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Difference between revisions of "Preah Vihear"

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Preah Vihear is perched on a hilltop with a commanding view of its surroundings.  Predating [[Angkor Wat]] by 100 years, the history of the temple/fortress is somewhat unclear, but it is known to be dedicated to the god Shiva and thought to have been constructed in the reign of Suryavarman I (1002-50), with further significant additions by Suryavarman II (1113-50).
 
Preah Vihear is perched on a hilltop with a commanding view of its surroundings.  Predating [[Angkor Wat]] by 100 years, the history of the temple/fortress is somewhat unclear, but it is known to be dedicated to the god Shiva and thought to have been constructed in the reign of Suryavarman I (1002-50), with further significant additions by Suryavarman II (1113-50).
  
Due to its location on the border, ownership of the area was disputed until 1967, when the International Court of Justice ruled that it belonged to Cambodia - which soon after plunged into civil war.  The temple opened briefly to the public in 1992, only to be occupied by the Khmer Rouge the next year (and some rusting artillery guns still litter the area).  It opened again from the Thai side at the end of 1998, and Cambodia completed the construction of a long-awaited access road in 2003.
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Due to its location on the border, ownership of the area was disputed until 1962, when the International Court of Justice ruled that it belonged to Cambodia - which soon after plunged into civil war.  The temple opened briefly to the public in 1992, only to be occupied by the Khmer Rouge the next year (and some rusting artillery guns still litter the area).  It opened again from the Thai side at the end of 1998, and Cambodia completed the construction of a long-awaited access road in 2003.
  
 
== Get in ==
 
== Get in ==

Revision as of 08:12, 26 December 2006

Avenue between temple gopura

Preah Vihear, also known as Prasat Khao Phra Wiharn in Thai, is an ancient temple adjacent to the border between Thailand and Cambodia.

Contents

Understand

Moh I-Daeng cliff

Preah Vihear is perched on a hilltop with a commanding view of its surroundings. Predating Angkor Wat by 100 years, the history of the temple/fortress is somewhat unclear, but it is known to be dedicated to the god Shiva and thought to have been constructed in the reign of Suryavarman I (1002-50), with further significant additions by Suryavarman II (1113-50).

Due to its location on the border, ownership of the area was disputed until 1962, when the International Court of Justice ruled that it belonged to Cambodia - which soon after plunged into civil war. The temple opened briefly to the public in 1992, only to be occupied by the Khmer Rouge the next year (and some rusting artillery guns still litter the area). It opened again from the Thai side at the end of 1998, and Cambodia completed the construction of a long-awaited access road in 2003.

Get in

While the temple is located in Cambodia, access to the temple is possible both from Thailand as well, with no Cambodian visa required.

From Thailand

The temple is at the end of Route 221, but public transport options are limited and the easiest option is to charter a car for the day (1000 baht and up, plus gas). The roads are surprisingly good and, depending on how hard your driver hits the gas pedal and/or how many water buffaloes decide to cross the road along the way, you can get there from Ubon in an hour and a half.

If this is out of your budget, the nearest town of any size is Kantharalak, which can be accessed by frequent public bus in 2 hours or so from the nearby towns of Ubon Ratchathani and Si Saket. For the last leg of the trip (34 km), however, you will have to hitchhike or charter a songthaew/tuk-tuk/moto taxi.

At the entry gate into Khao Phra Wiharn National Park, you will have to pay a 200 baht entry fee (Thais 20 baht); note that the park is open only from 08:00 to 15:30. The road ends at a large parking lot, the final leg (less than a kilometer) into Cambodian territory you will have to cover on foot. At the Thai immigration post you'll be charged an additional 5 baht for a second ticket, and you'll also have to show your passport - they'll take a photocopy, but no stamps are issued and no visas are needed. After the road ends, walk over the smooth rock surface to the entry gate and pay another 200 baht fee (this one to enter Cambodia) and get your ticket punched, and now you can proceed to the ruins.

From Cambodia

A packed laterite access road from Siem Reap via Anlong Veng, a distance of over 200 km, was completed in 2003.

A new road has been constructed linking Siem Reap to Koh Ker. From there, it's an ardous day ride on badly worn out dirt and sand tracks to Preah Vihear.

