PREAH VIHEAR PROVINCE
PREAH VIHEAR PROVINCE is quite a big northern province of Cambodia. Its capital is called Phnom Tbeng Meanchey. The province itself is named after the temple of Prasat Preah Vihear, what is definitely the hotspot of this province. Much of the province is extremely remote and heavily forested. Unfortunately large logging companies have reduce the natural beauty of the landscape by carving huge tracts of pristine tropical hardwoods out of the locations. It is also one of the least populated provinces in the Kingdom of Cambodia. This tranquil site is popular for the Preah Vihear temple, standing in the vicinity of the borderline between Thailand and Cambodia.
Preah Vihear province has some of the worst infrastructures in the country. There are no proper major roads in existence. Going around this province is not that easy if you're used to proper roads and usual transportation possibilities, as there are only a few pick-ups or some money-hunting moto drivers to take you where you would like to go. However, the province has a lot to offer for those, who are interested in ancient temple structures and remote villages without touristy influence. Here in Preah Vihear you may find three of the most impressive legacies from the Angkorian era: the mountain temple of Prasat Preah Vihear, the 10th-century capital of Koh Ker and the mighty Preak Khan.
Land mines still remain a real danger in Preah Vihear although the temples itself and the access paths have been painstakingly cleared. Stay on the beaten trek, don't venture into any vegetation that has not been cleared recently, and heed the red warning signs, painted rocks and strings marking the limits of the demined area.
Koh Ker is nowadays easily accessible from Siem Reap via Beng Mealea, but the other two still remain difficult to visit, requiring long and tough overland journeys and a distinct possibility to spend a night in the jungle. During the wet season these places are more or less unreachable. But there are governmental plans to develop the region for a smooth but constant tourism, building roads and improving infrastructure.
Preah Vihear Province is 13,788 square kilometers in size. It is located in northern Cambodia and shares international borders to the north with Thailand and Laos. It borders Stueng Treng Province of Cambodia to the east, Oddar Meanchey Province to the west and Siem Reap and Kompong Thom to the south. The province is blessed with endless natural treasure. With its acres of dense, hilly forests and scrub green vegetation, Preah Vihear is indeed an ideal getaway destination in the lap of nature. The breathtaking views over the Dangkrek Mountains and lush jungle around Preah Vihear temples are famous.
The current population of Preah Vihear Province is about 160,551 people or 1.1 percent of the country's total population (2007, provincial government data), with 81,318 males and 78,233 females. The population density is only 11.64 people per square kilometer. The province's economy is 85 percent based on farming and the remaining 15 percent is based on fishing and illegal logging of tropical hardwoods. Because of its border with Thailand, international trade is also increasing slightly and becoming another important sector of the province's economy. There are several development plans for province involving NGOs and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs from the Thailand and Cambodian governments. The economy and infrastructure of the province was badly damaged during the Khmer Rouge years and needs to be rebuilt or established for the first time.
The cool season in Preah Vihear Province is from November to March with temperatures ranging from 22 to 28 degrees C. The hot season is from March to May with temperatures ranging from 27 to 35 degrees C. The rainy season is from May to October. Temperatures are 24 to 32 degrees C, with humidity up to 90 percent.
Tbeng Meanchey is the provincial capital of Preah Vihear Province. Due to the poor state of the province’s infrastructure and its geographical location it is not visited by a lot of foreigners. Most of them don't make it here worrying about the street conditions and the backcountry feeling of the place. More large village than a city, it is sprawling and dusty and consists of has only two small dirt roads going from south to north that serve as the main roads. There is nothing interesting in town and nothing to do. It is mainly a stopover on the way to Koh Ker and Preah Khan.
Getting to Tbeng Meanchey and Preah Vihear Province
To get into this remote province you have two possibilities, one is the packed laterite road from Siem Reap via Anlong Veng, covering a distance of over 200 kilometers (completed in 2003). The other access to Preah Vihear is from Kampong Thom via NH 64, which is about 155 kilometers South of Tbeng Meanchey. The last one is probably the easiest and fastest way to go to Tbeng Meanchey.
According to ASIRT: Roads were heavily damaged during the civil war. Unimproved roads are heavily potholed and generally lack pavement. Passage is difficult in the rainy season. Upgrades have been completed on several main roads. Landmines and unexploded ordnance were removed before construction began. Be alert for herds of freely wandering livestock, even on main roads. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), 2010]
Pick-ups go almost daily in the morning and noon to the provincial capital of Preah Vihear from Kampong Thom market ($2-4 depending if you're inside or on the back). The comfortable share taxi is the other and faster option for $5-7. The road leading there is in horrendous condition as the logging freeze means no one has done any maintenance for a couple of years. The last 30 kilometers to Tbeng Meanchey climb some hills, which may get very nasty during the wet season with small creeks to minor rivers. You can also reach the place on a two to three days motorbike trip from Kompong Thom. Be aware of the road conditions and try to judge your personal experience on dusty, bumpy roads in the jungle.
