Amazing and Alluring Tonle Bati
Not far from Phnom Penh is Tonle Bati, which is a lake popular with locals who go there to enjoy a day out by the water and for a couple of twelfth century Angkorian temples in the area. This adventure can be achieved on a day trip from the capital by bike, Cambodian bus, or taxi.
Getting to Tonle Bati By Bus
To get there is straightforward. There are buses that depart for Takeo every hour from the Phnom Penh Sorya bus station, which is near Central Market. Get off at Tonlé Bati at the 35km road marker then take a motodup to the base of the temples. Getting back, well, be patient as you try to hail a passing bus. Or, with your own transport, take National Highway 2 from Phnom Penh and follow the signs to Phnom Chisor: the way is well sign-posted.
The Tonlé Bati countryside is a lively area that attracts Cambodians to fish, relax and, of course, visit the Khmer temples of Ta Prohm and Yeay Peau. Both temples were built under Jayavarman VII in the late 12th century during the same period that Siem Reap’s Bayon and Angkor Thom were constructed. The area has been occupied and temples present since the pre-Angkorian Funan period.
Ta Prohm is the more extensive and impressive of the two, displaying a number of very well-preserved carvings. Ta Prohm was built on the site of a 6th century Khmer shrine, and the main sanctuary consists of five chambers, each with a lingam inside, and there are trees that grow on and around the temple. The temple was modified and extended as late as the 16th century.
The temple is very well preserved and covered with beautiful bas-reliefs. It is one of the best preserved and most intricate temples between Siem Reap and the Vietnam border to the south.
Worshipping at Tonle Bati
Tonlé Bati is also a place of worship and, apart from the two ancient temples, also has a pagoda, Wat Tonlé Bati, which was built in 1576.
Yeay Peau is a single sandstone tower situated next to the pagoda and has a display of carvings. It is behind Wat Tonle Bati, about 100 meters from Ta Prohm temple. Constructed of sandstone in the twelfth century, it is seven metres square and faces east. Apart from the temple is a house on the bank of Tonle Bati, about 200 metres from the temple, that once was used by the royal family as a residence during holidays.
The small Yeay Peau temple has been integrated into the modern pagoda that now stands in it’s place. Look for the Buddhist lintel on the eastern door, and the beautiful pediment depicting the Hindu god Vishnu in the rear.
Yeay Peau temple has a legend attached, and is named after King Ta Prohm’s mother. Legend has it that Peau gave birth to a son, Prohm. When Prohm discovered his father was King Preah Ket Mealea, he set off to live with the king. After a few years, he returned to his mother but did not recognise her. The King was taken by her beauty, and asked her to become his wife. He refused to believe Peau’s protests that she was in fact his mother. To fend off his advances, she suggested a contest to avoid the impending marriage.
Cambodian Silk Weaving
After you have seen these temples, visit a silk weaving village where you can see how silk is produced. A bit further down the track, where the turn off to Phnom Chisor is found. There is the temple of Prasat Neang Khmao, the temple of the Black Virgin, which you can visit.
Apart from the temples; you can hang out by Tonlé Bati where there are bamboo picnic stands with mats and small floating wooden pavilions. The lake is a great place to escape the city for a day and go for a swim and relax. At weekends and holidays the lake is popular with locals. So it is best to go on a weekday to avoid the crowds.
Rent a Cottage Near Tonle Bati
Renting a water cottage is $3 for the whole day but more on holidays. There is also food for sale. A pleasant place to go with your friends and family. Bring along small amounts of Riel and dollars and check the prices beforehand on everything. The touts here are notorious for dishing out outrageously high checks when you depart. And, of course, enjoy a swim in the lake.
You can order food from the sampan ladies floating by or a waiter will come to you. There are also pedal boats and boat rides. The floating pavilions are a relaxing way to spend an afternoon where you can enjoy beautiful sunsets and great food. However, beggars can be a problem; they just will not go away, and the salespeople tend to be very pushy.
Takeo and Phnom Chisor
If after a visit to Tonlé Bati you feel like visiting some other places, then head to Takeo town or Phnom Chisor, which are both just down the road. These out-of-the-way places are rarely visited by tourists, but both are surprising, you know, those little gems everybody mentions when talking about their overseas adventure: fascinating hill-top temple with unbelievable views, Ta Mok of Khmer Rouge infamy’s prison, Phnom Da and you can try the delicious freshwater prawns in Takeo town. Check it out.