Oudong (also transcribed Udong or Odong or Udon) in Kampong Speu Province is a small town 40 km northwest of Phnom Penh. Oudong had been the capital of Cambodia before King Norodom shifted it to Phnom Penh. It is located at the basis of the twin-hill Phnom Oudong, which is crowned by historical Buddhist stupas, being the main attraction of this World Heritage Site aspirant.
Oudongs stupas (chedis) constitute a kind of necropolis of the past kings of Cambodia. The city was founded 1601 by King Srei Soryopor, who is also known as Barom Reachea IV, after Thais had attacked the former capital Lovek. In 1618, when the new city became capital for the first time, it was officially called Oudong Meanchey, "Oudong" being derived from Sanskrit "uttunga", meaning "supreme" or "victorious". Many Cambodian kings of the following two and a half centuries, though not all of them, were crowned in Oudong, the last one being King Norodom mentioned above, who accepted French hegemony and relocated the royal court according to their wishes.
Hundreds of Pagodas (Stupas) were erected in this area under the reign of King Ang Duong (1841-1850), most of them systematically destroyed by the Khmer Rouge regime, because they belonged to a royal funeral site from feudal times. The larger main ridge of the twin-hill is called Phnom Preah Reach Throap, meaning "Hill of the Royal Fortune", as a 16th-century Khmer king is said to have hidden the national treasury here during a war with the Thais.
According to legend, all the treasures of Cambodia were stored in a large cavern underneath the Arthaross temple. When a Chinese emperor sent envoys out across Asia to identify potential threats, they were so impressed by the wealth of Oudong that they reported the Khmer people will start to rule the world when a giant Naga serpent will be emerging from the cavern of Oudong. The concerned Chinese asked the Khmers to build a temple atop the cavern with a Buddha facing China and thereby protecting it from being conquered. This is why the Khmer built that temple facing north, whereas Buddha statues are usually oriented to the east.
At the basis of the stairway leading up to the ridge, is a memorial to locals who became victims of the Pol Pot regimes, it contains bones from almost hundred mass graves in the Oudong area, each of them containing about a dozen bodies. Murals in a neighbouring pavilion depict Khmer Rouge atrocities.
At the upper end of the stairway is a modern temple containing a relic of the Buddha, the eyebrow hair was a gift relocated from a Stupa in front of Phnom Penh railway station in 2002. The interior of that new building has different storey crowded with literally thousands of Buddh statues.
Turning left, the visitor arrives at Oudongs main attraction, a row of three large dagobas (stupas). Their form is inspired by the Thai design of Chedis. Their silhouette on top of the ridge is the landmark of Oudung, which can be seen already from a far distance. The first one is the north-western called Damrei Sam Poan und was built by King Chey Chetha II (1618–26) for the ashes of his predecessor, King Soriyopor, who founded Oudong. The second stupa is Ang Doung, this is the name of the father of King Norodom. The stupa built in 1891 by King Norodom houses the ashes of King Ang Duong (1845–59). It is decorated with coloured tiles. The south-eastern of the three stupas is Mak Proum, the funeral stupa of King Monivong (1927–41). It is decorated with Garudas, elephants and floral ornamentation, at its upper parts there are four faces looking into four directions. They are placed at the bell shaped Chedi part called Ong-Rakhang in Thailand, it is derived from the cuboid Harmika of an Indian and Sri Lankan dagobas and often served as the relic chamber of the Chedi.
There are three small Viharas behind Mak Proum, the first one, Vihear Prak Neak, in a ruined condition, has a Muchalinda Buddha, the seated enlightened one seated guarded by the Naga king Muchalinda, "prak neak" means "protected by Naga". The second Vihara shelters a seated Buddha, too. The third one is Vihear Preah Keo, named after the statue it contains, "Preah Ko" means "sacred bull"; the original bull statue was looted by Thai invaders.
Further to the southeast on that ridge, Phnom Preah Reach Throap, there was the most impressive structure called Vihear Preah Ath Roes, dedicated in 1911 by King Sisowath. It is the legendary Arthaross temple mentioned above. It was blown up by the Khmer Rouge in 1977; only parts of the original building and the Buddha statue remained. But it has been reconstructed in recent years.
Besides this larger ridge, the smaller ridge has more structures and several stupas on top.
To the west of the hill there is the huge modern Kandal pagoda in the plains. It can be seen from the viewing platforms on Phnom Ouding. The interior is a good example for a typical Theravada Buddhist prayer hall in present-day Cambodia. It's similar to Vihans in Thailand, but the murals are more colourful, using more blue and less red shades than in Thai prayer halls. The columns in Cambodian pagoda halls are very slim.
Phnom Oudong is a tranquil place of worship, some foreign tourists visit it on excursions from Phnom Penh. On weekends many Cambodians from Phnom Penh come to Oudong for leisure or parties. Then Oudong can be quite crowded and noisy.