A highly enjoyable boat ride from Takeo takes visitors to the small riverside settlement of Angkor Borei, one of the oldest pre-Angkorian sites in Cambodia. This scruffy, isolated town was earlier known as Vyadapura, capital city of the ancient Hindu kingdom of Funan, which rose to prominence between the 1st and 6th centuries AD. The town’s unpaved streets and general air of poverty provide little evidence of its illustrious past; it was once a key center of Hindu civilization and culture. Many of its residents are ethnic Vietnamese – the border with Vietnam is just a few miles to the east – and visitors will be able to catch a glimpse of fishermen wearing conical hats, typical of Vietnam’s rural folk.
The Takeo Archaeological Museum, located on the canal bank, is a reminder of the area’s former glory. This interesting museum has a small, eclectic col- lection of artifacts from the region, including Funan-style ceramics that date back 2,000 years, lingas (phallic symbols), a 6th-century Standing Buddha, a 12th- century sand- stone statue of Lakshmi, Hindu Goddess of Wealth, and ancient images of the Hindu gods Shiva and Vishnu.
Situated 2 miles (3 km) south of Angkor Borei, Phnom Da is an exquisite, partly ruined temple. Standing on the summit of an isolated hill, it has exceptional views over lush, green paddy fields stretching deep into Vietnam 5 miles (8 km) away, and across the wetlands to Takeo. Phnom Da’s ruins, rising to a height of 59 ft (18 m), are approached by 142 steps leading up the hill, and visitors are usually guided by bare footed local children. The temple’s red-brick foundation dates from AD 514 and its intricate carvings have been weathered by centuries of rainfall, while the walls are cracked and penetrated by plants. Despite its dilapidated condition, there still remains much to admire – carved pillars, bas-reliefs of nagas, and an imposing stone doorway. However, most of the carvings have been taken away to museums in Phnom Penh and Angkor Borei. Below the temple are several cave shrines that are still used for religious offerings and prayers of good fortune.