You can also reach the place on a three days motorbike trip from Kompong Thom (view details)

Get around

The only way to get around is on foot. The 500m elevation and the resulting breeze provide some relief, but it's still a hot and sticky 120m (vertical) up the hill.

From the Cambodian side, you can hire a motorbike-taxi to take you up the steep ascent to the temple.

See

Schematic map of Preah Vihear

The Thai and Cambodian paths join together at the bottom of the slope (north end of the adjacent map), and from here the only way is up.

  • The fun starts with 162 stone steps, a fairly steep climb that will get you warmed up nicely. Your reward is a short set of stairs decorated with nagas and Gopura I, a solitary pavilion with a fluttering Cambodian flag.
  • A 500-meter gently climbing avenue leads up to Gopura II, another smallish pavilion, and a large boray (water cistern) to the left.
  • Yet another avenue (somewhat shorter this time) leads to, yes, Gopura III, but also the first courtyard of the temple and the first point where visitors to Angkor Wat will start feeling a sense of deja vu. Make a detour to the left side of the gopura to see relics of a more modern era, in the form of a rusting artillery gun and a few bunkers.
  • A short causeway decorated with nagas leads to the inevitable Gopura IV and behind it the second courtyard. On the other side of the courtyard is Gopura V, and beyond it the Main Sanctuary, the centerpiece of the site which now houses a miniature Buddhist temple.
  • But what makes the effort worthwhile lies just outside, so sneak out the left side to find yourself at Pei Ta Da Cliff, with a sheer 500-meter drop and a jaw-dropping vista of the Cambodian jungles below. To contemplate the view without getting sunstroke, locate the crevice that leads into a little cavern of sorts, with shade provided by the tip of the cliff overhead and, unfortunately, some barbed wire to spoil your pictures (and stop you from falling off).

There's one more sight worth seeing in the area, accessible only from the Thai side:

  • Pha Moh I-Daeng, clearly signposted from the parking lot and only a few hundred meters up the hill, is the present Thai border and the new home of the flagpole that previously fluttered on Pei Ta Da. There are more stunning views of Cambodian jungle here, including a side view of Preah Vihear - although seen from afar the buildings blend surprisingly well into the hillside.

Buy

There are ramshackle assemblages of shacks at both the Thai parking lot and the Cambodian base of the hill, as well as all the way along the path up the hill in the temple area itself. These sell not only the expected T-shirts, postcards and cans of Pepsi, but premium cognac and cigarettes by the carton as well: it's tax-free shopping for the Thais! As foreign visitors are few, expected to be besieged by little boys and girls shouting "Hello" and hawking postcards, but they usually take the hint after a couple of "bye-byes".

Eat

Places to eat are rarer on the ground than drink stalls, although there are some pretty basic grill stalls towards the end of the Thai parking lot shopping shacks.

For more selection and a semblance of hygiene, there are a number of roadside restaurants on the Thai side before the park entrance, along the road from Kantharalak.

Drink

Drink stalls are ubiquitous along the trail.

Sleep

There are only very basic accommodation options in the immediate vicinity.

Cambodia: the village at the foot of the mountain provides two or three very basic "guesthouses" in simple wooden shacks. There is also a wooden, very basic guesthouse (shower and loo outside) at the bottom of the steps, where the locals live . Electricity from 6pm to 10pm. (June/2006)

Thailand: the nearest place with a variety of accommodation is the town of Kantharalak (approx. 30 km), which is also the nearest place with direct bus services to Bangkok, Si Saket, Ubon Ratchathani, etc.

More distant Thai-side possibilities are the towns of Si Saket (approx. 95 km, and nearest train station), and Khu Khan (approx. 95 km, and most convenient place to stay near the border if travelling to/from Anlong Veng); and the city of Ubon Ratchathani (approx 120 km) - however, the most direct access to all these places is via Kantharalak.

Stay safe

Land mine warning sign

Land mines remain a real danger in the area, although the temple itself and the access paths have been painstakingly cleared by the HALO Trust. Stay on the beaten path, don't venture into any vegetation which has not been cleared recently, and heed the red warning signs, painted rocks and strings marking the limits of the demined area.

The cliffs are steep and no provisions are made to protect you from your own carelessness. Keep a very close eye on children.

Get out

  • In Si Saket Province on the Thai side of the border, the Temple of a Million Bottles (Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew - more commonly known as Wat Lan Khuad) near Khun Han is a worthwhile detour.



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