Help Wikitravel grow by contributing to an article! Learn how.

Preah Vihear

From Wikitravel
Cambodia : Preah Vihear
Revision as of 09:51, 8 July 2008 by Jpatokal (Talk | contribs)

Jump to: navigation, search
Avenue between temple gopura

Prasat Preah Vihear (ព្រះវិហារ) is a Khmer (Cambodian) temple situated atop a 525-meter cliff in the Dângrêk Mountains in Cambodia and on the border of Sisaket Province in northeastern Thailand. In 1962, following a serious dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over ownership of the temple, the International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled that it belonged to Cambodia. The adjacent land to the north is under Thailand's control. Affording a view for many kilometers across a plain, Prasat Preah Vihear has the most spectacular setting of all the temples built during the six-century-long Khmer Empire. As a key edifice of the empire's spiritual life, it was supported and modified by successive kings and so bears elements of several architectural styles. Preah Vihear is unusual among Khmer temples in being constructed along a long north-south axis, rather than having the conventional rectangular plan with orientation toward the east. The temple gives its name to Cambodia's Preah Vihear province, in which is is located, as well as the Khao Phra Wihan National Park in Sisaket Province, Thailand, through which the temple is most easily accessible.

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).

Though easily accessable from present-day Thailand, and for some years occupied by that county, the temple was nonetheless claimed by Cambodia on the basis of a map prepared during French colonial times. In 1959 Cambodia brought the dispute to the International Court of Justice, which in 1962 ruled that, because Thailand had for years accepted this map, Cambodia had sovereignty over Preah Vihear. Soon afterwards Cambodia was plunged into civil war. The temple remained open to the public from Thailand (although unreachable from Cambodia) until 1975, when it was occupied by the Khmer Rouge (whose rusting artillery guns still litter the area). It re-opened from the Thai side in 1998, and in 2003 Cambodia completed the construction of a long-awaited access road allowing Cambodians to visit the temple.

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

Due to a pending World Heritage Site nomination and the lingering border dispute, Thailand periodically blocks access to the site from its side. While observed to be open in August 2007, it is best to enquire locally before traveling.


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.

How to get there: From Bangkok, use highway 1 (Pahol Yothin Rd.) turn right at Saraburi into highway 2 (Mitraphap Rd.). At Amphoe Si Khew, turn right into highway 24, and travel via Amphoe Pak Thongchai, Sangka, and Ku Khan. Turn right into highway 221, and head to Amphoe Kantaralak and keep going to the park.

From Ubon Ratchathani, use highway 2178 and 221 via Amphoe Varin Chamrap, Samrong, Benjalak, and Kantaralak to the park. For more information about accommodation and camping ground, call or the Department of National Park, Wildlife, and Plant Life at 0-2562-0760 or visit www.dnp.go.th .

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 Temple

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

  • The fun starts with 162 stone steps (#1), 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 (#3), a solitary pavilion with a fluttering Cambodian flag.
  • A 500-meter gently climbing avenue leads up to Gopura II (#6), another smallish pavilion, and a large boray (water cistern, #4) to the left.
  • Yet another avenue (somewhat shorter this time) leads to, yes, Gopura III (#9), 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 (#14) and behind it the second courtyard. On the other side of the courtyard is Gopura V aka the Galleries (#17), and beyond it the Main Sanctuary (#18), 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 are several other minor sights 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. The cliff has an interesting bas-relief of three figures whose identities are still unknown. The carving is the oldest of Thailand. It seems to date from the 10th century when Koh Ker was the capital of the Khmer empire, and Khmer craftsmen probably practiced here first before the real carving at Preah Vihear Sanctuary. A walkway gives easy access to the bas-relief which is on an overhanging part of the cliff. On the Thai side there is also a visitor centre with models and pictures of the temple complex.
  • Double Stupas. Two sandstone stupas, or ‘Phra That’ for local people, in cube shape and round top are situated west or Mor E-Dang Cliff. The stupas houses things that mirror prosperity of such period.
  • Don Tuan Khmer Ruins. Built during the 10th -11th Century, the Khmer Ruins in Ban Phume Sarol is located 300 metres from Thailand-Cambodia border. A legend says a lady, Nang Nom Yai, had stayed here on her way to visit a King. How to get there: Use highway 2243, and get in to small road at km. 91 and continue for 4 kms.
  • Sra Trao or Huay Trao. The stream runs through rock plain foot of Preah Vihear Mount, before running through subterranean tunnel strengthened by rock walls. It is assumed that such low land is Barai or Khmer’s reservoir. The stream and around is now well cleaned and filled up with water.
  • Namtok and Tham Khun Sri. The three-tier waterfall, above the cave, is situated west of Sra trao close to trail to Phreah Vihear. And Khun Sri Cave in gigantic size was believed once was accommodation of Khun Sri, noble man who controlled rock cutting at Sra Trao for constructing Preah Vihear Sanctuary.
  • Huay Kanoon Dam. Situated 25 kms. from the park’s headquarter, the dam and its reservoir offers nice scenery for picnic, relax or camping. The park’s unit is located nearby.

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. Shower is from a barrel of rain water and a bucket. Very, very basic but very clean. Electricity from 6pm to 10pm. (May/2008)

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.

Contact

The Thai tourist centre of Khao Phra Viharn National Park can be reached at tel. 04-561-9214.

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.

External links



Template:Guide

Variants

Actions

Destination Docents

In other languages

other sites