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talesofasia guide to the provinces of Cambodia


Preah Vihear

updated February 2006

In at least five years, more likely ten years from now, Preah Vihear province is going to be one of Cambodia's major tourist destinations. Today, it remains one of Cambodia's most sparsely populated provinces, home to jungles and scrub forest, and a small, dusty provincial capital that is but a mere village. But Preah Vihear also happens to have three major temple sites. Until recent years, the three main sites (Preah Vihear, Koh Ker, and Preah Khan aka Bakan) were accessible only to the most hardy and determined of travelers. But roads have been built, mines removed, and jungle cleared.

Preah Vihear is bordered by Stung Treng to the east, Kompong Thom to the south, Siem Reap to the southwest, Oddar Meanchey to the northwest, and Thailand to the north. Access to the province is by road only and at present there are only two decent roads into the province, from the west via Oddar Meanchey province and from the south from Kompong Thom. There is a road to Stung Treng, which in the dry season is rather easy on a motorbike, but is otherwise not a viable route to take.

With the exception of Preah Vihear, Koh Ker, and the town of Tbeng Meanchey, this province is not suitable for Cambodia novices unless you are in the accompaniment of some kind of guide with firsthand knowledge of the area. There are virutally no facilities anywhere, most of the roads are wretched ox cart tracks through the jungle, and the province is one of the most heavily mined in the country. These silent killers are saturated along the border and you can also assume that any temple that hasn't been properly cleared by one of the mine clearance agencies will have mines around it.

Tbeng Meanchey
Preah Vihear temple
Koh Ker
Preah Khan

Tbeng Meanchey
Preah Vihear's dusty little capital, this friendly little village is miles from nowhere but if you're going to any of the temple sites in the province you'll probably spend at least one night here. When I stayed here it was at the Phnom Meas Guesthouse and it was quite adequate. It's brand new so you won't find it in any of the guidebooks but it's on the same block as the Moha Sombat and Bakan guesthouses and a building or two away from the Mlop Dong Restaurant - basically a wooden shack with a couple of tables inside, and the food is fine. The road from Kompong Thom is fine as is most of the road up to Preah Vihear temple.

Preah Vihear temple
Long a contentious matter between Thailand and Cambodia as to who owns it, the temple is now firmly in the hands of Cambodia. I attended the grand opening on January 15th, 2003 and the chronicle can be read here. The temple is easily accessed from Thailand, not so easily from Cambodia. It's not too bad from Anlong Veng, but making your way up from Tbeng Menachey is a disaster. The road up to the top of the temple is a thrill if you have a big bike and know what you;re doing. If not, walk, take a moto, or hitch a ride. Admission fees apply - from Thailand it's 200 baht to the Thais and 200 again to the Cambodians. From the Cambodia side there is a $5 fee if someone bothers to ask you for it. Though accessible from Thailand this is not an international border crossing and you cannot enter/leave Cambodian and Thailand here.

Koh Ker
This is a huge templex complex of possibly hundreds of large and small monuments. Many are still deep in the jungle and/or surrounded by mines. There are so many ancient structures still inaccessible that people aren't yet entirely sure of all that is buried in the forest. At present, the pyramidal structure that is the centerpiece of this tenth century capital, the pile of rubble that constitutes a temple in front of it, as well as some minor structures scattered around the area are open to visitors.. I visited Koh Ker in January 2003 and the story can be read here and returned again in January 2005. There is a reasonably good road connecting Koh Ker and Siem Reap that can be covered in two to three hours, though given the perceived exotic nature of the site, taxi drivers have been requesting sometimes ridiculous amounts of money to take tourists there. The distance is 125 km and a round-trip by car really shouldn't cost more than about $60 but prices in excess of $100 are often asked. As the road was built with private funds there is a $10 admission fee for foreigners. Siyong is the nearest village and there is a guesthouse there.

Preah Khan
Not to be confused with the Preah Khan located within the Angkor Archaeological Park and but a few kilometers north of Angkor Wat, this is probably the largest temple complex built during the ancient Khmer empire. The walls enclose in area of several square kilometers. This is one remote site I still haven't managed to visit. But those who do tell me it's gotten easier in the last year or two but is still no walk in the park. Lonely Planet does a pretty good job of discussing this temple and the ordeal of getting to it. If you do make it, don't expect too much by the way of intricate carvings as this temple has been very badly looted and much of it quite recent.


For more information on these temples and just about anything else in Preah Vihear province, I highly recommend you visit Andy Brouwer's website as he as explored this province far better than I, and for that matter, anyone I know. You'll want to see Cambodia Tales 2001 for info about Tbeng Meanchey and visiting Koh Ker, Cambodia Tales 2002 for a trip to Preah Vihear before the road was built, and finally, in 2003 for bringing Prasat Preah Neak Buos to the world, which I don't list above as anything I could tell you about it would be coming from the very website I'm telling you to read.

For the time being, Preah Vihear province, probably more than anywhere else in the country, offers the opportunity to see future tourist attractions in a predominantly natural state, giving one that ever-annoying chance to say, "You should have seen (fill in the blank) way back in 2003, when the road was yadda yadda blah blah and mines were blah blah yadda yadda."

Provinces Guide



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