Motorcycle Adventures in Preah Vihear Province: A new road has been constructed linking Siem Reap to Koh Ker. From there, it's an arduos day ride on badly worn out dirt and sand tracks to Preah Vihear. Kompong Thom is the starting point for a real adventurous tour to the seldom-visited jungle plains of northern Cambodia. This 2-3 days motorbike ride to Preah Vihear is offered by some of the moto-taxi drivers, who will propose it to you once they spot you getting off the bus ($30-50).
With you sitting on the back of the bike, your driver will take you through peaceful villages and rice paddies, passing by friendly locals, spending a night with a local family and visiting the temples of Preah Khan Kompong Thom and Koh Ker on your way up. A part of the journey leads you along an old Angkorian road and over its ancient bridges. The ride itself is hardship, skidding over sticks and stones, through sand oceans and bamboo forests, sometimes fording small rivers. From Preah Vihear, you will head to Siem Reap via Anlong Veng, the place where Pol Pot is said to have died. It's a worth a ride, but put your motorbike skills on question before you go for it.
Sights in Preah Vihear Province
Wat Bak Kam (17 kilometers west of Tbeng Meanchey) is located along Tbeng mountain foot in Bak Kam village, Chhien Muk commune, Tbeng Meanchey district. The pagoda is 1, 000 meters long and 400 meters wide. The site offers nice view, forest and fresh air. Local villagers usually visit this site during holidays or national festivals. Beside the pagoda, there is a large rock called Thma Peung Angkam (Thma Peung means overhanging rock and Angkam mean chaff). According to the local people, in the past, because of the failure of war with neighboring country, the Khmer commander and his troops hide under that rock. They cultivated rice in a nearby field to support their living. They husked rice under that rock and left the chaff. Later, local villagers found a lot of chafff under the rock, which is why the place is call Thma Peung Angkam. The rock is alos believed to be an important worship site.
Kork Beng Temple is located in Wat Prasat Chey Preuk on Kork Beng Village, Kampong Pranak commune, Tbiang Meanchey district. The laterite and sandstone temple was built between AD 936 and 951 by a commander name Kork on ordered from King Jayavarman IV. There is a hug Beng Tree near the temple. Therefore, the king named the temple Kork Beng. Today only a few stones of the ancient temple remain. The temple, however, was reconstructed with concrete in 1988. The new temple is 8 meters high and 12 meters square. There is a statue of Bodhisattva in temple center, where the worship place is.
Phnom Pralean Temple (25 kilometers from Tbeng Meanchey) is on a 180 meters small hill located in Krang Dong village, Preah Kliang commune, Tbiang Meanchey district. The laterite and sandstone temple, built to worship Hinduism, is 160 meters long and 60 meters wide. Surrounding the temple is a beautiful nature and abundant fresh airs where a good place to visit is.
Krapum Chhouk Temple (45 kilometers south of Tbeng Meanchey) is located in Romdos commune, Rovieng district. The laterite and sanstone temple was built in the late 10th century to worship Hinduism.
Neak Buos Temple (75 kilometers north of Tbiang Meancheay provincial town) is located in Choam Ksan district. The laterite, sandstone and brick temple is 50 meters square and built on a plain to worship Hinduism. It is very difficult to reach the temple because of bad road condition.
PREAH KHAN KAMPONG SVAY (BAKAN)
Preah Khan Kampong Svay (105 kilometers east of Angkor, 105 kilometers southwest of Tbeng Meanchey and 75 kilometers north of the Kompong Thom town of Stoung) is a group of temples on a plain that was occupied by a former worship palace of a Khmer king. Also known as Bakan or Prasat Bakan, the temple is located in Ta Siang village, Ronakse commune, Sangkum Thmei district in Preah Vihear province. Preah Khan Kampong Svay is off National Route 6, 75 kilometers north of the Kompong Thom town, Stoung. The area is difficult to access under the current road conditions leading to the temple. During the rainy season it is impossible to get into the area.
