Cambodia Chameleon: Oudong Mountain
Once upon a time in a Royal town
My colleagues invited me for a trip down to Oudung Mountain one weekend and unfortunately I could not join them then. The following week, Bart, myself and our tuk-tuk man Lucky went on an hour and 15 minutes ride out to Oudung Mountain, located in the Kampong Speu province. The journey took us past the Sisowath Quay (Riverside area) and to the province roads, with views of a Muslim community area, schools and factories. The roads were dusty as soon as we go out from town and we put on our masks as we headed north west.
Oudung used to be the capital city before Phnom Penh where a number of Kings including King Norodom were crowned here. The mountain is made up of two humps with several stupas on them which resembled a dragons’ back. It is believed that a Chinese Emperor sent his people out to identify potential threats and when they came to Oudung, they saw the mountain, shaped like a naga. They told their Emperor that the Khmers are a powerful race and would be strong enough to rule the world.
Choosing your steps.
There are two ways to go up the hill, either the Men’s hill or Women’s hill. The Men’s hill was nearer to the main entrance but had close to 500 steps up. We took the Women’s hill which had 200 steps spaced out all the way to the top. While we were walking, a Khmer boy and his friend approached us and asked where we were from. They were only 18 but one of them, Ell spoke good English and told us stories about the mountain and his family. The place was very quiet on a Saturday as we had assumed that it would be filled with tourists. Ell said we were lucky because normally it gets very busy on Sunday so we had more time to look at each of the temples as we walked our way up.
Find your animal sign and place your donation there for good luck.
The Women’s hill with 200 steps up. Choose this way for a slower pace uphill.
Temple 1: Vihear Preath Ath Roes
To the left was the first temple we saw called Vihear Preath Ath Roes which had a statue of the sitting Buddha. This temple is in the midst of reconstruction after it was blown up the Khmer Rouge in 1977. Parts of the walls, the bases of eight columns, the right arm and part of the right side of the original Buddha statue remained. Visitors could still enter the compound of the temple but need to watch out for the wood panels at the entrance. Inside, a lady greeted us and invited us to offer prayers and we politely declined. Ell explained to her that we were “Cham (Muslims).” She nodded and smiled. I didn’t realize that the inside of the temple would be so large because from the outside it did not look like it. Our tuk tuk driver Lucky offered prayers before we made our way to the next temple.
Vihear Preah Ath Roes still in reconstruction.
The sitting Buddha in Vihear Preath Ath Roes.
Temple 2: Tiger Temple
The area does have a sense of peacefulness and tranquility despite the Khmer Rouge influence. At the bottom of the hill is a memorial to the victims of Pol Pot which contains bones of people buried in the mass graves. Southeast from where we stood was the Ta San Mosque which faces westward towards Mekah. In front of us stood the Tiger Temple with statues of the fierce animal at the entrance. Lucky entered the temple to offer his prayers since it was his first time up the mountain and his second visit to the place.
Lotus pond path to the Tiger Temple.
The entrance of the Tiger Temple
Temple 3: Vihear Prak Neak
A few more steps up was a building made of bricks and a thatched roof called the Vihear Prak Neak. We took a break here while waiting for Lucky to finish his prayers. This too was slightly tarnished after the Khmer Rouge time but from the cracked walls we could see a sitting Buddha guarded by a naga King Muchalinda. Colourful flags stream across from one end to the other while outside, a Buddhist flag swings above us, symbolizing the religion atop the mountain.
The seated Buddha guarded by the naga.
Temple 4: The General
I could not recall the name of this vihara as it looked similar to the Vihear Prak Neak from the outside. Ell told us that this belonged to the General who was known to be a fierce one. He wears a hat and has medals across his chest, seated in the vihara. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a vihara dedicated to such an icon. I tried to search more on his origin but nothing came up. Ell only told us that the vihara was built out of dedication for his bravery.
The General in the vihara.
The Three Main Stupas of Oudung Mountain
The silhouette of these three stupas are the landmarks of Oudung Mountain which can be seen from a distance. The first one is called Chet Dey Mak Proum, the funeral stupa of King Monivong (1927-1941). The stupa is decorated with garuda (half-man, half-bird creatures), floral designs, elephants and has four faces of Buddha at the top. Just before this stupa is a tunnel where devotees would use to walk from Oudong Mountain to another mountain across. They would enter the tunnel with a lighted candle, close their eyes and prayed. When they open their eyes they would already arrive at the other mountain. This was however closed after snakes were found inside the tunnel.
The middle stupa is called Ang Duong, decorated in colourful tiles. It was built in 1981 by King Norodom for the ashes of his father, King Ang Duong. The stupa is now sealed and closed to the public after some of its’ items were stolen. It is said that the Royal family kept their treasures underneath the stupa and it is still there until now.
The final stupa is called Damrei Sam Poan, built by King Chey Chetha II for the ashes of his predecessor, King Soriyopor, who founded Oudung. Carvings of elephants can be found surrounding the base of the stupa which had Thai Chedi influences.
The Mak Proum stupa with four faces of Buddha.
The Ang Duong stupa decorated in colourful tiles.
The Damrei Sam Poan with elephant carvings.
The view from the top of Oudong Mountain
The view from the top most point of Oudung mountain was a sea of flat land and a glimpse of the Vattanak Tower in Phnom Penh. Everywhere we saw rice fields, Buddhist monasteries, homes and even a Chinese garment factory. At the end of our walk was a modern white temple which contains a relic of Buddha, the eyebrow hair, a gift relocated from a stupa in front of Phnom Penh railway station. The interior of the new building has different levels crowded with thousands of Buddha statues. From here we walked down the 500 steps, stopping at a pond with fishes before arriving at the bottom. We thanked Ell for his chatter and gave him tips and water before he takes on another group.
The view from the top of Oudung Mountain.
Our 18 year old guide, Ell and his friend.
- By tuk tuk – It will cost you USD$30-USD$35, for both ways and the journey will take you at least 1 hour.
- By motodop – It will cost you USD$15, for both ways. The roads can be dusty so wear a mask.
- By bus – Take the Phnom Penh Surya bus to Kampong Chhnang (10,000r) and get off at Phnom Udong. From there, take a moto to Udong Mountain for 4,000r. To return, flag down a bus on National Highway 5 or take the motodop which can cost you USD$6 – USD$10)
A Malaysian girl currently working abroad in Phnom Penh city. I love a good road trip, hot cappuccinos, spicy food and staring at old buildings. My mission is to inspire people to see the world differently before we all get any older. Oh and giraffes are the most beautiful creatures on earth.