Preah Vihear Temple
The Preah Vihear Temple is a Khmer Hindu temple situated atop a 525-meter cliff in the Dângrêk Mountains.
The temple complex runs 800m along a north-south axis. It was built mainly during the 11th and 12th centuries during the reigns of the kings Suryavarman I (and Suryavarman II.
Ownership of the temple by Cambodia has been under dispute from neighbouring Thailand. In 1962 the International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled that it belonged to Cambodia.
Map of Preah Vihear TempleLoad map
It is still quite the day trip from Siem Reap to reach Preah Vihear Temple. We left at 5 a.m., only to arrive 3.5 hours later at the parking lot where you have to pay for the ticket (10 USD) and a 4wd truck up to the mountain (25 USD). They had a number of trucks ready: although it seems like a remote place, it does see its fair share of local visitors and a daily trickle of foreigners. My driver, the recommended Mr. Smarty, hadn’t been there since 2019.
I did not have an image of what the site would look like, so it all was a bit of a surprise. It has a very different setting from the classic Khmer sites: not in the jungle, but out in the open on a protruding rock. An 800-m-long ceremonial causeway leads up to the main sanctuary, via sets of stairs and gateways with fine carvings. Overall, it reminded me a lot of Vat Phou in Laos with its nagas and sandstone posts along the way. Preah Vihear’s particular strength lies in its size and ‘sacred mountain’-like location. Also, Vat Phou has 'turned' Buddhist while Preah Vihear still mostly shows its Hindu origins (well, except for that monk handing out blessings in the sanctuary!).
The lower stairs and gateways are in a terrible state of repair, barely held upright with iron support beams. As with other archaeological sites in Cambodia, a lot of restoration is currently ongoing. Here they now also uncovering the ancient drainage system which ran parallel to the causeway. The prettier structures lie about halfway.
Of course, as World Heritage observers we remember Preah Vihear Temple most as one of the most disputed World Heritage Sites of the past 15 years. Although international treaties have assigned it to Cambodia, it was the scene of a military stand-off and shelling with Thailand between 2008 and 2011. Peace and quiet have now returned to the site, it is not necessary anymore to present your passport and the military guards keep a low profile. Some bullet holes can still be seen in the temple walls, as well as the pile of rubble at the back of the sanctuary which used to be the main tower.
A proper visit takes about 2 hours and, as it will be hot out there and the circuit involves a fair bit of walking, it is recommended to start with Preah Vihear before continuing to Koh Ker and/or Beng Mealea.
Read more from Els Slots here.
We organized a day trip from Siem Reap with a private car and a driver, a three hour drive. The temple site sits on the top of a 700 m high “mountain”. The ticket booth is down on the plain and you need to buy special transport to get up the steep hill. It’s $5 pp on a motorbike or $25 for a truck with 6 seats. Entrance is $10pp.
On site there are several bunkers from the dispute between Cambodia and Thailand. Prior to the inscription you could walk up the ancient holy path from the Thai side, but now that entrance is closed.
The site is a fairly large complex, stretching out on the ancient path. There are two very nice Naga snakes at the start of the temple area, then a few pavilions with some nice reliefs before entering the main temple.
The view is great from the cliff. We both liked the place. It was nice and quiet, few tourists, and some great stonework in a beautiful setting.
On the way back we with visited both Koh Ker (T) and Beng Mealea(T). You will need to start early in the morning to do a proper visit to all of the sites
### Randi & Svein Elias
Fortunately, the visit to Preah Vihear nowadays is all a matter of arranging a driver and suffering through a bit of a rickety road from time to time. The worst of the border tensions are over and though you will pass posts with armed guards on your way the steep slope in the back of a 4x4, the overall ambience is chill, even though the weather is anything but.
We arrived around noon, having already seen Beng Mealea and Koh Ker that day. We bought tickets to enter the site and also paid for a return trip by a four-wheel-drive car to the entrance of the actual site which is up the mountain road. The ride is okay, the road is paved all the way up to the top and only the last two hundred metres where the trucks park is very uneven and full of potholes. The route that pointed us to the naga stairs actually lead through some kind of camp - some restoration works were still ongoing, so it was quite a curious walk. At least there was a viewing platform and some info on reconsntruction of the site at the end.