Preah Khan Kompong Svay was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2020.According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Preah Khan Kompong Svay bears the original name of “Preah Khan Kampong Svay” which refers to a high tower or citadel. It is a large Khmer temple complex well known for three things; firstly it was a Mahayana-Buddhism temple related the concept of pure land, secondly it served as one of the way stations (the temples d’etape) at least since 12th century on the east-bound ancient highway network (Royal Road) starting from Angkor Thom, passing through Beng Mealea to Preah Khan Kompong Svay, and thirdly, it is a industrial centre relating to the region’s iron mining, smelting and production activities. [Source: Permanent Delegation of the Kingdom of Cambodia to UNESCO]
The temple of Preah Khan Kompong Svay is a unique complex which can be seen from different perspectives such as the architectural layout conveying the concept of the ‘pure land’ of Buddhist philosophy, way station, iron industrial city and the uniqueness of its art motif decoration. Preah Khan Kompong Svay was a provincial city that functioned as a way station linked to the central area of Angkor. This complex, located along the ancient Royal Road, shows town planning that was well organised and had uniques design to facilite the production of iron, which was done directly inside the complex itself. Morever, the location of the town was close to the location rich in iron resources. In addition, the concept of the city was conveyed via characteristic religious monuments and features.
Viewed from a religious context, Preah Khan Kompong Svay also is notable as one of the Mahayana Buddhist cities dated fromto at least the 13th century. The four-faced tower of Prasat Preah Stung, and the Chaktomuk Buddha in this site convey a message that this area symbolizes a flourishing city. These are characteristic symbols of the urbanized the Khmer city and lasted until the present day, as seen in the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.
Preah Khan Kampong Svay Structures
Also known as Preah Khan Kampong Svay Temple, the temple is surrounded by two ramparts-inside and outside rampart. Inside each rampart, there are many other temples such as Neang Peou and Dangkao Baodos temples. The temple was likely a royal palace and worship place. According to historians, the site used to be a hiding place of King Jayavarman VII before he ascended to the throne in A.D. 1181 based on the fact the style of some construction is similar to the style of Bayon and Ta Prohm temples.
Outside the rampart, there are many other temples such as Preah Damrei, Preah Thkaol, Ta Prohm, Muk Buon and Preah Stung temples. Looking through into the large area beyond the wall of Prasat Preah Khan Kampong Svay (Preah Khan Kampong Svay Temple) in Preah Vihear province, laterite stone refracts the bright sunshine, enveloping the temple in a heavenly light. The towers of the temple have long since collapsed and the hundreds of pieces of stone which once made up Preah Khan Kampong Svay are now a less-than-glorious pile of rubble. Even in this sad state destroyed in part by war, and in part by greed the fallen Preah Khan Kampong Svay can still provide us with evidence of the once important place this temple held in the history of the Angkor period, but looters have other plans. In 2003 after a botched robbery, the central area collapsed and apsara and Buddha statues were stolen.
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The main complex of the temple was built during the reign of three kings: Suryavarman I (1011-1050), Suryavarman II (1113-1150), and Javavarman VII (1181-1215). With regard to the general layout of temple, it is surrounded by four enclosure walls. The main sanctuay and outer enclosure are suggested to have been built by King Suryaravarman I; the second enclosure dated to the period of Suryavarman II; and the 3rd and the completion of the 4th enclosure, and baray are attributed to King Jayavarman VII. [Source: Permanent Delegation of the Kingdom of Cambodia to UNESCO]
Three prominent hydraulic structures can be found within this complex: the moat of the 4th enclosure wall, the baray and the lake of Boeng Krom. The 4th enclosure is approximately 5000 x 5000 metres and is a large triple banked /double moat structure. The baray of PreahPreah Khan Kompong Svay is approximately 600 x 3000 metres with a mebon at the center called Prasat Preah Thkol. The characteristic art style in this temple is very unique. Each corner of the central tower was designed with three-tiers of decoration. The upper tier appeared with the image of the three-headed Hamsa, Garuda and three-head elephant (Airavata). The Lake of Boeng Krom (or Boeng Sre) is located at the north inside the compound between the 3rd and 4th enclosures. At the north bank of this lake, there are many scattered ceramic zones, and metallurgy sites have also been confirmed.
History of Preah Khan Kampong Svay
According to the director of the Department of Culture and Fine Arts Ros Samphal, in ancient times, Prasat Preah Khan Kampong Svay was originally named after a victorious and well-loved general: Jey Srey. This general, was a man renowned for defeating the Cham and forcing them out of the Angkor capital. "Jey Srey is better known as Jayavarman VII," Ros says. "Angkor’s mighty architect and warrior king."He says that while the Angkor capital was occupied by Cham soldiers, one of the then Angkorian king’s sons, Jey Srey, fled the country to live in the Champa Kingdom (now central Vietnam). While living there, he studied this neighboring Kingdom, and in particular Cham military tactics. After 14 years, he returned to his beloved Angkor and created his own army, training them in secrecy in the jungle.
