Travel Report: Samathi Pagoda, Kep.
Samathi Pagoda, Kep, Cambodia.
August 2020. After a somewhat disappointing afternoon hiking around Kep National Park, I found myself letting out a sigh of relief when our tuk tuk rumbled to a halt outside Samathi Pagoda. “Yes, we made it!”
From the moment Sladja and I spotted its orange-gold roof sticking out of the hills, we felt determined to find the place. This, I figured, was going to make up for the stuff we’d missed out on in the park. A pleasing end, hopefully, to a frustrating day. Making our way under the red arch, we emerged into Samathi Pagoda’s large, seemingly deserted entrance courtyard.
The entire space was spotlessly clean and largely silent, aside from the sound of faint birdsong. Tentatively moving towards the main cluster of buildings, I kept my eyes open for some historical info, but there was nothing.
Moreover, a quick search online delivered very little. Which is par for the course when it comes to Kep’s understated sights. In fact, dear readers, this seems to be Samathi Pagoda’s first dedicated blog post.
Constructed over a two year period between 2005-2007, the temple stands in tribute to the stories and associated imagery of Buddhism in Khmer culture. The buildings in the courtyards are prayer halls and residential quarters for monks and students. As we approached, an exceptionally friendly nun (“donchee” in Khmer) came out to greet us.
Samathi Pagoda, Kep.
Dressed in white robes and with a shaved head and eyebrows, Cambodia’s resident pagoda nuns usually work in service of male monks. Typically, they’ll spend their days cooking and cleaning the grounds.
The lady at Samathi Pagoda spoke not a lick of English. However, that didn’t stop her from insisting we join her at one of the outdoor tables. And there she sat smiling at us warmly and muttering to herself in Khmer for several minutes. She was lovely, but it got so awkward we soon found ourselves making polite excuses.
The nun pointed us towards the giant stone staircase that leads up to the pagoda’s main temple. According to what little online info I could find, there are two hundred and fifty six steps flanked by protective Naga serpents. And yeah, it was certainly a workout dragging ourselves up to the top!
More than a touch out of breath, I waited for Sladja on the grassy platform with its banana and mango trees. And then realised there was another staircase to negotiate in order to reach the temple.
In the corner of the platform, under some trees, I suddenly caught sight of a young monk sat at a pretty stone table. Dressed in signature orange, he lifted his head momentarily to give me a smile, before turning his attention back to his mobile phone. “Hello!” I called, but he didn’t look back up.
What To See & Do, Kep.
At the top of the staircase two we entered the main prayer hall, an unremarkably standard affair for anyone familiar with the Asian temple circuit. What’s more, it seemed virtually identical to another Kep temple, Samot Raingsey, which we’d stumbled upon during our day exploring the town’s abandoned colonial villas.
Happily though, the balcony more than made up for it, with a simply stunning panoramic across Kep’s jungle, beach and sea.
And no wonder, as the pagoda apparently sits around eight hundred metres above sea level. Definitely worth a selfie.
Another thing I’ll always remember the pagoda for is its amazing collection of sculptures. There on the balcony, for example, stands a striking four-faced Buddha, known as Phra Phrom. A deity of good fortune and protection, worshippers usually shower him with gifts of incense, jasmine flowers and coconut milk.
Most of the pagoda’s sculptures sit at the base of the elevated prayer hall in an incredibly atmospheric garden accessed by another short staircase. Here, there’s a series of golden animals, including cows, chickens, roosters and parrots. All symbols of protection and good fortune of course.
Samathi Pagoda, Kep.
Elsewhere, I came across a giant elephant gazing out at sea through the trees.
And a pair of tiny twin Buddhas cosied up against one of the crumbly stone walls.
Finally, before heading back down to street level, where our tuk tuk driver patiently waited, there was a fearsome battle scene. Snarling tigers, dagger-clutching monkey warriors and grand ships heading towards some manner of mystery foe. A curious end to another fascinating day in the Cambodian town of Kep.
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Let’s visit Kep 🙂 have a lovely weekend, PedroL
Cheers PedroL! Kep would definitely appreciate the visit.
It was certainly worthwhile climbing up all those steps to reach the beautiful Samathi Pagoda Leighton and the views from the terrace look gorgeous. Marion
Yes, thank god there was a reward after all those steps and the frustrations of Kep National Park! Thanks for following these Kep chapters.
A beautiful temple with a wonderful view. What would the monks of old think of the modern monks with mobile phones. One day, they will have to be part of their vow of poverty. Cheers. Allan
Thanks for reading Allan. This was one of the most modern pagodas we saw throughout our time in Cambodia.
I’m afraid all those stairs would keep me from visiting. Glad you went for me. The battle scene at the end seems oddly out of place. Wish I knew the story there.
Yeah, sadly the whole place is devoid of context. A visual spectacle nonetheless and very peaceful.
Beautiful captures and views Leighton! Sladja and you look so adorable in that photograph!
It was an awkward selfie with no stick or anything but thanks!
What a great find! A cute temple and a great view.
I wish I could have given more insight into its images and sculptures Thanks for reading!
It’s not always needed, just like the nun – you don’t need to know what she was muttering 🙂
There’s something very special about discovering a hidden delight undiscovered and outside of guide books. And I know it’s 2021 but there’s just something wrong about a silent monk using a mobile – same as when we saw a Berber shepherd in the Moroccan desert, miles from anywhere, just one man, one dog, about 200 goats and sheep….and a smartphone. I didn’t want to see it!
Ha ha I hear you. It shatters the romance somewhat, right?
The romance and the illusion! It’s become a strange world in my lifetime.
Wow! What incredible pictures of such an incredible place! The details in the building and artwork is so beautiful!
Cheers! It was an unexpected find, thanks for reading.
Glad to hear the trip redeemed itself at Samathi Pagoda! The staircases must’ve been brutal, but the views– outside and in– were definitely worth it. Another spot to bookmark for my next trip abroad!
Another string to Kep’s bow. Have a great weekend!
You’ve gone to a lot of trouble to find interesting things in this quiet little town; indeed there must not be many posts on the subject, you are a pioneer!
Ha, thanks, I think it’s safe to say we left no stone unturned. It does feel good to cover unchartered blog territory.
Great review. You now have the definitive Samathi Pagoda blog post!😊 With such stunning views it is surprising that the Pagoda is not more popular with tourists.
Yeah, I think it’s just not well advertised. Plus, a lot of tourists probably think “ah another temple, I’ll give it a miss”.
I think all those stairs are worth it for the view! So beautiful!!
Definitely worth the effort yes. Thanks for reading Lyssy!
Wonderful post Leighton! Beautiful pics!
Thank you! I’m really happy to have written the first blog post on this pagoda.
Love this place, the nun… looks that it came out of a history book. Yet, the image of the young monk with his mobile phone was so unexpected😅 I guess in my head monks are people who live in complete isolation of the outside world, freed from the tech pollution we embrace in our daily lives.
Right? I now wish I’d taken a peek to see what he was so engrossed in.
Somehow what I will remember most from this post were the two strange human contacts: the non-conversation with the nun and the monk with a cell phone.
Right? I think these strange little encounters add some flavour to what is essentially another Asian temple article.