Earth : Asia : Southeast Asia : Cambodia : Mekong Lowlands and Central Plains : Kompong Thom
Kompong Thom is the capital of Kampong Thom Province in Cambodia. It's situated about half-way between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and thus most travellers will only rush through on their transfer between these two major attractions.
Nevertheless it is a pleasant and relaxed place and a good starting point for exploring the countryside and the temples of Sambor Prei Kuk.
Current prices (June 2006) for Phnom Penh to Kompong Thom (due to petrol increases) about 25,000 riel for one place in a share taxi, $4 for a bus. Mekong Express buses stop at the Arunras Guest house and tickets can be bought from there.
Current Prices (August 2008)for a share taxi (7 seats) from PP to KT is $5 per seat. If you want the front seat to yourself (2 seats) you pay $10. Highly recommended.
The town is easily explored by foot. There are motorbike-taxis for hire to take you to more distant sights.
There is an interesting fruit bat roost in the grounds of the old governors residence (a nice colonial era building). This is behind the market on the first road off the river. If the gate to the old governors building is open, you may be in luck, the house itself is sometimes left unlocked. All of the original furnishings are missing, but some of the bathroom fixtures remain and the house itself gives off a haunted vibe.
The grasslands and rice-fields surrounding Kompong Thom of an extreme importance for wildlife conservation. These areas hold the largest global population of the endangered Bustard the Bengal Florican as well as occasional large waterbirds from the Tonle Sap floodplain (Adjutants, Pelican, Painted Stork). Other species include large numbers of wintering palearctic passerines (including Dusky Warbler, Yellow-breasted Bunting, Siberian Rubythroat) and the globally vulnerable Manchurian Reed Warbler. In March large numbers of Oriental Plover pass through the area making this possibly the best area in the world to see this species.
The areas also offer a glimpse of everyday life in the Cambodian countryside with many fishermen, ox-carts and small scale farmers. The best way to visit the grasslands is by en-listing the help of a moto-dop driver from in-front of the Arunras guesthouse. A number of these know the area (around Rolous village about 5km towards Phnom Penh) and speak English.
The American VIP School is a small ESL English school in KT town center owned by an American and his Khmer wife. If any native speakers wish to donate 1hr of their time to converse with eager Khmer students it would be appreciated. Normally classes are held 1 hour at night from 5:30 to 6:30pm. If interested please inquire beforehand at the American Restaurant near the Arunras Hotel.
Don't bother in Kompong Thom. There is Karaoke on the top of the Arunras Hotel (thats it).
The best place to stay is the Arunras Guesthouse ($3 for a single/double room with a fan). It has cable TV (including ESPN for English football) and is clean with friendly (Khmer speaking) staff. However it's very popular, particularly with Khmer government officials, and can be full.
More up-market are the Arunras Hotel next door and the (favoured by tour groups) Stung Sen Garden Hotel. A number of cheap and dirty guesthouses also exist.
Whilst 'talked up' by the guide books Sambor Prei Kuk is a disappointment for people expecting temples that even vaguely vie with some of the other Khmer examples. At $3 for a ticket its just about worth it though most of the temples appear to resemble 19th century European brick kilns. Lots of kids hanging around latch on to any visitors (theres not that many) so the 'peaceful' temple in the jungle experience doesn't really happen. Whilst probably important in an historic context a visitor to Cambodia with little time should probably give this temple a miss (Beang Meala outside DomDek is far better).