"While living in the jungle," Ros says, "he completed Prasat Preah Khan Kampong Svay. He also built an iron foundry where swords, knives, axes and other weapons were made by the thousands.""Each day, more and more soldiers were enlisted for military training." "Once trained," Ros continues, "Jey Srey led his army through Kompong Svay province [now part of Kompong Thom and Preah Vihear provinces] direct to the Angkor capital, where he fought and defeated the Cham soldiers for the liberty of his father's kingdom.""Jey Srey's name held great meaning. Jey means victory and successor;Srey means happiness, harmony and good luck."Deputy director of the Preah Vihear Provincial Tourism Department Kit Chanthy says Prasat Preah Khan Kampong Svay was the second capital of the Angkor kingdom during the reign of King Jayavarman VII. "King Suryavarman I began the construction of the Hindu temple Preah Khan Kampong Svay between 1002 and 1050. The temple was completed by King Jayavarman VII," Kit explains. Prasat Preah Khan Kampong Svay is situated in Ta Seng village, Sangkum Thmey district, Preah Vihear province."
The main group of temples were built in the 12th century when Preah Khan was home to both King Suryavarman II and later, the future King Jayavarman VII, before the latter defeated the invading Chams, claimed the throne and moved his capital back to Angkor in 1181. The story of his victories are celebrated in bas-relief carvings on the walls of the Bayon and Banteay Chhmar.
Preah Khan Kampong Svay Architecture and Metallurgy
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The typical architectural art style of King Jayavarman VII is clearly found at Prasat Preah Stung located at the north west of the baray. The sanctuary contains dsitinctive four-faced towers. Moreover, on the east bank of the baray, there is another pyramid temple, named Prasat Preah Damrei, which at the top terrace were installed elephant statues in each corner, similar to that found at East Mebon temple in Angkor. [Source: Permanent Delegation of the Kingdom of Cambodia to UNESCO]
Moreover, the evidence of Buddhism is found on the lintel of this complex, which is related to the concept of ‘pure land’ in Mahayana-Buddhism. Similarly, another Buddhist shrine has been found in this complex, named Prasat Chaktomuk. It has a 9.5m standing Buddhist images facing to the four cardinal directions.
Preah Khan Kompong Svay served as an important way station city for the east-bound Angkor Royal Road network, as concluded from the character of the temple d’etape and remnants relating to the iron industry found in situ. Regarding the temple d’etape, along the east-bound ancient highway from Angkor Thom to Preah Khan Kompong Svay, there are 10 temples known as: Chou Say Tavoda, Thommanon, Banteay Samre, Chau Srei Vibol, Banteay Ampol, Beng Mealea, Toap Chey, Prasat Pram, Prasat Supheap Tbong, Prasat Chambok of Preah Khan Kompong Svay. These temples date to Angkor Wat style, during the reign of Suryavarman VII.
Inside in the compound of Preah Khan Kompong, are to be found some 18 places that have remnants of concentrations of metallurgy activities, around Boeung Krom, and scattered in the area between the 3rd and 4th enclosures. Based on this evidence, some scholar proposed that Preah Khan Kompong Svay was one of the industrial cities that supplied the iron material for Angkor, whose prowess in warfare was believed to have largely dervived from mastery of producing iron weaponry.
Preah Khan Kampong Svay Art
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: At Preah Khan Kompong Svay, there emerged a distinct character of arts motif which was not found before in Khmer art history. It shows as a dynamic and new creative art for the style of Jayavarman VII. Different from Angkor, most of the motifs were representations and interpretations of the creatures described in religious texts, for example Hamsa with three heads, three-headed elephants, and the Garuda. Especially, the selection the motif of designs were concerned with the hierarchy in religious context, especially the faith of Trimurti. Other remarkable images at Preah Khan Kompong Svay included a standing lion with a posture of moving forward, and at Prasat Damrei an elephant with the feet of a Garuda. [Source: Permanent Delegation of the Kingdom of Cambodia to UNESCO]
At Preah Khan Kompong Svay, the five Buddhas image were depicted in various places such as on the lintel, and other structural elements. In Mahayana Buddhism, the five Buddhas represent the cosmic Buddhas known as, Vairochana; Ratnasambhava; Amoghasiddhi, Amitabha, and Akshoya. They were employed in Tantric practice and linked to the five elements, and five energies of the body. Therefore, their presence in various places at Preah Khan Kompong Svay is a means of expressing the Buddhist cosmic diagram in architecture.
