Sisophon, also "Serei-sophon" or "Svay", is a small town in North-western Cambodia. It is the capital of Banteay Meanchey Province. Stueng Sisophon is a medium sized river that meanders round the southern circumference of the town.
Control of Sisophon has often passed between the various regional powers. It is now part of Cambodia thanks to the French, whose sabre rattling forced the Siamese into relinquishing it (along with Siem Reap, Battambang and much of North-western Cambodia) in 1907. The town had been Siamese since 1867, thanks again to the French who gave it (and Siem Reap, Battambang and much of North-western Cambodia) to Siam in exchange for unobstructed French control over the remainder of Cambodia. Before then, a nominally independent Cambodia existed as a vassel state of Siam and Vietnam.
Sisophon is a transport hub that almost every overland visitor to Cambodia will unknowingly visit for at least 15 minutes. It is located at the junction of two main routes: National Highway 5 (running south to Battambang and west to Poipet) and National Highway 6 (running east to Siem Reap).
The town's main tourist draw is the Banteay Chhmar temple complex, which offers a more remote and atmospheric alternative to the Angkor Archaeological Park.
The town is sufficiently large to benefit from modern technological advancements not found in the countryside but is largely untouched by foreign influences, which makes it an interesting representation of modern Cambodia. There's a smattering of aspiring English speaking students, mentally unsound Khmer Rouge survivors, peasants and provincial townsfolk which give those who care to spend any time in Sisophon a glimpse of folk that are not found in the more visited, more urban cities.
Several bus companies' offices can be found opposite or behind the new bus station.
Buses buses connect Sisophon with:
- Battambang (90 minutes; $2.50 from Battambang).
- Poipet, for the border with Aranyaprathet in Thailand (1 hour; $2.50 from Poipet, $1.25 to Poipet)
- Siem Reap (90 minutes; $3.75 in either direction). The most convenient company Capitol runs daily buses to Siem Reap at 09:30, 11:00 and 14:00. On Sundays the company runs an addition service at 16:00. Buses approaching Siem Reap from Sisophon have to skirt Siem Reap on the southern by-pass road and drop passengers at an out-of-town bus station to the east of the city.
- Samraong, for the O'Smach/Chong Chom border with Thailand.
- Bangkok, tickets to Bangkok will involve changing buses in Poipet.
- Phnom Penh
The milestones along the main roads on the approach to Sisophon have it labelled as Banteay Meanchey.
The town is small enough to be comprehensively covered on foot. Even the nearest attraction beyond the town, the lookout tower on Phnom Bak, can be enjoyed on foot from the town.
Phnom Jorn-Tien is perhaps within walking distance though the major road and unforgiving climate make taking a motodop the best way to enjoy it.
Motorbikes can be rented at the Golden Crown Guesthouse for $15 per day, ideal for a solo trip to the Banteay Chhmar temples. It appears to be the only place in town renting motorbikes.
- Sisophon Station lies 0.6km due south of the bus station (13°34'49"N 102°58'23.50"E). It was on the Phnom Penh to Poipet line. Services to Sisophon terminated in 2006, and the station is currently in decay. Its French-built art deco architecture can still be appreciated, as can the platforms and the informal economy that has taken over the station area, which lends the area a lively flavour of urban squalor.
- Phnom Bak (131 m) is a hill to the immediate northwest of Sisophon's centre which features an old government lookout tower, used in the 1990's to watch the Khmer Rouge's movements in the area. There are great views of the town to the south and dusty plains to the north. The track to the top ascends the hill's northern side, so from the south you'll need to go around the eastern side (past the provincial government building). There is a temple on the northern side, from which you can take the more "legitimate" route by continuing westward along the road, which will wind its way up the hill. The guard at the top will unlock the gate to allow access to the tower itself. Alternatively, you could take the more direct route by entering the temple grounds and asking one of the helpful monks to show you the path to the top of the hill. This is (I assume) the path that the monks take to pray at the watchtower-turned-shrine, and therefore bypasses the guard and his chain-link fences.
