Recognized as one of the World Heritages by UNESCO on 7 July, 2008, Preah Vihear temple is situated on the clifftop in the Dangrek mountains, Preah Vihear province, Cambodia. The temple and its area have been in a long dispute between Cambodia and Thailand over ownership, which the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague ruled that the temple is in Cambodia.
After an up-hill drive to the top, you will reach a pagoda called Wat Keo Sekhakirisvara (វត្តកែវសិក្ខាគីរីស្វារៈ) or Wat Prasat Preah Vihear (វត្តប្រាសាទព្រះវិហារ) where was like a battlefield between Cambodia and Thailand during the serious dispute.
The construction of Preah Vihear temple began in the early 9th century by King Yasovarman I, and followed remodeling in the reigns of King Suryavarman I and King Suryavarman II, dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva, and is an outstanding masterpiece of Khmer architecture with its series complex of sanctuaries linked by a system of pavements and staircases on an 800 meter long axis, rising up the hill towards the main sanctuary which stands on the clifftop at the southern end of the complex. Its series complex comprises of 5 gopuras (gopura/គោបុរៈ is an entrance pavilion sometimes surmounted by tower), and these are conventionally numbered from the sanctuary outwards, so gopura five is the first to be reached by visitors (first 2 photos above).
Looking from the 5th gopura to the north-east, you will see Thai hill-road and might hear the sound of Thai microphone speaking, and to the top end of the hill at Thai side, you can see Thai flags, where I am told that top-end place was called Ta Mok house (ផ្ទះតាម៉ុក) that the area in the past belonged to Cambodia.
I left Preah Vihear town (Tbeng Meanchey) since 5am and reached the temple at around 7am when there was not a single visitor arriving yet. Some minutes later, the weather turned cooler and there was fog all over the place.
Here we reached the fourth gopura filled with fog. From a side, there is a reservoir but seems no longer in use.
Later, the weather got clearer and clearer, I was able to take some better photos. We continued to the third gopura where there is Palace Building. This group of building was the King’s residence when he came to pay homage to God. It is also considered as the center of the whole temple complex.
The pavement from the third gupora to the second gopura is called Spean Neak (ស្ពាននាគ Spean = bridge, Neak = naga/dragon).
From the second gopura to the first gopura, there is no pavement but a small compound that I have no detail about. A small prang is told to be a place for the King to read books and self study, but I am not sure since there is no reliable source about it.
Passing through the first gopura, you can see the main sanctuary, much of which has collapsed leaving a jumbled heap of massive ruined stones. Following western wall to the outside, there are two libraries at the eastern and western buildings, and you can enjoy the mountain view on the clifftop where is called Pey Tadi (ប៉ីតាឌី).
At the clifftop outside the Main Sanctuary, there are soldiers standby and there is a worship place for Tadi (I have no information about this). The view at the clifftop is amazing!
At clifftop end, there is a down-way to a cave where is hermitage of monks and for worship, yet I did not have enough time to visit.
After the visit, I walked back through western path, keeping taking some more photos and could not realize those parts belong to which area or gopura, so let’s just enjoy the pictures 🙂
After the visit to Preah Vihear temple, I am more than proud to be Khmer as I realize that our ancestors did have brilliant architectural talent as shown in all temples in Cambodia. Preah Vihear on the mountain is like a palace in heaven, and I could not imagine how beautiful it could be if it were in its perfectly original shape without any ruin.