The statue of standing Buddha as a form of Chaktomuk, found at Preah Khan Kampong Svay is the only one remaining in Cambodia. Chaktomuk is considered as the symbol of god protecting the city. Such a faith has been strongly adapted in the Khmer urbanizing concept at least since the 13th century onward. For example, Jayavarman VII renovated Angkor Thom city (13th century) by constructing the Bayon temple at the center point of the city. The city of Longvek existed Tro leng Keng (17th century), and Phnom Penh was located at the conjunction of four rivers called Chaktomuk. Khmer believe that the conjunction place or four cardinal direction represent the new creation, while in Hindu text the power of god (particularly in the form of Barhma) spreads out through each direction. Therefore, Chaktomuk at Preah Khan Kompong Svay has significance both in the value of the object itself, and also the indication it denotes that this was a flourishing city.
Archaeology and Restoration at Preah Khan Kampong Svay
Preah Khan Kampong Svay was studied in the 1870s by Louis Delaporte, who shamefully looted and carried off a number of substantial carvings that are now housed in the Guimet Museum in Paris. However, one masterpiece remains in the National Museum in Phnom Penh and that's a finely sculpted head, believed to be of Jayavarman VII. A millennium celebration at Preah Khan attracted hundreds of locals and vegetation was cleared from the site for the occasion, but it remains a complex very much in its natural state, inundated with trees, scrubs and dense foliage throughout. With the re-emergence of Cambodia's remotest areas from years of inaccessibility.
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Archaeological remains found in situ, are physical evidence of a model of a satellite city in the Khmer empire. These can be seen clearly uniqueness of concept via the well-designed urban planning, especially the interaction between various types of remains, the ancient road, iron industryl remains, and religious elements. The cluster of industrial remain (iron kilns) inside the ancient complex conveys a long history of metallurgy in Cambodia. It believed that the high capacity in iron making at Preah Khan Kampong Svay made a big contribution in creating the Angkor civilization. Ethnographical research around this temple complex shows there still exists the Kuy ethnic group, who are skillful and have a long tradition in producing iron tools for Khmer kings. In addition, the immediate vicinity of Preah Khan Kompong Svay complex, is a mountain called Phnom Dek (Iron Mountain), that is indeed rich in iron ore. [Source: Permanent Delegation of the Kingdom of Cambodia to UNESCO]
Koh Ker (49 kilometers west of Tbeng Meanchey) was once an ancient capital of Cambodia. Located in the Chhork Koki highland near Srayong Cheung village, Srayong commune, Kulen district, the Koh Ker complex of temples was built by King Jayavaraman IV (A.D. 928-942). Koh Ker temple is 35 meters high, and its design resembles a seven-stepped stupa. The temple faces west toward Angkor city. It was built to worship Treypuvanesvara, the god of happiness.
Koh Ker: Archeological site of Ancient Lingapura Or Chok Gargyar was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2020. Koh Ker or Chok Gargyar, as it is known in Old Khmer inscriptions, is a 10th-century temple complex and former capital of the Khmer Empire, situated in northern Cambodia. The name of the site, Chok Gargyar, is in itself unique, as it is the only site we know of to be named in the Old Khmer language (Khmer ancient capital are usually named in Sanskrit) and referring to a natural feature, namely the tree now known as Koki or iron wood tree (Hopea odorata) which can reach up to 45 m and is valued for its dense wood quality that is water and termite-resistant. The densely forested site containing a total of 169 archaeological remains, including 76 temples, as well as civil structures, ponds, dykes, and ancient roads, is located centrally between three other Cambodian World Heritage Sites - Preah Vihear, Angkor, and Sambor Prei Kuk. It stands at a distance of 102 km to the north-east of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, 126 km to the south of Preah Vihear Temple Site, and north-west to Sambor Prei Kuk Site at a distance of 171 km. Situated between the slopes of the Dangrek and Kulen mountains, Koh Ker has a landscape characterized by rolling hills of variable heights ranging from 70 m to 110 m, forming a gentle slope from South to North, and coinciding with the watershed of the Steung Sen River. [Source: Permanent Delegation of the Kingdom of Cambodia to UNESCO]
Koh Ker was the capital of the Khmer Empire for a brief period, between 928-941 C.E. under its founder King Jayavarman IV. As yet, the only authentic, contemporary information about the political ideology of Angkor comes from the Koh Ker inscription which establishes a clear shift of Khmer political ideology from ‘rāja’ or king, to ‘rājya’ or the kingdom and its people. In support of this new ideology, no war was waged by Jayavarman IV; his reign was the most peaceful phase of the Khmer Empire, which enabled a cultural resurgence. This time of peace allowed Jayavarman IV to carry out projects of regional, social, economic and architectural development, town planning and rural infrastructure, of which the ensemble of monuments at Koh Ker bear testimony. The art and architecture of Koh Ker was also developed to reflect and affirm the dominance and uniqueness of Jayavarman IV’s political identity, particularly with the use of a monumentality of scale in architecture, and dynamism in sculpture, both of which is unmatched in other Khmer legacies.
