Spending a weekend lazing in our apartment on the sofa in front of a TV, sounds like a good way to relax after five or even six days of arduous and back-breaking work. But, it is not really ideal for your physique and worse, in the long term, it could evolve into a sedentary lifestyle. Going to the gym is good, but if you are an outdoor enthusiast, finding natural and wilderness areas where you can joyfully spend your weekend is more important than ever for a busy city resident like you. In case you cannot decide or become tired of visiting only a few places too often, you should try Phnom Baset, a hillside retreat in Kandal. It is a place where you can enjoy various outdoor activities while communing peacefully with nature and listening to many local legends, writes Taing Rinith.
There are many routes on which you can travel to Phnom Baset, also known as Prasat Phnom Baset or Baset Mountain, but the shortest route is heading north-west of Phnom Penh. After driving or cycling 12 km north of the Japanese Friendship Bridge at Preak Phnov, you have to turn left and follow the asphalt, then laterite road to the West. Do not forget to look at the beautiful sights en route, especially the tranquil lives of the farmers in their plantation and fishermen in their boats on the local lakes and rivers.
The roads in the commune are quiet, even during rush hour, allowing a biker to elevate the mood by moving into top gear while they embrace the cool, fresh breeze of the countryside. After another 12 km, you will reach a spot where the road bends half right. At your right hand is a hill which has been known as Phnom Baset, topped with a “golden” pagoda, a site which has been a tourist attraction since the pre-Khmer Rouge period, despite its poor maintenance and management.
After a few minutes on a narrow asphalt road running up the hill, you are almost guaranteed to be stunned by the beautiful sight of a path in the middle of a thick jungle, consisting of tropical trees and brilliantly-coloured flowers. This hillside jungle, in fact, deserves to be called a “botanical park” for it presents a wide range of local trees existing only in Cambodia, each of which has a sign bearing its name on its trunk.
“I come here once or twice per week, whenever I feel stressed or exhausted from my work,” says Em Sarath, a 32-year-old bike mechanic who was having a barbecue picnic with his wife and young son under a tree on the base of the hill.
“It is very peaceful and quiet, and it is an ideal picnic site for my family. Plus, we do not need to spend any money to come here.”
Once you arrive at the peak, the first thing you will do is to enjoy the beautiful view of the surrounding plains, lakes and rivers, and rice-fields. The air on the hill is fresh and usually cool all year round. All these features are almost equivalent to those of the iconic Bokor Hill in Kampot Province.
The local families have opened several food stations, which provide visitors with inexpensive country dishes such as grilled fish with green mango salad and roasted chicken with spicy sauce. The also offer a relaxing seating area, in which you can enjoy the breath-taking viewing on a swaying hammock while waiting for your order.
After finishing the meal and a short rest on a hammock, it is time for you to explore the retreat. You can start by trekking through the jungle to see the rare trees, flowers and plantations and jump from one boulder to another for thrills. Afterwards, you should wake up your inner Indiana Jones by exploring the temple there.
Prasat Phnom Baset is built on a terrace on the north slope of this hill. It is a rectangular brick edifice, 12 m west-east by 8.45 m north-south, housing a rounded granite rock, with a natural grotto, facing west. Scholars estimate that the temple was built around the middle of the 8th century.
Near the temple is Preah Aung Thom, an enormous, impressive lying Buddha carved from granite rock, complimented with cement and recently painted. According to local documents, the place is associated with a Jataka legend of The Twelve Sisters and the story of Preah Bat Baksey Cham Krong, a legendary Khmer king believed to be protected by sacred spirits.
Another remarkable temple is Srey Krob Leak (translates as Proper Lady) temple, in which there is a structure which resembles the entrance of a cave. While the history of the temple remains unknown, Ta Som, the sixty-year-old guard of the temple, says he was told that the site used to be a place where “a proper princess” meditated to find enlightenment. The structure inside the temple, he adds, used to be the entrance of a tunnel, built by the King, which linked the temple to Udong Mountain. Yet, there is no document to prove that.
“The Nakta (divine spirit) on Phnom Baset is very powerful,” Ta Som says. “He granted the wishes to those who pray to him, but now, not so many people believe that.”
“I believe there are still many mysteries on this hill.”
One thing that you must not miss on your visit to Phnom Baset, if you have time to spare, is to watch the spectacular sunset from the hilltop and feel your stress riding off into it.