Prasat Preah Vihear Temple
The imposing mountain temple of Prasat Preah Vihear has the most dramatic location of all the Angkorian monuments, perched atop the cliff of Chuor Phnom Dangrek, towering 550m above the palins below. The views from this most mountainous of temple mountains are breathtaking: lowland Cambodia stretching as far as the eye can see, and the holy mountain of Phnom Kulen looming in the distance.
Prasat Preah Vihear was built by a successor of seven Khmer monarches beginning with Yasovarman I (reigned 889-910) and ending with Suryavarman II (reigned 1112-52), builder of Angkor Wat. This progressive construction is easily appreciated once at the temple itself, as there are a series of gopura rising to the summit of the cliff. Some scholars have contended the site may have been founded earlier still, as evidenced by inscription linking it to the son of Jayavarman II, the first of Angkor’s devaraja (god kings), who transported hole stone here from the ancient Cambodian temple of Wat Phu Champasak in Laos.
Prasat Preah Vihear, known as Khao Phra Wiharn by Thais, tranlates as “Sacred Monastery” and it was an important place of pilgrimage during the Angkorian period. It was constructed, like other principal mountain temples from this period, to represent Mt. Meru and was dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva. The complex includes five principal gorupa, the best preserved of which are those at high level. The central sanctuary is constructed right on the edge of the mountai and in placves of the foundaton stones of the temple are just a few centimeters from the cliff face, further proof of hte architecture genius of the ancient Khmers. The site is in resonable condition and include many exquisitely carved lintels, particularly around the third, and largest, gopura. Also look out for an eaarly rendition of hte Churning of the Ocean of Milk, as later perfected at Angkor Wat, on the southern doorway. However, it is the location that really draws the visitors.
With peace came an agreement between the Cambodians and Thais to open the temple to tourism. The Thais built a huge road up the mountain and began to appropriate Cambodian territory along the ill-defined border. Today, there is a large visitor center and car park built on what was not so long ago Cambodian land. This is not enough, the Thais claim their territory goes right up to the temple steps and want to close the small Cambodian market that has grown up at the base of the temple. The stand-off resulted in the temple being close to visitors from the Thai side ind December 2001 and it looks like the Cambodians will have the last laugh, as they are bulldozing new roads from Anlong Veng and Tbeng Meanchey direct to the temple. The Thais will be left with a very nice road to nowhere.