Koh Ker represents a unique vision in the arts, architecture and introduces new technologies, which changed urban planning for the coming centuries. The most important monuments of the capital are situated close to and in the immediate vicinity of the Prasat Thom complex, where the seven-tiered pyramid, also known as Prasat Prang, the only one in Southeast Asia, forms the apotheosis of an eccentric building style known only in Koh Ker. Prasat Thom complex is also the central axis around which the capital is geometrically formed.
Temples at Koh Ker
So far, 96 temples have been found in Koh Ker. They include: Dav, Rumlum Bey, Beung Veng, Trapiang Prey, Dey Chhnang, Srok Srolao, Lingam, Kuk Srakum, Trapiang Ta, Sophy, Krahom, Andoung, Ang Khna, Teuk Krahom, Damrei Sar, Krarab, Banteay Pichoan, Kuk, Kmao, Thneung, Thorn Balang, Rohal, Chamneh, Sampich, Trapiang Svay, Neang Kmao, Pram, Bat, Khnar Chen, Klum, Chrab, Dangtung, Prang, Kampiang.. These temples were not constructed near each other. Today, many of them are no longer standing, and some are buried in the ground.
The Koh Ker complex is along a trail that is about 3 kilometers long. The first temple, Neang Khmao sits atop a small hill on the east side of the trail. The temple, which faces west toward Angkor city, is made of sandstone. It is 20 meters high and resembles a stupa. The temple terrace is 2 meters high and divided into three decks. The temple is surrounded by a laterite rampart, 44 meters square and 2 meters high. The rampart has only two openings; one on the east side, and the other on the west. The temple once housed lingam and yoni, but only yoni remains. The lintel sculpture has been damaged, but otherwise, most of the temple is in good condition, while nearly three-quarters of the rampart is good condition.
About 700 to 800 meters north of Neang Khmao temple is another temple called Pram temple. Constructed of laterite and sandstone, it sits on a small hill surrounded by bushes that block the lingam and the lintel. The main body of the temple is in good condition. Farther down the trail is a three-peak temple made of laterite and sandstone. It faces east and is called Chen temple. Inside the temple there is a piece of lingam and remnants of a statue of King Jayavarman IV. A sculpture of garuda's head on the south lintel is missing. The temple is overgrown by forest.
About 800 to 900 meters farther, there is the Preng well, which is similar to a pond. Surrounded by stone, it is 20 meters square. The terrace is about 8 centimeters high. The water in the pond is clear, and a nearby tree provides shade for weary visitors looking for a place to relax. Another kilometer down the trail is the rampart of Koh Ker temple. 1 kilometer long and 2 kilometers high, it is made of laterite. Koh Ker temple is the middle of a rampart, surrounded by 20 more temples. Some of the temples are:
Kuk temple or Gopura is made of sandstone and has a sculpture of lotus petals on the temple fronton. Although the door frame is damaged, most of the temple is in good condition. A Shiva lingam that once was housed inside has been looted. Prang temple is constructed of sandstone and bricks. There are five separate parts of this temple. About 70 percent of the temple is still standing. About 10 meters farther is Kramhom temple (The red temple). Constructed of brick and shaped like a seven-level pyramid, the temple is decorated with a 20-meter-tall sculpture of lotus petals. Inside the temple, there is a 3-meter-tall statue of Shiva with eight arms and four heads. The statue is supported by a l-square-meter base. The statue is seriously damaged, only some parts remain. Farther down is Khmao temple. On the wall and door frame of the temple, there is a partially damaged inscription. Near the temple is a rampart gateway to Kampiang temple. The gateway is a 2-meter staircase. Some sculptures of lotus petals, seven-headed nagas and garudas remain.
