Wat Ek Phnom is an 11th century Angkorian temple located outside of the quiet river city of Battambang, in the northwestern bit of Cambodia. Quiet even in the heart of tourist season, this small and poorly-kept-up temple may not possess the majesty of Angkor, but is an interesting reminder of Cambodia’s powerful past.
Temples not unlike Ek Phnom are scattered across the country, reminders of the time when the people of Angkor dominated Southeast Asia.
Within the temple, you’ll see a rendition of the Churning of the Sea of Milk, the celestial tug-of-war iconic to Hinduism — the religion practiced off-and-on by the rulers of Angkor. Watch out for large wasps within the sanctuary. Wasps love ancient temples, an unfortunate universality I’ve come to terms with during my time in Southeast Asia.
This is a carving of a kala, a jawless Hindu being that has been commanded to devour its own body. You’ll see variants on this motif in Bali as well for distinctly unsurprising reasons. A few kalas are present at Wat Ek Phnom, although the usual assortment of looters seem to have carried off most of the carvings found here.
Like many Angkor-era temples, Ek Phnom still has religious significance in the modern-day. An ornately decorated gold Buddhist shrine within the temple’s inner sanctum is testament to that — you’re welcome to light some incense if you’re spiritually inclined, and there’s usually an attendant somewhere in the area. People still come here for holiday celebrations.
The old baray (reservoir) is one of the better-preserved of Cambodia’s Angkor-era temples, and is full to the brim with lotus leaves, the occasional blossom, and a profusion of frogs and turtles. You can probably wake up a (bored) vendor for a Coca-Cola and some noodles if you’re so inclined.
Walk past the baray and down the country road for a spell, past traditional wooden Cambodian houses, rice paddies, and the usual assortment of cows, water buffalo, and waving people on antique and creaky bicycles.
In front of Ek Phnom is a newly constructed Buddhist wat, where I took this picture of the omnipresent naga motif.
To the right of the temple is another, very much unmissable new building: an enormous Buddha statue that stands out impressively against the blue sky, stuck in the middle of a lotus-filled pond. Below the statue is a quiet concrete room full of Buddhist statuary. Stairs lead down to a flooded basement.
Getting to Wat Ek Phnom by motorbike was easy, and proved a pleasingly green jaunt through agricultural Cambodia.
It’s about thirteen kilometers north of Battambang. Follow the river away from the city until you reach a crossroads – there will be signs guiding you towards the temple.
You will cross a small concrete bridge and then you’ll see the new temple, complete with an exceptionally large Buddha statue. The 11th century temple is behind the new structure. Park, pay a small entry fee, and have a look.
If you’re not the motorbiking type, you can also hire a tuk tuk here from most anywhere in downtown Battambang with a tourist presence. Expect to pay around $10.