Highlights of Preah Vihear
Introduction to Preah Vihear
The Preah Vihear Temple or as it is also known, the Prasat Preah Vihear, is a temple of Khmer origins located atop a cliff in the Dangrek Mountains at 1,720 feet above sea level. This temple is famous for being in the best setting of the other thousands of temples constructed by the Khmer empire. Visitors can also see for many kilometers from the temple’s cliff.
Unlike other Khmer temples, Preah Vihear was not built at an eastern orientation but rather on a north-south axis. Additionally, it does not possess the typical rectangular layout. It is composed of multiple styles of architecture due to the fact that numerous kings changed and altered it during their respective reigns. It is believed to have been built during Suryavarman I reign with later contributions by Suryavarman II.
Recently, the Cambodians have claimed ownership of the temple citing evidence from a map created at the time of French colonialism. The International Court of Justice gave ownership to Cambodia in 1962 with the reasoning that Thailand had acknowledged this map for years. The dispute over ownership continues between the two nations.
Preah Vihear Gallery
Guide to Preah Vihear
The Preah Vihear complex stretches for 2,600 feet on its north-south axis. The cliff is 525 meters above sea level in the Cambodian Dângrêk Moutains. The temple’s function is the same as the temples of Angkor, that is, to symbolize the abode of the gods at Mount Meru. However, the physical construction is quite different from other Angkorian temples.
Visitors will pass through five gopuras on the way to the central sanctuary. To make the approach more dramatic, a set of steps must be climbed to access each gopura. These large gateway buildings obstruct vision of each successive part of the temple so that a clear view of the entire temple complex is not possible from any one viewpoint.
The gopura that is the furthest from the sanctuary still has discernible remnants of the red paint used to ornament it. It was constructed in the Koh Ker temple mountain style. However, it once had a tiled roof that is now gone.
A 500 meter gentle hike leads to the next gopura. This gopura is considered to be one of the great works of this temple complex because of its portrayal of the Churning of the Sea of Milk. Located to the left of this gopura is a sizable boray, or water cistern.
A slightly shorter pathway goes to the next gopura, which has the first courtyard that is reminiscent of the Angkor Wat architectural style. To the left of this gopura are remnants of guns and bunkers from the temple’s past uses as a fortification.
The subsequent naga-flanked avenue heads to the next gopura, which goes behind the second courtyard. On the opposite side of this courtyard stands the last gopura, also known as the Galleries.
Nearby the final gopura is the sanctuary, the part of the temple that rests at the southern end on the cliff with a causeway and steps going up to it. The sanctuary is at present home to a small Buddhist temple. This site is famously known for its stunning views of the surrounding valley. To the left is the Pei Ta Da Cliff, which has a sharp 500 meter plunge to the valley below. There are crevices with shade from the overhanging cliff from which to take pictures.
There are also remnants of the 10th century Banteay Srei style of architecture that can be observed including the red sandstone medium of composition that is conducive for the intricate carvings and decorations.
Another nearby attraction is Pha Moh I-Daeng, which is just 200 meters up the hill. This spot has ideal views of the jungle as well as Preah Vihear from the side. Also visible is a bas-relief of three unknown figures, possibly hailing from the 900s. To access this bas-relief, there is a pathway in place.
To the west of Mor E-Dang cliff are two double stupas, or chedi, composed of sandstone. These cube shapes contain objects that exemplify the wealth of the period.
Video of Preah Vihear
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History of Preah Vihear
The name of the temple comes from the Cambodian province of Preah Vihear where it is located, but also from the Khao Phra Wihan National Park in the Thai province of Sisaket.
The construction of Preah Vihear actually began 100 years before Angkor Wat with the building of the first temple initiated in the early 800s. The temple was subsequently dedicated to Shiva, the Hindu deity. Of the current remains, the oldest date back to the Koh Ker period of the 900s. The temple was largely constructed by Suryavarman I and Suryavarman II, Khmer kings reigning in the 11th and 12th centuries, respectively. The uses of the temple by these kings is found in an engraving which states that Suryavarman II celebrated religious festivals, studied sacred traditions, made gifts such as bowls, parasols, and elephants for his Brahman advisor. Much like the other Khmer temples, Preah Vihear was eventually utilized by Buddhists as a result of the degeneration of the influence of Hinduism.
Throughout the years, the temple has alternately been claimed by both Cambodia and Thailand. During times of unrest, the temple’s strategic position atop the cliff make it easily defensible militarily by the alternating occupying forces.
Preah Vihear was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2008.
Getting to Preah Vihear
The park is open from 8am-3:30pm and is sometimes closed due to Thai/Cambodian border disputes over the temple. Basic food, drinks and souvenirs are available along the way to the temple. The temple must be toured on foot but motorbike taxis can be hired in Cambodia to carry you up the hill but not the 162 stone stairs.
By Car or bus:
It is easiest to access Preah Vihear from Thailand via Kantharalak district of Sisaket province without having to acquire a Cambodian visa. The nearest town in Thailand is Ubon Ratchathani. Preah Vihear is situated at the end of Route 221. You can hire a car for the day including a driver. The temple site is approximately 1.5 hours from the city. Public buses depart from Ubon Ratchathani and Si Saket to Kantharalak as well. From Kantharalak, songthaew truck taxis or tuk tuk taxis can be hired. After paying the entry fee, walk a little less than a kilometer to the temple site.
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