A relaxing retreat just an hour south of Phnom Penh, Tonle Bati is a small lake flanked by a beautifully preserved Jayavarman VII-era temple, Ta Prohm and a 16th century pagoda — Wat Tonle Bati — which is built in the grounds of another 12th century temple, Yeay Peau.
Ta Prohm was built to house the Jayabuddhamahanatha statues — images of the Buddha that Jayvarman VII distributed in 23 towns across his empire, probably as a symbol of his power. The carvings on the temple are still well formed — especially those shrouding the central shrine — with some still holding on to some of the original stucco that would have been moulded around the underlying sandstone, but has been gradually weathered away on most Angkor-era carvings. A more recent addition are the beautifully maintained gardens within the outer enclosure, and the glorious blasts of vivid bougainvillea ranged around the inner enclosure.
Unusually for a temple of its time, Ta Prohm also carries intact images of the Buddha. During the so-called Hindu Iconoclasm sometime after Jayavarman VII’s death, a seemingly ferocious Shaivite backlash against Buddhism saw almost all of the Buddhist images in Angkor’s temples defaced — you will still find one intact at Preah Khan to the north of Angkor Thom if you know where to look… At the same time, Buddhist statues were destroyed and replaced with lingams in homage to Shiva, for whom the lingam is a representative symbol. In between Ta Prohm and the nearby lake sits the more-modern (reported constructed in 1576) Wat Tonle Bati, which is fronted with the last remains of Yeay Peou, also a Jayavarman VII-era temple which is thought to be named after the King’s mother or perhaps a female protecting spirit. Moving back towards the lake you’ll find a series of floating salas perfect for a lazy afternoon, a quiet drink and a bite to eat before heading back to the chaos of the city. If you want to extend your day trip, head down to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre, which is just down the road, or Phnom Chisor, whose many steps and gruesome depictions of hell can be found only 30km away.