CAMBODIA – The Preah Vihear Temple is a must do day trip from Siem Reap

Cambodia - Preah Vihear Temple
Cambodia - Preah Vihear Temple

The Preah Vihear Temple is an ancient complex in the north of Cambodia close to the Thai border. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site so a place I could not skip when I was in Siem Reap. The drive from Siem Reap takes a few hours but is well worth a day trip. I combined the trip with a visit to the Pol Pot grave and Lon Nol house which are also located in the area. You can also fly there by helicopter if you want, but after my helicopter flight over Angkor Wat on the first day of this 9 day Siem Reap itinerary my budget didn’t allow that anymore. I went in a private car, which was the most efficient for me. I’ll share with you my experience of this day, will you join me?

Preah Vihear Temple

The Preah Vihear Temple is located on a hill in northern Cambodia and dates to the Khmer Empire. The main construction took place in the 11th and 12th century with smaller parts dating back to the 9th century. The complex has a different layout as other complexes in Cambodia of that time as most complexes were built in a square layout but the Preah Vihear Temple was constructed along an 800-meter axis. During the Khmer period the main religion was Hinduism but over time Buddhism became more important. Many temple complexes were converted to be used by Buddhists as was the case with the Preah Vihear Temple. You will notice decorations in the complex of both religions.

Cambodia - Preah Vihear Temple

The Preah Vihear Temple complex is in Cambodia as per rule of the International Court of Justice but is disputed by Thailand still today as they claim it to be in their territories. Visiting the temple is “easy” but you require to buy an entrance ticket and drive up the hill with a local vehicle. On the hill, you will see some Cambodian military watching the border with Thailand. I spoke with one of them and he lent me his binoculars to check the Thai border posts. It’s just a few years ago that the last guns were fired and this could happen again in the future. Do not worry when visiting as the place is totally safe but do keep in mind you cannot visit the Preah Vihear Temple from Thailand as the border crossing is closed.

Cambodia - Preah Vihear Temple

Khmer Empire architecture typically has an entrance building, or gopura, giving entrance to the enclosure behind it. These enclosures are characterized by galleries along the sides which I found a bit to resemble the enclosures and galleries of European monasteries and cloisters. These gopuras have beautiful towers and are normally decorated with carvings from Hinduist mythology. At the Preah Vihear Temple complex you can admire some beautiful decorations on the walls. Preah Vihear consist of five gopuras which you must pass through before you arrive at the sanctuary at the end of the 800-meter complex. Big parts of the temple are collapsed but there is a bigger part still standing which gives you a good impression on how it once looked liked. At the end, you have some great views at the surrounding landscapes. I explored the area for about two or three hours before I continued my day trip to the grave of Pol Pot.

Cambodia - Preah Vihear Temple

Pol Pot Grave

Pol Pot was the leader of the Khmer Rouge and prime minister of Democratic Kampuchea in the late seventies. During these four years, his totalitarian dictatorship was the cause of the death of millions of people. In 1979 the Cambodian-Vietnamese war made an abrupt end to his ruling and made him move into the jungle. Until a year before his death in 1998 he kept influencing the Khmer Rouge but got arrested in his northern stronghold near the Preah Vihear Temple complex. His death is still full of rumors today: murder, suicide or a natural death. One thing is sure that he was cremated before an investigation took place. I visited the place of the cremation were a small simple grave is located. It takes not more as 10 minutes to visit but if you are in the neighborhood it’s just a short detour. He played an important role in the modern history of Cambodia and that’s why I stopped by.

Cambodia - Pol Pot Grave

Lon Nol House

Lon Nol played an important role in Cambodia being prime minister, twice. In 1970 however he led a military coup against the then ruling government and created the Khmer Republic. Lon Nol was the president of the Khmer Republic until 1975 when the Khmer Rouge took over control with Pol Pot becoming the prime minister. He was number one on the list of people to be executed but escaped to the United States where he lived until his death in 1985. Not far from the Preah Vihear Temple, one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Republic, it’s possible to visit the last house of Lon Nol. It’s not a big place and I didn’t see any other tourists either but there are a few rooms with a small exhibition consisting mainly of paintings. If you are visiting Preah Vihear I can recommend to stop by here for 30 minutes; the house also gives a beautiful view on the lake.

Cambodia - Lon Nol House

I had a great day visiting the Preah Vihear Temple complex in northern Cambodia. It’s a long day but I was with a great local guide. In the evening, he took me to a local restaurant just outside of Siem Reap to have fresh raw turtle egg’s and a turtle itself. Delicious! When I returned to my hotel in Siem Reap and wanted to make a backup of my photo’s I found out the SD-card crashed. 128 GB of data gone! Luckily I made a backup the evening before but today’s photos were all gone. I could not recover the photos anymore and sending the SD card in for professional recovery was too expensive for a 128 GB card. All photos in this posts are made by the guide; thank you for allowing me to use them. I learned my lesson and now my camera gear has only 32 GB cards which, if damaged, are cheap to recover.

I already did a helicopter flight over Angkor Wat the day before and the next day I would visit the Koh Ker & Beng Mealea and see the local life on a garbage dump amongst other temples. I would visit most places of interested around Siem Reap during this 9 day Siem Reap itinerary. Cambodia, but also Vietnam and Laos are one of my favorite countries in South East Asia to travel to. Which are yours?

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Did you visit Preah Vihear Temple Complex too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!

Gallery Preah Vihear Temple

Check the gallery for more photos taken during this trip. If you like to use any photo for commercial, private or editorial use please contact first for permission and/or pricing.

GPS Track Preah Vihear Temple

During my trips I make GPS tracks (sometimes they do not show, click download to open in Google maps). Feel free to download them and see how we moved around and see the time frames at the various places. Hope these maps are of help for you when planning your trips.

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