Preah Vihear

Avenue between temple gopura
WARNING: Travelling to Preah Vihear is still strongly discouraged by several governments as of April 2015, including the UK, the US, Canada and New Zealand, due to an ongoing border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia. These disputes turned violent in Apr 2009, Feb 2011, and May 2011, causing at least 41 deaths among military forces and civilians, and also damaged a part of the temple. The UN ICJ ruling of Nov 2013 in favour of Cambodian sovereignty has so far been honoured by both parties, but these governments and others are still concerned about the security situation in the area.

Prasat Preah Vihear (ព្រះវិហារ) is a Khmer (Cambodian) temple crowning a 525 m cliff in the Dângrêk Mountains in Cambodia, across the border from Si Saket and Kantharalak in northeastern Thailand. It is also the name of the surrounding province.

Understand

Moh I-Daeng cliff

Preah Vihear is perched on a hilltop with a commanding view of its surroundings. Predating Angkor Wat by 100 years, the history of the temple/fortress is somewhat unclear, but it is known to be dedicated to the god Shiva and thought to have been constructed in the reign of Suryavarman I (1002-50), with further significant additions by Suryavarman II (1113-50). Unlike most Khmer temples, the temple is constructed on a long north-south axis, instead of the usual rectangular plan facing east.

Though easily accessible from present-day Thailand, and for some years occupied by that country, the temple was nonetheless claimed by Cambodia on the basis of a map prepared during French colonial times. In 1959 Cambodia brought the dispute to the International Court of Justice, which in 1962 ruled that, because Thailand had for years accepted this map, Cambodia had sovereignty over Preah Vihear. Soon afterwards Cambodia was plunged into civil war. The temple remained open to the public from Thailand (although unreachable from Cambodia) until 1975, when it was occupied by the Khmer Rouge, whose rusting artillery guns still litter the area. It re-opened from the Thai side in 1998, and in 2003 Cambodia completed the construction of a long-awaited access road allowing Cambodians to visit the temple. In 2008, after a contentious nomination process, the temple was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Get in

While the temple is in Cambodia, access to the temple is possible from Thailand as well, with no Cambodian visa required.

From Thailand

NOTE: Due to a lingering border dispute, Thailand periodically blocks access to the site from its side: as of February 2009, the park including Moh I-Daeng cliff are open, but it is not possible to cross the border. Inquire locally before travelling.

As of June 2010, the Thai-Cambodia border was closed off completely with razor wire, and thus Preah Vihear could not be reached from Thailand.

The nearest significant Thai town is Ubon Ratchathani. The temple is at the end of Rte 221, but public transport options are limited and the easiest option is to charter a car for the day (1,000 baht and up, plus gas). The roads are surprisingly good and, depending on how hard your driver hits the gas pedal and/or how many water buffaloes decide to cross the road along the way, you can get there from Ubon in an hour and a half.

If this is out of your budget, the nearest town of any size is Kantharalak, which can be reached by frequent public buses in 2 hours or so from the nearby towns of Ubon Ratchathani and Si Saket. For the last leg of the trip (34 km), however, you will have to hitchhike or charter a songthaew/tuk-tuk/moto taxi.

At the entry gate into Khao Phra Wiharn National Park, you will have to pay a 200 baht entry fee (Thais 20 baht); note that the park is open only from 08:00-15:30. The road ends at a large parking lot, the final leg (less than a kilometre) into Cambodian territory you will have to cover on foot. At the Thai immigration post you'll be charged an additional 5 baht for a second ticket, and you'll also have to show your passport - they'll take a photocopy, but no stamps are issued and no visas are needed. After the road ends, walk over the smooth rock surface to the entry gate and pay another 200 baht fee (this one to enter Cambodia) and get your ticket punched, and now you can proceed to the ruins.

How to get there: From Bangkok, use Hwy 1 (Pahol Yothin Rd) turn right at Saraburi onto Hwy 2 (Mitraphap Rd). At Si Khew, turn right onto Hwy 24, and travel via Pak Thongchai, Sangka, and Ku Khan. Turn right onto Hwy 221, and head to Kantaralak and keep going to the park.

From Ubon Ratchathani, use Hwy 2178 and 221 via Varin Chamrap, Samrong, Benjalak, and Kantaralak to the park.

From Cambodia

The road from Siem Reap to Anlong Veng is fully paved, and so is the road from Anlong Veng to Preah Vihear. As of April 2014 it was one of the better roads in the country. While a 4x4 is not necessary to make it to the base of the hill on which Preah Vihear is located, a 4x4 or motorbike will be required to scale the steep road going up the hill. A small 125cc automatic scooter can climb the access road but only with one person per bike and no heavy packs. Geared bikes of the class the locals use are no problem.