- Phnom Jorn-Tien (Wall Mountain, 98 m) is a hill approximately 2 km west of town, on Road No. 6. There is a pagoda half way up and a well. The hill's vertical face has been used by visiting climbers, though there is neither equipment hire nor guides. Two crazy outcast women live next to a small shrine at the top of the hill - take care, they bite but are easy easy enough to outmanouver!
- Banteay Neang is situated 10km south of Sisophon on National Highway 5. The village features a very small but intimidating 'mountain' with a large golden Buddha at the top. A nice view of the locality can be had, with a refreshing breeze. However, this is only really for people with time to kill in Sisophon - it's no Angkor Wat.
Climbers have been reported to have scaled Phnom Jorn-Tien but there is no equipment hire.
Just wandering around and interacting with locals can be a very interesting experience, as once you get away from the bus station you're likely to be the only foreigner around. Those living in the outer "residential" areas (mostly shanty houses) are very friendly, and without the influence of the tourist industry give you a sense of traditional Khmer hospitality. A chair will always be offered.
There are several ATMs, including at Canadia Bank, which does not charge commission.
Sisophon Market (Psar Sisophon) is to the north of the shared taxi stand. Its stalls sell many necessities from toothpaste to basic meals.
English language newspapers and stationary can be obtained from the Apsara Book Shop near the market on the street north from the shared taxi stand.
The Mirror Restaurant, is a reasonably new fast food restaurant, with air-con, serving fried chicken, french fries, and - according to the proprietor - fried ice cream. It can be found to the east of town, opposite Sokimex gas station on Road No. 6. Meals $1 - $4.
The Golden Crown Guesthouse Restaurant, situated underneath the guesthouse, is your standard, tiled, Khmer restaurant, serving rice, and different meats. Meals $1.25 - $3.5.
There are a number of Khmer 'Karaoke' clubs dotted around. Otherwise, a tin of beer at the shop is usually US$0.50.
Committed winos will find solace in the rather pretentious supermarket on highway 56 that surprisingly stocks well-priced plonk for ~$7/ bottle. It's within walking distance of the town centre.
Golden Crown Guesthouse ($6 - $12), is considered the only decent guesthouse in town, and can be found to the east of the central shared taxi stand, where most buses drop passengers. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout.
Pyn's Place ($10 fan - $20 a/c), is on National Highway 5, 3.5km west of town, at the base of the mountain. Free Wi-Fi and swimming pool.
- Nasa Hotel, (Just accross from Soimex gas station and Mirror Restaurant). Large rooms, with AC, wifi, bathroom/shower, bottled water, etc. Rooms cleaned daily. Has laundry available, but no restaurant. Lots of hand carved wooden furniture and decorations throughout lobby and hotel. $15. edit
- Pyramid Hotel, Group 5, Street 2, Kompong Svay, Sisophon, Cambodia (Right off of Route 6 to Siem Reap, North of TELA station). Very new, tidy and safe. Great for the night. Rooms include hot shower, air con and cable. Some with mini fridge. There are suites as well. Excellent value. $15+. edit==Contact==
On the shared taxi stand's south side is a row of cheap, basic guesthouses with box rooms ($2.50).
Internet Cafe: Walking out of the Golden Crown Guesthouse, take a right and walk for 250m. It is on your left hand side, past AGKS (Apple General Knowledge School). Superbly fast internet (>25Mbps) and fast computers running Windows 7. $0.50/hr. No AirCon.
The Banteay Chhmar temple complex is 60 km north of Sisophon on highway 56, a less substantial road than the major highways which may be impassable during the wet season. Golden Crown Guesthouse has a few motorbikes for rent at $15/day. A moto with driver to Banteay Chhmar will run you $20 or less if you fight hard. Banteay Chhmar is 50 km west of Samraong, the road to which is also not paved. The entire road is now being paved (June 2014). It should be a smooth easy ride next year, but now it is for the not too delicate.
There are currently no bus services to Banteay Chhmar.
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