A Bridge that Links Not Just People, but Time

The Kampong Kdei bridge is the longest centuries-old bridge in Siem Reap province on National Road 6. Photo by Long Ton

Upon traveling to the touristy Siem Reap Province, the trip would be incomplete if one would not visit the Kampong Kdei bridge, which is the longest centuries-old bridge in the province on National Road 6. 

When traveling from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap along that road and arriving at the Kampong Kdei Village market, travelers can see the old national road on the right-hand side. This older road will lead to the bridge that was built by Cambodians’ ancestors a very long time ago and is situated in the district of Chi Kreng, about 60 kilometers from the Siem Reap City.

People usually call this bridge built in the late 12th or early 13th century by its local name of Spean Neak (Naga bridge) or Spean Kampong Kdei (Kampong Kdei bridge). However, based on documents written in the 1900s by French linguist and archeologist Étienne Aymonier, the Kampong Kdei bridge was also known by two other names: Spean Preah Tœus and Spean Prap Tœus.

Still, some argue that this bridge should actually be called “Preah Toeus bridge” in view of the stone inscription that can be seen on it. The term “preah toeus” refers to the prime direction, that is, the eastern direction. A pagoda, which is located about 500 meters from the bridge on the southeastern side, used to go by the name of Preah Toeus as well—the pagoda’s name was changed in recent times and is now the Boptoeusaram pagoda or the Kampong Kdei pagoda.

What is more compelling about the Kampong Kdei bridge is that it connects Siem Reap City with the provinces in the southeastern part of the country. One can reach these provinces by using the bridge to go over the Chi Kraeng River. 

This bridge, which is 86 meters in length and 16 meters in width, stands 10-meter high over the river. It is supported by 20 pillars and has 21 culverts for water underpass.

Even though hundreds of years have gone by, this laterite structure has retained its detailed naga handrails and decorations as well as its four cornerstones made of sandstone. It is surprising to see how outstanding the construction work of this bridge was, having been built around the Bayon period—late 12th, early 13th centuries—as shown by the analysis of the sculptures, the handrails as well as the cornerstones.

Unfortunately, this mighty infrastructure must undergo repairs for sustainability despite the fact that it has stood as a “warrior against time and erosion” for so many centuries. The first renovation was conducted in 1925 by École française d'Extrême-Orient (EFEO) or French School of the Far East. This project’s team successfully managed to properly restore the four naga heads to their original stance.

Between 1965 and 1967, Cambodia’s Ministry of Public Works and Transport started a second restoration project with the assistance of the EFEO. Unfortunately, this second project was halfway completed and only the northern side of the bridge was repaired. A pillar of concrete was poured in front of the old pillar and additional laterite stones were installed and covered. Furthermore, a layer of concrete meant to be applied at the top was only halfway completed.

Since a new bridge was built for daily transportation, the ancient Kampong Kdei bridge can now only be used by pedestrians and light-weight vehicles such as motorcycles and bicycles.

Long Ton is a Cambodian with a passion for Angkor and that era. A university graduate who speaks several languages, he has conducted tours at Angkor.

Song Daphea contributed to the story

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