The Ancient Capital of Udong

This is a really late blog post  as this trip was made last January right after New Year’s Eve.  Nevertheless, here it is as I think the place deserves some mention.

Stairway to Nirvana


The temples at Udong are living breathing ones and worshippers troop to its shrines to light incense and pray.


Udong made for a wonderful day trip from Phnom Pehn.   I’m a temple guy and I don’t easily get temple fatigued especially if they’re ancient and have interesting stories to tell.  I have been to Siem Reap before and on this trip, I had not been to any temples yet having spent the earlier part of my trip to Cambodia in Ratanakiri so a visit to Udong was just perfect.  I had heared about the temple from Jon, the London-based Columbian photographer I had met in Banlung.  He showed me really nice pictures of a white-washed temple gleaming in the morning light.  He had forgotten the name but referred to it as “the place near to (sic)  Phnom Pehn.”   Matti, the Finnish guy I had hiked with,  recognized the pictures and said it was the ancient capital.  A little read through on Lonely Planet’s section “Around Phnom Pehn” yielded the name Udong.

A car hire from one of the many tour stalls along the main road cost $40 including waiting time.  It was kinda steep but fortunately,  U-Chen, a Malaysian Chinese I had met through Couchsurfing was coming along so I had someone split the cost with. 

The next morning we made our way out of the capital along the national highway past small towns.  We made quick stop to buy some num pang, the Cambodian equivalent of the Vietnamese bahn mi, and some drinks at a stall under a flyover in the city.

About an hour after we had left the city, we reached the turn-off to the base of the mountain.  The dirt road led past villages  where children played on front yards and chickens crossed the road.  It was a dramatic change of scenery and life.

We arrived at the base of the temples and the driver found a shady place on a temple courtyard to park the car.    Apparently, not too many non-locals make it to Udong.  There was hardly anyone there as we made our way up the concrete steps to the stuppa

The view from the top was immense making you realize how flat this part of Cambodia was. 

Elephants figure prominently in bas reliefs on the facade of the gleaming white stuppa

A bridge way led to another stuppa that seemed much older and had bas reliefs of elephants like the ones in the Terrace of the Elephants in Siem Reap.


This second one would seem more at home in Angkor with its crumbling walls and reliefs faded and worn-out by the elements.  It was very atmospheric walking along the narrow dirt paths in between the walls.


The inlaid ceramic pieces that decorate the “stuppa” remind me of a favorite Thai temple, “Wat Arun.”

This temple seemed more “used” as the small shrine at the entrance fronting the connecting bridgeway has used incense sticks while colorful cloth bunting festooned the sandstone walls.  Fallen leaves from the trees littered the floors lending an abandoned feel to the place. It was a stark contrast from the squeaky clean newer temple on the other side with its shiny tiles. 


We only spent about an hour in the temples not knowing that there was another one up the road from where the car had parked. The driver didn’t say anything about it either.  He was probably keen on getting back to Phnom Pehn right away.  I should have brought my Lonely Planet book.  Udong made a nice day-out from Phnom Pehn.  It may not have the splendor of the temples at Angkor but it does have one important thing Angkor doesn’t have— peace and tranquility.


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