Phnom Sambok is a natural and historical site located in Thma Kre commune, Kratie district, about 11 kilometers north of Kratie provincial town. One of the main cultural and tourist attractions in Kratie, it was developed during the Sangkum Reastr Niyum regime of then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk. The site features beautiful landscape, including a huge pond west of the mountain foot. The pond is full of clear water and natural plants. The mountain has two peaks, one dull and the other pointed, and has a lush forest filled with birds. A concrete staircase makes the mountaintop accessible. Once at the top, visitors are rewarded with a beautiful panoramic view of the countryside, especially the Mekong River. There are also a number of places to relax.
The mountain is steeped in legend. There once was a king named Chakrei Earsaravarman, who was a son of King Hathak Athireachvarman. After Chakrei Earsaravarman ascended to the throne, he asked his official to find a gold mine. The mine, which was very close to the foot of the mountain, turned out to be full of gold, so the people living nearby called the place Kanliang Sambo Meas. The name was later changed to Phnom Sambok Meas, and then changed again to Phnom Sambok, as it is known today.
The legend said, in the early 15th century, there was a monk named Neak Voan, who was a classmate of Neak Sen, another monk and the teacher of Thon crocodile. Monk Neak Voan went to Sambok mountaintop to mediate. Because the monk knew much about ritual and magic, many people climbed the mountain to learn from him. Wat Phnom Sambok has stood there ever since.
Kratie is a heavily forested province spanning the Mekong River, whose banks are home to most of the province’s population. Beyond the river it’s a remote and wild area that has seen few outsiders. Most visitors are here to view the rare freshwater dolphins found 15km north of the provincial capital, and for good reason, as other attractions are thin on the ground. However, the town of Kratie is a charming little place and makes a good base to check out the surrounding countryside.
This was once of the first areas to fall to Khmer Rouge control in the civil war, although for several years it was in fact the Vietnamese communists who were running the show. The port of Chhlong in southwest Kratie somehow held out against the communists until 1975, probable a useful way for the Khmer Rouge to acquire arms from corrupt government force. It was also one of the first provincial capitals to fall to the liberating Vietnamese forces in the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge on 30 December 1978.
In the past, getting about was easier by boat than by road, as most roads in the province were pretty horrible. However, Kratie is now connected to Kampong Cham by two good roads: reconstructed NH7 which winds through Snuol before boomeranging back towards Phnom Penh, and the pretty road south to Chhlong and the district of Suong. The long haul north to Stung Treng has long been a truly nasty piece of work, but is earmarked for upgrade by the Chinese sometime during the lifetime of this book.
Kratie is the best place in the country to see the rare Irrawaddy dolphins, which live in the Mekong River in ever-diminishing numbers – for that reason alone it is well worth a stop when traveling by land between Phnom Penh and Ratanakiri or the Lao border. A compact but populous riverside town, Kratie (pronounced kracheh) is well preserved as it was spared the war-time bombing that destroyed so many other provincial centres. It was one of the first towns to be ‘liberated’, by the Khmer Rouge (actually it was the North Vietnamese, but the Khmer Rouge later took the credit) in the summer of 1970. There are some dramatic sunsets over the Mekong and some very old Khmer houses on the northern reaches of Rue Preah Sihanouk.
Kampi is 15 kilometers north of Kratie provincial town. From Prek Kampi Bridge, visitors have a lovely view of the Mekong River and scores of small islands and thousands of green, aquatic plants. This natural site in Kratie province is the home of the Irrawadi dolphin, a fresh water mammal that is endangered in Cambodia. The water depth at Kampi is very shallow, only 0.5 to 1.3 meters deep, and the water flows very slowly.
From January to May and especially during Khmer New Year, Kampi is extremely popular with locals and foreigners who enjoy swimming there. The site can accommodate thousands of visitors and is very convenient because it is close to National Road 7. The site has been improved over the years to attract more tourists. There are floating cottages for rent, as well as food and beverages for sale. An emergency service and security guard are also on site.