In the north of Cambodia, near the Thai border, lies one of the most controversial temples of Asia: the Preah Vihear Temple. The Preah Vihear Temple, also known as the Prasat Preah Vihear, is claimed by both Thailand and Cambodia and in 2011 there were even deaths during a military confrontation between the two countries. Fortunately, things have remained calm in recent years…
Many tourists skip this temple, because Angkor Wat, located near Siem Reap, already gives a good impression of the history of the former Khmer empire. Another reason is that the Preah Vihear Temple is difficult to reach by public transport. A few people try to take a taxi from Siem Reap: a one-way trip alone takes 3 hours.
Despite that, the Preah Vihear Temple is highly recommended, if only because of its beautiful location on a mountain in the Dongrek Mountains. Read here about the history of one of the most beautiful temples in Cambodia. And how did the conflict arise between Thailand and Cambodia and finally the question why you should not miss this temple during a trip through Cambodia.
Accommodation: The best place to stay is in the small town of Sra Aem. This town is located 40 kilometers south of the Preah Vihear Temple. I stayed there for 10 dollars a night in Sok San Guesthouse. Clean rooms, air conditioning and a restaurant. This guesthouse has about 60 rooms, reservation is not necessary! And otherwise there are plenty of other options in Sra Aem!
Khmer Empire builts the Preah Vihear Temple
The Khmer Empire was a civilization that had a great influence in the region from about 800 AD to 1500 AD. The empire had Angkor Wat as its centre of power in present-day Cambodia, but also consisted of large parts of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and a little bit of China. Until the 13th century, the Khmer were the most powerful and prosperous civilization in Asia. They built canals, temples and cities in a way that later left a great impression. The Preah Vihear Temple is an example of this…
The Hindu Prasat Preah Vihear
Although in today’s Cambodia 95% of the population is Buddhist, the Khmer Empire was a mixture of Hinduism and Buddhism. The Preah Vihear Temple is dedicated to the god Shiva, the destroyer. It represents Mount Meru, the home of the god Shiva. The remarkable thing is that the Preah Vihear Temple was built to the north, while in Hinduism temples are mainly focused on the east.
Prasat Preah Vihear Temple was built by order of King Yasovarman I (889-910). The final completion took about 250 years under King Suryavarman II (1112-1152). There are still remnants from the early years of the temple to be admired on the complex. During a walk through the Preah Vihear temple you will discover how much of the complex is still standing.
Discover the Preah Vihear Temple!
The Preah Vihear Temple is located on a mountain in the Dongrek Mountains. However, the ticket office is 500 meters lower, where you will be brought to the entrance of the temple in a pickup truck or on the back of the motorbike.
The complex is 800 meters long and consists mainly of buildings that are still standing. Impressive to see, as well as the view over Cambodia from the southern tip of the sanctuary. But beware of the cheeky monkeys lurking at your bag!
But actually, the north side is just as impressive. From here you have a view of Thailand, but the most special thing is the sign that Cambodia has placed in the direction of Thailand: Preah Vihear Temple is Our Temple! It says everything about the conflict that started around 1900, but is still not completely satisfactorily resolved.
A conflict between Thailand and Cambodia
In 1887, France gained control of Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and a small part of China. From then on the area was called French Indochina. Only Thailand retained its independence, although parts of East Thailand sometimes belonged to the French colonial empire.
In 1904, the French set up a committee to determine the exact border between Thailand and present-day Cambodia. The river is used as a border, but that would mean that the holy temple belongs to Thailand. In 1907 an official map was made: the Preah Vihear Temple is located on Cambodian territory. This is to the displeasure of Thailand. Before the French controlled this area, the Thai guarded the temple for decades.
When the French left Cambodia in 1954, Thailand seized the opportunity. They occupied the Preah Vihear Temple. Cambodia went to the International Court of Justice and got it right on her side in 1962. Thailand withdrew and Cambodia celebrated the court’s decision with an official ceremony.
But Thailand refused to accept the decision of the International Court of Justice. In 2008, the Preah Vihear Temple was officially granted UNESCO Heritage status, but in 2011 things went wrong. During a skirmish between Thai and Cambodian soldiers, several people were killed. Part of the population fled the area, afraid of escalation of the conflict. In 2013, the International Court of Justice again ruled that the temple belongs to Cambodia.
Planning a visit to the Preah Vihear Temple in northern Cambodia?
How to get there? The problem with the Preah Vihear Temple is that it is difficult to reach by bus. A taxi from Siem Reap is therefore the best option, but assume that a one-way trip will take about 2.5 hours.
From Banlung I took the minibus to Tbaeng Mean Chey and from there I took a shared taxi (+-8 dollars) to Sra Aem. This shared taxi could take you the next day to the entrance of the complex, because the distance from Sra Aem to the Preah Vihear Temple is 30 kilometers.
But then you’re not there yet, because then you still have to go up the mountain. Own public transport is not allowed, but for 5 dollars you can be brought to the temple on the back of your bike. (A pickup truck for $ 25 total is also possible). From my own experience I can tell that a part of the road is quite steep. So hold on tight! Then you have about 2.5 hours to walk around, otherwise the motorbike-driver will come and get you.
Opening hours: The temple is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entrance fee is 10 dollars excluding transportation up the mountain.