We followed the way up the Naga stairs, then another set of stairs to the different levels of temple structures. The most-preserved part of the temple is at the top of the complex, there is a working shrine inside. Actually one of the local boys was showing a monk that was there some funny video and they both laughed; it was quite a humanizing moment in the centre of such an impressive site. Some more steps up the hill and we were at the cliff with magnificent views of the surrounding country. And, to Ivan's great delight, finally some monkeys!
An anecdote from the way down, in case similar thing happens again: on your car ticket, you get the car number and are advised you should look for the same car on the way down. However, in our case, our car was missing. We went to the guards by the ramp and they learned that our car was called down for some reason and we were assigned another, so we took that number and drove down. Nan said the ride down felt quite risky. I don't know, after living in Russia and experiencing Iranian driving, it was quite okay...
Preah Vihear is a Khmer mountain fortress about 250km from Angkor on the Thai border. From Preah Vihear you have a great view of the surrounding plains. I quickly understood why they chose the location and what purpose it served. I felt strongly reminded of other mountain fortresses, specifically Xochicalco in Mexico.
Most of the site consists of ruins. The most notable structures are the naga stair case and the big temple buildings at the top of the mountain. But to me the main asset is the great view you get.
While it's no Angkor, it is sufficiently distinct from it and offers a different glimpse into Khmer architecture and history. I felt it was a nice addition to my Angkor visit.
Being based in Siem Reap I hired a driver for a day to take me to Preah Vihear. The driver dropped me off at the base of the mountain where the entry is located and waited for me.
The original price we negotiated for the ride was 100 USD. I then extended the trip to also visit nearby Koh Ker (T) and I paid 120 USD for a full day of driving. The roads overall were good and traffic not much of an issue.
You cannot go up the mountain in your own car. You have to hire a local driver to take you up either on the back of a pickup truck (groups) or on a motobike (individuals). The climb is quite steep and coming down did feel a bit risky. Tickets for the site and the ride are sold at the site entry.
I am not sure if you can hike up the mountain. Probably, but it's fairly steep and the heat was hard to handle as it was. Also, although risky the ride up the mountain was fun.
While You are There
I would recommend going to Koh Ker if you make the effort to visit from Siem Reap. It's a 30-40km detour. Travelling on to Thailand could be difficult due to ongoing border tensions encompassing the site itself. Your best best is probably to return to Siem Reap.
It's not an easy place to get to but it's worth the effort. I organised a driver from Siem Reap and that was definitely the easiest way to do it. Although there's a lot of military around, there was no hassle getting into the site.
It's a really interesting site and there's a fair amount to see. A few hours is enough time to get around it all properly, though. I would definitely recommend making the side trip from Angkor to also see Preah Vihear.
Read more from Michael Turtle here.
I visited the my Prasat Preah Vihear last year 2011, I never seen the temple on the top of mountain. It 's so wonderful temple, It's awesome. It 's wonder for Cambodian people who had been created by our king for many century and for worship to God Siva. It is amazing temple.
Bernard Joseph Esposo Guerrero
When I found out that it was possible to visit the temple on a day trip from Siem Reap, I immediately grabbed the opportunity while the site is again peaceful and accessible for tourists to see (note that this place has some serious history of crossfires by Cambodia and Thailand sides earlier). Though it is about 3 - 4 hours away from Siem Reap via rented car, I felt that this trip was totally worth it. This site never failed my towering expectations!
Prasat Preah Vihear - in my opinion - rightly deserves to be on the same ranks as Angkor Wat and Bayon, if not even better. The incomparable beauty of this place stems from its (1) history (older than most in Angkor; dedicated to Siva and, according to some sources, is also one of a few that has a history of critical lingam worshiping), (2) location (situated right beside a cliff to a height of nearly 600 metres on top of the Dangrek mountains, which is within a Phra Vihan National Park of Thailand), (3) relevance (a major pilgrimage site for Khmer kings, as well as a rare key temple off-route the Angkorian Royal Road), (4) architecture (the extensive layout is very unique, the galleries surrounding the central sanctuary served as inspiration for the arrangement of Angkor Wat 300 years later, and the carvings offer a different style from that of those in Angkor - notice the style of their nagas), and (5) the struggles and controversies associated with its inscription in 2008.