About 300 meters farther to the west is Kampiang or Koh Ker temple. From a distance, the temple looks like a small hill, because it is covered by forest. Up close, however, it is actually a 35-meter-high stupa made of sandstone. It has seven levels, each level about 5 meters above the other. Each deck has a 2-meter-wide terrace, and there is a 55- step staircase to the top. At the top of the temple, there are large statues of garudas supporting Shiva lingam Treypuvanesvara. Nearby, there is a 4-meter square well, now completely covered by grass. According to local villagers, if a coconut is dropped into this well, it will appear in the pond near Neang Khmao temple. There is vegetation growing on top of the temple, and from there visitors have an excellent view of the surrounding landscape, in particular, Phnom Dangrek, Phnom Tbeng, and Kulen district.To the north of Koh Ker temple is another temple, Damrei Sar temple, but it is heavily damaged. To the northeast, is Iingam temple. This temple once housed three Shiva lingams, but some are now damaged.
Koh Ker Infrastructure and Society
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Another exceptional characteristic of Koh Ker is the development of water management techniques. The water management system at Koh Ker was a hybrid one, combining elements of a highland system of damming river valleys with elements of the classical lowland system of huge reservoirs, canals and bunded fields. An earlier form of this system may be observed at the World Heritage Site of Sambor Prei Kuk (6th-7th centuries C.E.), while a far more elaborated system was later in use in Angkor. Koh Ker thus served as a huge laboratory for what was to come, situating itself perfectly between early drainage (Oc-Eo) and catchment trials (Sambor Prei Kuk) and the far more sophisticated hydrological system can be observed in the later Angkor period. Along with management of water, the structures of Koh Ker, particularly the Lingas and the Rahal were planned using the natural terrain in such a way that the flow of water through the site becomes an act of sacralising. [Source: Permanent Delegation of the Kingdom of Cambodia to UNESCO]
Koh Ker embodies the remains of a very well-organized urban complex, the capital of a unique past civilization. The ancient capital city is an exceptional testimony of a cultural tradition with centralized political power, bearing Hindu religious features. Its civilization was deeply influenced by the Indian subcontinent in terms of social institutions, religion and art which were assimilated into indigenous customs, ideology and artistic expressions. Koh Ker marks the time when a distinctive Khmer culture/identity emerged from this cross cultural exchange. It is at Koh Ker that we find the first evidence of the giant-size infrastructure symbolizing powerful elements in Cambodian and Southeast Asian history. The infrastructure was the biggest not only in Cambodia, but in Southeast Asia. Jayavarman IV introduced the first artificial giant structure in his capital, where he established the stepped pyramid of Prasat Thom, as well as its giant sculptures. The uniqueness of the architecture and sculpture in Koh Ker represents the technological prowess exhibited in Khmer art.
Koh Ker Art and Architecture
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Hindu character of the site is best revealed through its monumental art of which the sculptures are the most prominent, executed in the ronde-bosse technique. Drawing on earlier styles, its creators soon developed a distinct art, advancing sculpting techniques while inventing the hybrid figure. The best examples are the Dancing Shiva with a presumed height of 6 m at Prasat Kraham and the recently discovered ensembles at Prasat Chen depicting scenes of the Mahabharata (the last fight in the battle of Kurukshetra between Bhima and Duryodhana) and the Ramayana (the fight between Valin and Sugriva). Scenes like these may well be found at other temple sites but is the first time and also last that they have been brought alive through monumental sculpture formations, whether in and outside the Khmer Empire. Its iconography is unique and is currently referred to as the Koh Ker style. [Source: Permanent Delegation of the Kingdom of Cambodia to UNESCO]
Koh Ker’s sphere of influence too was secured through a well developed network of cultural routes that connected it not only to every corner of the Khmer Empire but beyond, to subcontinental Asia. Cultural sharing enabled by Royal Roads ensured that the buildings, artwork, inscriptions and landscape design of Koh Ker and surrounding temples constitute the most significant and comprehensive early expression of a distinct Khmer culture that drew upon and adapted Indian religious concepts and iconography and their accompanying artistic and architectural styles. The site is thus an outstanding example of how influences from Indian architecture and artworks were assimilated and refined in the distinctive Koh Ker style. The Indian concepts were modified to meet the specific needs of this emergent empire and its social, religious and agrarian order, which ultimately evolved into a distinct Khmer culture that constitutes a milestone in urban planning and the plastic arts in Southeast Asia.
