Construction of Preah Vihear Temple, the castle temple, began as early as the ninth century. This ancient Hindu temple is popular not only for its good looks, but also for its precarious placement. Perched atop a 1,722 ft cliff in the Dangrek Mountains, the Preah Vihear Temple lies within the borders of Preah Vihear province in Cambodia. However this mountain range creates the natural border between Cambodia and Thailand, and both countries claim the temple and the land around it.
What about the border dispute?
The dispute has been ongoing for hundreds of years and still makes news headlines regularly. An international court ruled in favor of Cambodia in 1962, but Preah Vihear is still listed by Thailand as a part of Sisaket Province, and the easiest way to access the temple is through Thailand’s Khao Phra Wihan National Park. It bears noting that the province got its name from the temple and not vice versa. Preah Vihear was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.
Preah Vihear province in northern Cambodia is 85 miles from Siem Reap’s Angkor Wat, and makes for an incredible overnight trip for guests visiting the temples. Cambodia is flat – very flat. Preah Vihear temple, high up on a cliff, affords the most stunning views of any temple in the entire country. From the top you can see for miles around.
The temple was used by ancient Angkor kings for more than 800 years, so it makes sense that the temple now bears the characteristics of multiple styles of architecture. Dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva the Destroyer, Preah Vihear stands apart from almost every other ancient Khmer temple due to its unique construction along the north-south axis rather than the common orientation towards the East.
All of these rare features are made all the more apparent because the temple – all the way up on the cliffs — remains very well preserved. You can still see an inscription at the temple describing King Suryavarman II studying sacred rituals and celebrating religious festivals with gifts of white umbrellas, golden bowls and live elephants.
To reach the temple itself you have to climb a series of steps and pass five gopuras. Each one blocks visitors’ view of the next part of the temple, so it is impossible to see the temple as a whole from any single point.
As we mentioned earlier, Preah Vihear is less than 100 miles from Siem Reap, so it makes for a perfect day trip. It is possible to go and return to your Siem Reap hotel in a single day, however if you have the time it is well worth an adventurous overnight. If you’d like to know more about what an overnight in Preah Vihear province is like, please do not hesitate to contact us.
At the time of publication, Cambodia allows single-day access to the temple from Thailand without requiring visitors to get a visa. You will be charged an entrance fee of $5 on arrival, and you may be asked to pay a fee of 5 baht (about 15 cents) for a photocopy of your passport. It is worth mentioning that the national park on the Thai side is very worth exploring for a day if you can make the time. Entrance should cost you 400 baht or $12.