I personally like this place as it is not heavily trotted by tourists - thanks to its very remote location. When I went there, there were only about 5 other people visiting the place for the five hours that I was there checking everything that can be explored. Aside from the breathtaking view from the top, I truly enjoyed the experience of being blessed by monks in the sacred central sanctuary, as well as that of checking the interior of a largely ignored tower called 'The Long Haired Lady Prasat' that reminded me somehow of Ta Prohm. Also, I felt the Cambodian/Khmer pride to be greater from this site than in Angkor - this impression is best captured from a photo I got of the iconic first gopura with the three flags of UNESCO, Cambodia, and the World Heritage behind it. Prasat Preah Vihear together with its brother temple on top of Phnom Chisor in the southern province of Takeo, which I also got the chance of visiting back in 2010 with my family, will always have special places in my heart for the value and experience these two sites were able to provide.
I took the service of an efficient tour guide named San Park (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) who also gladly took me to several Khmer Rouge-related sites in Anlong Veng. I truly appreciated his punctuality, safe driving, and familiarity of the place and its history; hence, my strong recommendation. There is no entrance fee to the temple. But from the base office, visitors have to pay for the motorbike that will bring them to the top for a fairly reasonable price.
In sum, Prasat Preah Vihear clearly and easily justified itself as being one of the best places I have seen so far.
In February 2012 only a trickle of visitors were making their way to this remote site. Access from Thailand was still not available, and the site could only be approached from Kor Muy in Cambodia. Here I obtained the necessary permit to visit the site (free). Armed with this document I boarded a 4WD pick-up for the hair-raising climb up the new and almost completed road to the temple.
At the top of the road I was met by Dina, an attractive tour guide who led me through the temple to the viewpoint beyond. From here the view over Cambodia was outstanding.
Despite a small amount of damage caused by shelling by Thai forces last year, the displays of intricate stone carvings remain.
In February the site was still heavily populated by Cambodian police and soldiers, however there were no weapons to be seen.
This was perhaps the single most unique experience I have had in visiting a WHS. With a group of really good friends I made the trip in a day from Siem Reap in two chartered taxis.
The site itself was rather impressive; it was a destination for pilgrims during the Angkorian period and had some fine temples drawing influence from the magnificent Banteay Srei style at Angkor. Altogether there are 4 sets of temples. The first that we encountered was perhaps the most impressive, looking a little more delicate with finely carved detailing. The final group was the largest set of temples and it was enclosed inside a nice cloister. There was a Monk located in the central temple burning incense and talking to us. Behind this final group of temples is the cliff which offers expansive views over the plains of northern Cambodia.
The uniqueness of visiting the site though come from two factors, firstly it is currently a pretty remote place to get to (from the Cambodian side) but this is being drastically improved. Secondly is that the site is now essentially a Military camp, as Cambodia and Thailand have regularly escalated tensions over the sovereignty of the site, and it is now essentially a semi active ‘front line’.
Due to the tense military situation in the area, and also the desire to develop tourism the road links to Preah Vihear have been greatly improved in recent months and form the look of the work going on will only seem to be getting better for some time to come. However the last stretch of the ascent is only possible in either a 4x4 pickup or on the back of a moto (perhaps only for the brave!). This was an exceptionally steep climb, and we were jostled around pretty frenetically after we piled into the back of a pick-up. Around us there were military patrols and teams carrying out mine clearance operations (this was one of the last places the Khmer Rouge retreated to). Once we reached the summit we were left in a small group of ramshackle stalls. We then proceeded to walk along the escarpment weaving between manned machine gun posts aimed out at the Thai border, and we assume that on the hills on the other side the Thai military were aiming such artillery back at us. The military presence continued throughout the temple complex with armed soldiers using it as a place to rest away from the front line. There never felt like there was any immediate danger here, and the military all seemed very friendly, however it was very odd to be on the front line of a conflict zone which occasionally becomes active.