Koh Ker: Archaeological Site of Ancient Lingapura or Chok Gargyar is an outstanding example of ideas and values expressed through the monumental arts in the early 10th century C.E. in Cambodia. As evidenced by the site, the political structure, religious practices and material culture marked important advances that had a lasting impact in the country and region. The buildings, artwork, inscriptions and landscape design of Koh Ker and other surrounding temples constitute the most significant and complete early expression of a distinct Khmer culture that drew upon and adapted Indian religious concepts and iconography and their accompanying artistic and architectural styles. The site is an outstanding example of how influences from India in terms of architecture and artwork were assimilated and refined in the distinctive Koh Ker style. The Indian concepts were modified to meet the specific needs of this emergent empire and its social, religious and agrarian order, which ultimately evolved into a distinct Khmer culture that constitutes a milestone in urban planning and the plastic arts in the Southeast Asia region.
Its outstanding architecture, a distinct and original adaptation of Indian influence, introduces to the Southeast Asia region colossal-sized statues and construction in new aesthetic forms. This shows a creative idea and concept that originated at Koh Ker, giving rise to the so-called Koh Ker style. The scenes of Mahabharata and Ramayana were narrated in the form of individual characters carved in stone rather than carvings in the form of bas-relief. The extraordinary architecture of the religious shrines is apparent in the stepped-pyramid temple of Prasat Thom and other temples dedicated to Shiva.
Koh Ker Archaeology and Conservation
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: All components and elements that contribute to the potential Outstanding Universal Value of the property are within this nominated area and intact in all respects. These characteristics demonstrate the potential Outstanding Universal Value of Koh Ker, represented by as many as 76 temples, a road network and the structure of an ancient city, extensive and largely intact archaeological deposits, a large water reservoir, moats and other water management features. An important array of statues, sculptures, inscriptions and rare traces of mural paintings and frescoes are integral to the abiding value of Koh Ker. The site represents many generations of Khmer people attesting to the resilience of a powerful civilization in terms of the range and number of surviving monuments. The boundary also includes its pristine environment and forested area. [Source: Permanent Delegation of the Kingdom of Cambodia to UNESCO]
Koh Ker: Archaeological Site of Ancient Lingapura or Chok Gargyar has suffered from the ravages of time, looting during the Cambodian war (1970s-1990s), a difficult climate and recent historic events. The weathering process and encroachment of vegetation caused degradation of the monuments and in some cases their entire collapse. Over time, parts of the monuments and objects belonging to the site were relocated and/or looted. The gravest harm to the site, however, came with the international conflict, turning Cambodia into a war zone between the late 1960s and early 1990s. The area became isolated and was vulnerable to looting and destruction by humans as well as war. A number of statues were relocated to Phnom Penh or other areas for safety, while other were looted and went into private hands or other museums overseas. Although some have recently been returned, some remain unaccounted for.
Despite those tragic events, the site has been remarkably conserved in all its integrity. The property retains a large number of monuments and features which demonstrate the exceptional technological, architectural, artistic, historical, cultural and hydraulic values of the site. The major temples of the site retain their original form and fabric. Modifications and repairs were carried out on some of the buildings in the 10th century.
A number of the decorative elements, statuary and inscriptions from these monuments have remained in situ. Many of the masterpieces have been stored or are on exhibit in museums in Cambodia and abroad. The system of hydraulic features is intact, many of which are still in use today. Excavation surveys have also indicated that many of the buried structures remain in good condition. Protection of the site is secured by the Cambodian government, and regular clearing and restoration efforts in recent years have contributed to the preservation the site.
Koh Ker as a Living Site
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Koh Ker: Archaeological Site of Ancient Lingapura or Chok Gargyar constitutes a living site. Continued human habitation, agricultural production, commerce and religious worship have kept the area from turning into a deserted site. These archaeological properties, continuing religious practices and local communities dwelling on the site epitomize the potential Outstanding Universal Value of Koh Ker. [Source: Permanent Delegation of the Kingdom of Cambodia to UNESCO]
Most of the ancient temple shrines continue to be used as places of worship by the local people as well as visitors. Local communities furthermore consider Koh Ker as a “sacred place” in which deities are worshipped in everyday ritual performances. Some shrines for Neak Ta (powerful spirits) share the space of the monuments and many more are scattered throughout the site.
Low-population density villages (Koh Ker and Romchek) with their traditional gardens and tree cover largely retain the pattern of settlement that would have been exhibited by the historic urban complex. The local village inhabitants of Koh Ker today depend on agriculture, mostly rice cultivation and livestock raising (water buffaloes, cattle, pigs and chickens) and forest gleaning. Carbon dating has indicated that water features and earthworks still in use today are contemporary with the historic buildings.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.
Last updated August 2020