Called the most enigmatic provincial centre of the Khmer Empire by Prak Sonara, the heritage director in the Ministry of Culture, Preah Vihear Temple is just beginning to reveal much of its ancient secrets.
Experts are only beginning to find out the ancient secrets of this huge temple complex once lost to the forest and heavily looted of its vast treasures. It is indeed an enigma why this huge complex, enclosing roughly 22 square kilometres, was left to fade in the jungle.
History of Preah Vihear Temple
Built between the 10th and 12th centuries, it is the largest single-temple compound built during the Angkorian Empire. Canadian archaeologist, Mitch Hendrickson finds the temple interesting "because it has multiple phases and it just tends to grow outward and outward to the fourth enclosure walls which are earth and not stone. "
First named Sreisikharesvara, it was further developed by the other Khmer kings. King Suryavarman I (1002-1050) built a long hall next to the central tower, the rampart and the three gopuras or gateways.
In a ceremony, this Khmer king invited the god Patresvara who lived in what is now Lao to come and live with the god, Sreisikharesvara, and protect the Khmer people. After this, two libraries were added by King Jayavarman VI.
The Temple was then consecrated to become the place of worship for all the kings by King Suryavarman who added the terrace with the seven head nagas, naga staircases and a path lined with standing lion.
Location of Preah Vihear
More than 3 times in the last 10 years, Cambodia and Thailand have stood eyeball to eyeball ready for battle over this heritage site, Preah Vihear Temple.
Straddled between Cambodia and Thailand, the Temple of Preah Vihear has changed ownership at different times and has since been disputed by these two countries that border this temple.
Located on the steep cliff (1722 ft.) of Dangrek mountains, Preah Vihear was first built by the Khmer king, Yasovarman in the late 9th century to worship the god, Shiva.
Located in Koh Ker, once a Cambodian ancient capital, Preah Vihear is only one of the 96 Koh Ker temples. Built by King Jayavarman IV (928-942), many of these temples are buried and some are no longer standing.
Preah Vihear: A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008, Preah Vihear Temple which predates Angkor Wat is a fine expression of Khmer civilization. It sits on top of a mountain and the view is panoramic.
The buildings are impressive as well. As you climb, only some parts are visible and more gets revealed as you go up or as you peek in.
Here's to give you an idea of the topography of the area.
Archaeologists think that this place was a major economic thoroughfare for iron ore as it is close to Phnom Dek, the major source of this mineral much needed in the building of the empire.
French archaeologist, Dominique Soutif, says that it was an industrial city with people of various trades and professions working in the area.
Initial excavations seemed to support this as the place seems to have been used for production of metal objects and stone sculptures. More analysis of samples will further enhance what we currently know of the Temple complex.
The Preah Vihear Conflict
When we visited, the Cambodian military was there to protect the contested area so it was a military installation as you can see in the pictures.
Our guides were the military showing us where the Thais have hit the temple. I am pretty sure the Thais have their own stories as well. It is good that now agreement has been reached by the two parties.
Tips in Visiting Preah Vihear
I suggest that you visit Preah Vihear as part of your itinerary when visiting Angkor Wat. I know that you can have temple overload but Preah Vihear is closer to Siem Reap and it is a shorter drive from there than from Phnom Penh. Many international flights go straight to Siem Reap.
There is also a well travelled highway from Bangkok and a border crossing to enter Cambodia for those who want to go straight to Siem Reap from Thailand. Preah Vihear is a day trip from Siem Reap. You can ask your hotel to arrange transport for you and a guide if you need one. You can also join a tour which again the hotel can assist you with.
Leave early in the morning and you can be back by early afternoon with time for a swim and a trip to Pub place in Siem Reap. You can go up the mountain early avoiding much of the scorching sun. The Cambodian military are there to bring and guide you up and from the top of the mountain you can see the Thai side with their army also in constant alert.
It is advisable that you ask your hotel or guide to call up if the temple is open as sometimes, the military closes it for security. We were really lucky that day we went as the military just opened the temple that day. It was quite an experience visiting the temple which at that time of our visit was also a military installation.
You are entering a military installation, so you need to register your presence at the military headquarters at the entrance of the temple area. We parked at the foot of the mountain and took the military truck as we thought it would be safer as they're used to taking this steep road going up.
More tourists are now visiting the Temple after the new Thai government, more friendly to Cambodia, has been elected. However, it is always good to take precautions.
As you can see, Preah Vihear is located right at the border of Cambodia and Thailand. It used to be that you can access this from the Thai side as well but because of the recent disagreement, that route is no longer open.
However, you can see the temple from the Thai side. There is a promontory there where one can easily view the temple.
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Have you been to Preah Vihear? What would you tell future visitors?