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ASEAN DESTINATION

The sculptures of Samnak

Completed Buddha statues in front of a village house in Samnak, Cambodia. Samnak stonemasons also carve demons, water buffalo, lions and other figures from sandstone.

Completed Buddha statues in front of a village house in Samnak, Cambodia. Samnak stonemasons also carve demons, water buffalo, lions and other figures from sandstone.

A sculptor uses a baseball cap and hoodie as protective clothing while he chisels a sandstone block to make the head of a Buddha statue in Samnak, Cambodia.

A sculptor uses a baseball cap and hoodie as protective clothing while he chisels a sandstone block to make the head of a Buddha statue in Samnak, Cambodia.

Taking time out to admire Buddha statues in Cambodia

There are plenty of hidden treasures still to be discovered in Cambodia, but there are also astonishing sights to be enjoyed along the well-trodden tourist trails that, for reasons unknown, are ignored by the guidebooks.

A perfect example is the tiny village of Samnak on the main road that runs between the capital Phnom Penh and the sights of Siem Reap.

Countless tourist buses pass through it each day but most fail to stop in Samnak, which lies just a few kilometres south of Kampong, to admire the numerous Buddha statues waiting for sale that populate the village.

"My grandfather and my father both made sculptures here. Everyone in the village lives from it," explains Thiev Sinn Tonn, a 41-year-old stonemason, in front of his traditional wooden stilt house.

Around 50 such houses line the main street and make up the settlement of Samnak. Only locals know its name and it is not recorded on any map.

Several hundred stone figures and moulds are scattered throughout the village. Some measure just half a metre high while others tower above the surrounding houses.

Apart from the Buddha statues, which are ubiquitous in Cambodia, the stone-masons also create demons with grimacing faces, water buffaloes and other animals from huge stone blocks.

Scarves, cloths and hats protect the workers from the baking sun, dust and flying stone chips. Marble is used to make a few smaller sculptures, which are then sold to tourists, while different types of sandstone with varying hardness are used for the larger works.

The tourist buses do not stop, because the passengers want to get from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap via Angkor Wat as quickly as possible.

The occupants can often be seen reaching for their cameras when the imposing statues loom into view but by the time they are ready to take a photograph, the opportunity has passed.

The huge blocks needed to create the statues are delivered to the village by truck. The finished work is sold to monasteries, temples and city councils. Rich Cambodians and the occasional foreigner have also been known to invest in the artworks for their gardens or parks.

Peter Bolster, who works for the German international development agency GIZ and has advised the government in Phnom Penh on tourism issues, is familiar with the wonders of Samnak.

"The village is an attraction, but it lacks tourist infrastructure. Otherwise, a lot more people would stop here," he explains, before adding that at least one restaurant had now opened in the village.

The nearby Pre-Angkorian temple complex of Sambor Prei Kuk is also well worth a visit. Local Khmer families offer accommodation.

Located amidst mature sub-tropical forests, the historic buildings dating back to the seventh century are principally made of brick. Their architectural features include octagonal towers, ponds and lion sculptures.








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