Dancing Roads regularly arranges multi-day bike trips from Phnom Penh to Preah Vihear.

You can also reach the place on a three day motorbike trip from Kompong Thom.

Preah Vihear can be visited by tourists, but there is a strong military presence on the way up the hill, and around the temple. Soldiers line the entrance path asking for money and beer in a not so professional manner! Look out for the fakes with "US Navy" insignias, don't give them money. Stores adjacent to the temple will try to sell you multi-packs of cigarettes to give to the troops. Patriotic local tourists buy them, but it is not an obligation. Previous reports have mentioned bribes to drive up the access road, but as of April 2014 there were no roadblocks.

Admission to the temple is free, but identification is needed. For those without their own transport, a USD5/USD20 fee at the ticket office gets you a motorcycle/pick-up truck with driver to take you up to the top, and back down the hill. Not recommended to sit unsecured on the bed of a pick-up as the road is very steep in places.

Get around

The only way to get around is on foot. The 500 m elevation and the resulting breeze provide some relief, but it's still a hot and sticky 120 m (vertical) up the hill.

From the Cambodian side, you can hire a motorbike-taxi to take you up the steep ascent to the foot of the temple, but you'll still have to climb up the stairs yourself.

See

Schematic map of Preah Vihear Temple

The Thai and Cambodian paths join together at the bottom of the slope (lower end of the adjacent map), and from here the only way is up.

There are several other minor sights in the area, accessible only from the Thai side:

Buy

There are ramshackle assemblages of shacks at both the Thai parking lot and the Cambodian base of the hill, as well as all the way along the path up the hill in the temple area itself. These sell not only the expected T-shirts, postcards, and cans of Pepsi, but also premium cognac and cigarettes by the carton as well. It's tax-free shopping for Thais. As foreign visitors are few, expected to be besieged by little boys and girls shouting "hello" and hawking postcards, but they usually take the hint after a couple of "bye-byes".

Eat

Places to eat are rarer on the ground than drink stalls, although there are some pretty basic grill stalls towards the end of the Thai parking lot shopping shacks.

For more selection and a semblance of hygiene, there are a number of roadside restaurants on the Thai side before the park entrance, along the road from Kanthara.

Cambodia: The nearby town of Sra Ehm (20km) provides few options for food, but quality is reasonable. Most rice restaurants are loosely based around the main roundabout. There is a boutique hotel that can be reached from both road 2965 and 62 and has both a Western menu and English-speaking staff.

Drink

Drink stalls are ubiquitous along the trail.

Sleep

There are only very basic accommodation options in the immediate vicinity.

Cambodia: There is a wooden, very basic guesthouse (shower and toilet outside) at the bottom of the steps, where the locals live. Shower is from a barrel of rain water and a bucket. Very basic, but very clean. Electricity from 18:00-22:00.

There are a handful of basic and clean guesthouses in Sra Ehm (20 km south). From USD10.

Thailand: the nearest place with a variety of accommodation is the town of Kantharalak (approx. 30 km), which is also the nearest place with direct bus services to Bangkok, Si Saket, Ubon Ratchathani, etc.

More distant Thai-side possibilities are the towns of Si Saket (approx. 95 km, and nearest train station), and Khu Khan (approx. 95 km, and most convenient place to stay near the border if travelling to/from Anlong Veng); and the city of Ubon Ratchathani (approx 120 km) - however, the most direct access to all these places is via Kantharalak.

If you have your own equipment, there is a campground in the Khao Phra Wiharn National Park. Call the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Life at +66 2 5620760.

Stay safe

Land mine warning sign

Preah Vihear is the subject of a long-running territorial dispute between Thailand and Cambodia, and several soldiers on both sides were killed in clashes in 2008, 2009 & 2011. In Nov 2013 the UN's International Court of Justice ruled that the temple area and most of the disputed land were sovereign Cambodian territory. Thai officials pledged to abide by the ruling.

Land mines remain a real danger in the area, although the temple itself and the access paths have been painstakingly cleared by the HALO Trust. Stay on the beaten path, don't venture into any vegetation which has not been cleared recently, and heed the red warning signs, painted rocks and strings marking the limits of the demined area.

The cliffs are steep and no provisions are made to protect you from your carelessness. Keep a very close eye on children.

Go next

Anlong Veng to the west. Beng Melea to the south.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, April 18, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.