A lot of the recent conflict and escalation in tensions has been related to its position on the World Heritage List, and it was very interesting to see the effect that its listing can have. The Cambodian authorities seemed very keen to fly the WHS symbol to illustrate that UNESCO has categorically stated this is a Cambodian site. There is a real national pride in protecting this place, displayed by the sign stating ‘Proud to be born Khmer’ to all of the children in the camp introducing themselves by saying “(I’m) Khmer, Khmer”
The site itself was very interesting and its location on top of a cliff makes it different from many of the other Angkorian temples. The real interest for me though was in visiting this site during a unique period in its history, when it didn’t receive many visitors and was essentially part of an active military zone. It was certainly a visit I will remember for a long time.
[NOTE: This site is currently not reachable from the Thai side of the border and this does not look like it will change at any time in the next few years (Nov 2010)]
[Site 7 Experience 9.5]
I just came back from Cambodia last week and I visited Preah Vihear Temple and I found the temple is so beautiful; the temple is located on the beauty natural mountain. It’s hard to believe that the Khmer can bring up so many stones and built such a stunning temple on top of the mountain. The access road from Thailand to visit the Khmer temple in Cambodia still remains closed. To say that there is only one easy access road from Thailand to visit Preah Vihear Temple in Cambodia is totally wrong.
There are three access roads from Cambodia side. One was built by HM King Norodom Sihanouk when the King went to pay his respect to his Khmer ancestors who built the temple after the ICJ granted Preah Vihear belonging to Cambodia. Second one was built by the KR during war. Third one was built by Governor Chea Sophearath.
I took King Sihanouk road because I liked to see the natural beauty of the mountain on the way up to see the beauty temple on the top.
The original access road of the temple is by the Thailand side, because when the Khmer
Kings built Preah Vihear Temple; Thailand wasn’t there in that time. The Khmer Kings ruled SEA when Thai people still living in Nanchao, China.
Thailand sent Thai troops to invade Preah Vihear Temple and launched its rocket damaging the Giant Naga Statue at Preah Vihear Temple. Thailand never built the stone temple so Thailand can’t understand the value of the Khmer temple. I hope Thailand one day can understand the value of the Khmer temple and stop its aggression and try to live in harmony with Cambodia and let the UNESCO taking care of the Khmer temple so many people around the world can come to visit the beauty of the world heritage in Cambodia by passing from the Cambodia side or passing from the Thailand side.
The really hot and most disputed issue in WHC 32nd session in Quebec clearly was the nomination of Preah Vihear Temple arising from the controversial judgment of International Court of Justice in 1962 and unclear border demarcation between Cambodia and Thailand. From this dispute, I believed many people might question how special of this temple to be listed as world heritage site.
During my 2007 trip to Southern Laos and Northeastern Thailand, I had opportunity to visit almost all important ancient Khmer temples in this region, and I had to say that Preah Vihear was a crème de la crème of my trip. Situated on the high cliff making the temple looked quite stunning; however it was not the location that took your breath away, it was the amazing quality of stone craving of this temple that easily made this temple to be on the prestigious list of UNESCO.
My guide explained that for ancient Khmer art, the stone carving style of the Temple of Banteay Srei, part of Angkor, was considered the most beautiful of its kind and there was only one place on earth that built in the same style and that was Preah Vihear, so I was not surprised why this temple was so beautiful even partial in ruins. My favorite part of the temple were the third and forth gopura halls, the third hall stone craving was exceptionally intricacy and beautiful, while the forth hall was like floating in the sky as it was built on the top of the hill.
So I highly recommended visiting this temple. It was very easy to visit from Thailand side, but I heard it was quite complicate to visit from Cambodia, but try to visit it if you can; it was truly a worthwhile experience. My hope is one day Thailand will nominate its part of the temple complex to make this impressive temple to be fully completed as the idea of world heritage is to protect the outstanding work of humankind over politic and territory issue.
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WHC recognizes its significance and will formally inscribe in 2008 if an appropriate management plan has been developed.
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