svay. We used the recently improved route for the first time on a 4WD tour to this temple in December. Preah Khan is best approached from Kampong Thom, passing by the ancient city of Sambor Prei Kuk.

The temples in the ancient city of Ishanapura are among the oldest, predating Angkor Wat by more than 600 years. Approximately 100 brick-built temples sit in an attractive jungle setting, and many are of an unusual octagonal design with impressive reliefs. The Flying Palace representations of the abode of the gods are among the most interesting.

Reproductions of the Durga and Harihara statues give an idea of what was here before the magnificent statuary was either damaged or removed for safe-keeping.  Some of the temples are in remarkable condition considering they are 1,400 years old. Locals say several temples were damaged by US bombs during the American war in Vietnam, and the bomb craters are a testament to this illegal incursion into Cambodia by the US forces.

We returned to Kompong Thom and stayed at the Arunas Hotel. It has excellent rooms and a wealthy Khmer clientele, whose SUVs parked outside are not likely to be used on the bush and oxcart trails that we were going to use the next few days.

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