On National Road Two, one can travel about 78 dusty kilometers from the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh to stumble upon the hill of Phnom Chiso in Takeo province. Sitting atop the eastern side of this mound rests the ancient temple of Suryagiri, built in the 11th century. More recently, a modern pagoda named Phnom Chiso was built to house young and old monks. Folks with the stamina to tackle the ascent are rewarded for their climb. The view on top of mount Chiso is simply breathtaking.
Visitors should not miss out on the opportunity to relax here after the exhausting grind of travel. Staring into the distant horizon, peace-seekers will be renewed by the area's gorgeous scenery and tranquility. Fresh air fills the lungs and the soul with cool calm.
For those seeking serenity, a trip to Phnom Chiso is far less expensive to a trip to the therapist. Travelers can take a bus from Phnom Penh to Takeo for only 4000 riel, or one dollar. Simply inform the bus driver in advance to drop you at the junction of the road, where you will find a moto taxi waiting to carry you to the bottom of Phnom Chiso for just 1500 riel.
The foot of the hill offers as many hospitable local sellers as the top. All are happy to serve you a variety of exotic food and drink inside quaint shacks and cottages. Hungry travelers will enjoy the grilled chicken, beloved by locals and visitors and offered for reasonable prices. To ensure that they have stamina enough to make the hike, most people are encouraged to eat a meal before heading off. Since the midday sun is too hot for most climbers, many sip from coconuts or glass soda bottles. The locals are experts at concocting energy-producing foods, and it is a memorable treat to eat in the cool shade of a bamboo shack. Many local guides are always happy to show you local spots of interest. Young smiling children are always prepared to lead you to a restaurant or a more knowledgeable guide. Although visitors do not have to pay these young helpers, it is always rewarding to see their grins spread with the gift of a small sum of money.
Before visitors travel up or down the hill, they will be advised to pray and burn incense in the small shrines in order to be protected by the deities. Past the shrines, two paths await hikers ready to climb the 100-meter hill, which takes about 15 minutes to conquer. The southern path is made of a long cement stairway of 412 steps. The northern path is about 600 meters from the southern path and is a rougher stretch. Dirt bikes and automobiles frequently make use of this path.
A good way to enjoy the view from all directions is to ascend by the northern path and descend the southern stairway. Once at the top, the view is spectacular. This short hike can transform one's vision of Cambodia.
Many visitors also head to Phnom Chiso to explore the ruins of Suryagiri. Near Suryagiri's main temple is a modern Buddhist Wat cared for by resident monks. Its calm atmosphere is also popular with the locals. Visitors especially like to visit Suryagiri's modern shrine, which houses a golden statue of the lord Buddha shielded by a seven-headed dragon. Khmer devotees revere the shrine.
Suryagiri, constructed of laterite and brick with carved lintels of sandstone is similar to the temples of Angkor War, Cambodia's main attraction for most foreign tourists. Resting inside the main temple are Buddhist statues, and on many occasions monks can be seen practicing meditation. The partially ruined walls of a 2.5 meter-wide gallery surrounding the complex has a special charm that brings people back over and over again.
Just to the east of Phnom Chiso are the sanctuaries of Sen Thmol and Sen Ravang and the sacred pond of Tonle Om, which was once highly revered by the Khmer people. Although the pond has lost much of its former glory, people still flock from mount Chisor to pay tribute to its grand history.
Wat Phnom Chiso offers a truly incredible experience. Some say the temple has healing qualities, able to release people's tension. Others consider the fresh air from the hill to be medicinal. Simply mingling with the friendly local store vendors and residents of the area is enough to warm even the coldest soul.
Heading home, travelers can return on the bus or take a shared taxi to Takeo province. The buses, taxis and motorcycles also run through Tonle Bati, which offers another attractive destination for those looking to expand their journey. Be warned about busy commutes, however. Since residents of Takeo and Phnom Penh habitually travel to Phnom Chiso during festivals and holidays, the place can get very crowded. Taxis, hired for $25, may be more comfortable for some travelers, but they are far more expensive than the 4000 riel Takeo bus to Phnom Penh. Adventurers may opt to cruise to Phnom Penh on a motorcycle. Regardless of the mode of transportation, the Phnom Chiso and the entire Takeo region is worthy of unlimited exploration.