Nestled within Kirirom National Park, an enchanting natural haven, lies the burgeoning Buddhist Cultural Centre of Cambodia. Despite being in the midst of construction, this centre magnetically draws both local and international tourists, adding a unique facet to their park exploration.

Perched atop a mountain, spanning 126 hectares in O’Ses village, Chambok commune, Phnom Sruoch district of Kampong Speu province, the expansive Buddhist Cultural Centre captivates visitors weekly. 

Venerable Nhek Buntha, the founder, shares with The Post that the site received authorisation from Venerable Tep Vong, Buddhist Supreme Patriarch of Dhamma Mahanikaya of Cambodia, Venerable Om Lim Heng, chief monk of the Buddhist Mohanikaya sect, and former Prime Minister Hun Sen. 

Established in 2005, the cultural hub now boasts the central “Pathom Chedi” temple, a grand stupa measuring 108 metres in length and 37 metres in width, dedicated to safeguarding Buddha’s relics and sacred Dharma texts.

Future plans include the construction of four temples encircled by a 600-metre-long, 12-metre-wide moat. Eight additional temples are also on the horizon, devoted to preserving the 1017 inscriptions of the Buddhist canonical Tipitaka (Sanskrit: Tripitaka).

These ancient texts, written in Pali script on one side and interpreted from Pali on the other, are crafted from exquisite marble, each inscription standing at 80 centimetres wide and over 1 metre high.

Venerable Buntha also points out the ongoing construction of five concrete roads within the pagoda’s grounds, nearing completion.

The Ministry and the Department of Environment in Kampong Speu province actively participate in planting tens of thousands of saplings on the centre’s premises, aligning with the religious culture’s emphasis on natural forests. 

Buddhist heritage oasis

“In various nations, Buddhist centres have stood for centuries. As Khmer practitioners of Buddhism, it is fitting for us to have our own centre. I consider it a national treasure, initiated with generosity despite not possessing hundreds of millions of dollars. The participation of the Queen Mother and individuals from diverse backgrounds underscores the broad support for this initiative,” Buntha says.

She reveals that the construction of the Buddhist Cultural Centre of Cambodia has exceeded $9 million. The lengthy construction period is attributed to the challenging mountainous terrain, necessitating extensive rock removal and land levelling. The project also faced a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the rainy season further impeded progress.

Hun Sinat, sister of former Prime Minister Hun Sen, poses for a photo with the Buddhist teachings at the centre. Nhek Buntha via FB

Within the centre’s compound, intricate stone carvings depict critical stages of the Buddha’s life, including birth and meditation. Notably, 84,000 Buddha statues have been carved from natural rock, serving as historical treasures for future generations.

The primary goal of constructing this centre is to support Buddhism, the state religion, and spread the Buddha’s teachings. It seeks to promote righteous actions, morality and virtues, contributing to national culture and fostering respect for parents. Additionally, it plays a pivotal role in empowering individuals to navigate successful life paths.

She notes that before the pandemic, the centre employed over 70 workers. However, post-pandemic, many sought alternative employment, reducing the current staff to just over 20. Contractors have been engaged to construct remaining buildings requiring attention.

Preparations for establishing a pagoda are also underway, though not yet constructed due to the challenging location, making accessibility difficult for those in distant areas. Currently, five monks temporarily reside in the centre.

Enchanting mountain retreat

Chambok commune chief Chey Him shares that Kirirom Mountain remains an enchanting natural tourist spot. Since the inception of the Buddhist Cultural Centre, it has attracted thousands of visitors, offering a harmonious fusion of natural forests, compelling exhibits displaying Cambodian cultural richness and distinctive temples that genuinely engage tourists.

“The centre functions not only as a custodian and exhibition of the Kingdom’s diverse cultural heritage but also as an added tourist attraction to the existing destinations. I am extremely delighted to have this centre,” the commune chief says.

He adds that within the national park, visitors can find breathtaking landscapes like verdant pine forests spanning over 30,000 hectares, providing a serene and picturesque setting, waterfall areas and a mesmerising rock resort offering panoramic views. This allows people to immerse themselves in the beauty of the surrounding local villages. Additionally, there is a notable site to visit known as Khlaing Prak (money warehouse), along with the royal palace of an ancient Khmer king.

Sun Meanchey, the director of the Kampong Speu Culture and Fine Arts Department, tells The Post that the construction of the Buddhist Cultural Centre of Cambodia is ongoing, representing a vast undertaking as each structure within the compound requires meticulous attention to detail and craftsmanship.

“This centre stands as a remarkable achievement and is positioned to emerge as a prominent cultural and religious tourism destination, given its immense size and significance,” he says.