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Preah Vihear – Koh Ker

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The following temple ruins are located in Preah Vihear Province, the province bordering Siem Reap Province to the northwest. The Angkorian-era temple ruins of Preah Vihear rank among some of the more important and impressive outside of the Angkor Park area in Siem Reap. The temple complex at Koh Ker, for example,  encompasses more than a dozen temples and represents the remnants of a rival capital city from the Age of Angkor. And the Preah Vihear Temple on the Thai border – the center of recent political controversy – displays a unique artistic style and stands with a commanding view of the Cambodian plain. Some of the temple ruins of Preah Vihear are comparatively easy to reach, such as Koh Ker which is within half-day trip. Others such as the remote Preah Khan at Kampong Svay requires significant more time and effort to reach.

 

Preah Vihear: Unique ruins with a spectacular view of the Cambodian plain.
Construction time: late 11th C.E.
Religion: Hinduism
Period kingdom: Suryavarman II
Architecture style: Koh Ker
Temple location: Preah Vihear
Duration for visit: 2 hours
Notes for photos: in the morning.
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Koh Ker: Extensive, archaeologically important temple complex.

Construction time: 10th century.
Religion: Hinduism
Period kingdom: Jayavarman IV
Architecture style: Koh Ker
Temple location: 50 km north of Siem Reap, Preah Vihear province.
Duration for visit: half-day
Notes for photos: morning.

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The temple complex at Koh Ker, northeast of Siem Reap, represents the remnants of the capital of the Khmer Empire from 928 AD. – 944 A.D. – a very unique period in the Age of Angkor. From the time the Khmer capital was first moved to the Angkor area in the late 9th century, it would remain there for almost 500 years, with one brief interruption. Just a few decades after the establishment at Angkor, there was a disruption in the royal succession for reasons that remain a matter of academic debate. What is known is that in 928 A.D. King Jayavarman IV, possibly a usurper to the throne, created a new capital 100km away at Koh Ker, either moving the capital city from Angkor or creating a rival capital. Obviously a king of much wealth and power, he raised an impressive royal city at Koh Ker of Brahmanic monuments, temples and prasats, surrounding a huge baray (reservoir) Rahal. Jayavarman IV reigned at Koh Ker for 20 years before he died in 941 A.D. His son Hashavarman II would remain at Koh Ker for another 3 years before returning the capital to the Angkor area.
The monuments of Koh Ker are now on a road loop around the baray past the most important temples. The premier ruin of the complex is Prasat Thom (large photo above), an imposing 7-tiered pyramid and temple complex. (Best photographed in the morning and offering a bird’s eye view from the top.) As you round the loop, there are several nicely preserved ruins sit just off the road, impressive prasats and small temple complexes. There are lingas still in place in some monuments such as Prasat Balang and Prasat Thneng. For the enthusiast, there are also dozens of other, more remote ruins in the area. A good guide can be most helpful at Koh Ker.
A trip to Koh Ker takes the better part of a day out of Siem Reap and is usually combined with a visit to Beng Melea. To get there take Route #6 east from Siem Reap to Damdek. Turn north and follow the signs. Part of the way is a toll road. Check road conditions before leaving Siem Reap, especially in the wet season. $10 entrance fee to Koh Ker.

Kbal Spean: River carvings outside the park area.

Construction time: 11th – 13th cen.
Religion: Hinduism and Buddhism
Period kingdom: Suryavarman II
Architecture style: Angkor Wat
Location: 40km north of Siem Reap.
Duration for visit: 90 minutes
Notes for photos: in the morning. Kbal Spean closes at 15:30.

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A river of 1000 lingas is at Phnom Kulen. There are also carvings of Buddha and Buddhist images in the rock that date from a later period than the lingas. Entrance to the area closes at 3:00PM. Combine with a visit to Banteay Srey and allow a half-day for the two. Take the road straight past Banteay Srey about 12km. Look for the sign and parking area on the left side. Requires a moderately easy 45-minute uphill walk though the woods.

Phnom Kulen: Where Angkor began.
Construction time: late 12th C.E.
Religion: Buddhism
Period kingdom: Bayon
Architecture style: Angkor Thom
Temple location: Angkor Thom
Duration for visit: 2 hours
Notes for photos: morning.
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Beng Melea: Jungle temple.

Construction time: early 11th cen.
Religion: Hinduism
Period kingdom: Suryavarman II
Architecture style: Angkor Wat
Location: 60km east of Siem Reap.
Duration for visit: 1 hours
Notes for photos: in the morning.

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Sprawling jungle temple covering over one square kilometer. The temple is largely overrun by vegetation and very lightly touristed, giving it an adventurous, ‘lost temple’ feel. Photographers: trees growing from the broken towers and galleries offer some of the best ‘tree in temple’ shots aside from Ta Prohm. Constructed in a distinctly Angkor Wat style under the same king that built Angkor Wat, Beng Melea preceded and may have served as a prototype of sorts for Angkor Wat. Though there are some lintel and doorway carvings, there are no bas-reliefs and the carvings are comparatively sparse. When the temple was active, the walls may have been covered, painted or had frescos. In its time, Beng Melea was at the crossroads of several major highways that ran to Angkor, Koh Ker, Preah Vihear (in northern Cambodia) and northern Vietnam. Regular admission ticket are not required but there is a separate $5 entrance fee. Beng Melea is located 63km east of town and is often combined with a trip to Koh Ker. The road is now in good condition and the trip from Siem Reap takes 1-2 hours. Graded dirt road with occasional flooding in the rainy season.

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