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 there transfer between these to 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.
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.
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.
By far the best restaurant in Kompong Thom is located behind the Arunras Hotel on the corner of the market. Food is excellent and this place is regularly visited by locals however there is no English language menu and the staff only speak Khmer.
The restaurant of the Arunras is OK - has an English menu but the food is mediocre and over-priced whilst service can be slow. The Stung Sen restaurant near the river is the most up-market 'tourist friendly' restaurant in Kompong Thom. A number of large establishments on the road to Pnhom Penh (marked by the ostentatious architecture) are frequented by upper-class Khmer but do good Khmer food.
A new restaurant opened in March 2008 called The American Restaurant and is located on the side street next to the Arunras Hotel. It serves handmade ice cream, Australian Beef burgers and homemade pizza. It is quite nice. The owners are friendly. The food is very good especially the ice cream and pizza.It beats the Arunras Hotel hands down! Prices very reasonable.
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 its 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 other guesthouses 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).