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On Muddy Temple Roads, Signs of Neglect

If one wants to visit two of the oldest Khmer temples in Cambodia, Ta Kraby and Ta Moan, in Bantey Ampil district, Oddar Meanchey province, one will not find it easy, especially in the rainy season.

The temples stand in the Dangrek Mountains, and one look at the road between them tells the story of recent neglect, prior to their emergence as a second point of contention in an ongoing territorial dispute between Cambodia and Thailand.

Access difficulties to Ta Moan and Ta Krabey have left them abandoned by local tourists and, until recently, troops.

The temples, surrounded by thick, natural jungle, have been occupied by Thai troops and are a potential flashpoint in the military standoff that started at Preah Vihear temple, more than 100 kilometers to the east, in July.

From Anlong Veng, one must travel at least five hours by motorcycle over 130 kilometers of muddy road, to a crossroad that separates Ta Moan and Ta Krabey. The road is cut off by muddy streams in at least five places. To overcome these obstacles, entrepreneurs with four-wheeled tractors or hand-held walking tractors assist travelers, for a fee.

In one submerged stretch of road, a giant boulder protrudes. The engine driver takes 50 baht, or $1.25, to be a ferryman, and the tractors, which pull vehicles by chain, cost 100 baht, or $2.50.

“As long as it floods, we’ll earn more,” said Rean Reup, who operates a walking tractor. “But a few days ago, two walking tractors fell into very deep water, and each [driver] spent 3,000 baht to have them repaired.”

Until the town of Oddar Meanchey, villagers have constructed many wooden bridges, asking a toll of 1,000 riel, or $0.25, per moto, or 5,000 riel per car.

Teuk Pov, a taxi driver from Bantey Meanchey province, on a recent day last week had an engine problem. He stopped on the side of the road to repair it.

“I must pay at least 400 baht for a long route from Bantey Meanchey to Oddar Meanchey,” he said. “Because many roads have been cut off by water. And then I change the road that I’m used to, from Thmor Puok, Bantey Meanchey, by using the road from Kralanh district, in Siem Reap province.”

At least four places have been flooded from Kralanh to Samrong district, Oddar Meanchey, he said. Another four places are flooded from Samrong to Anlong Veng.

Twenty minutes from the crossroads toward Oddar Meanchey town, the road was completed flooded. Here, motorcycles had to be carried by four men, who wore only pants and waded into the stream above their waists—for 10,000 riel. Passengers are obliged to wade through the stream themselves.

Oddar Meanchey Governor Pich Sokhen recognized the difficulties for reaching the temples, saying that infrastructure work was planned for the dry season.

“The situation is not too crucial,” he said. “After the reconstruction of the roads, hopefully local tourists will try to visit there.”