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Preah Vihear Temple, Cambodia

Current state of affairs

That’s Preah Vihear Temple to the Khmers or Khao Preah Viharn for the Thais. The recently promoted UNESCO World Heritage site is situated smack bang on the border and yes….you may well have noticed in the news that there have been a few border ‘issues’ between the two countries in recent times. Note the disagreement has never been over ownership of the actual temple itself – even though the granting of UNESCO status somewhat provoked the dispute – but over a certain section of the surrounding area.

The hillside opposite is part of the disputed area
The hillside opposite is part of the disputed area

Access to Preah VIhear temple has traditionally been from the Thai side in Si Saket Province where there’s a  good road and the terrain rises gradually and Thai border guards would charge you 500 baht for a temporary pass to allow you to walk over the border, pay your Khmer entrance fee and visit the magnificent site and return to the car park on the Thai side.

The view across northern Cambodia from Preah Vihear
The view across northern Cambodia from Preah Vihear

Unfortunately, the Thai government, (we could cynically say out of spite?), haven’t re-opened the crossing yet despite there not having been any incidents for some 18 months and the sluggish FCO site has not changed its advice against visiting the temple from either the Thai side or the Khmer side, where a new road has been completed and access made easy. (It can now be done in a day trip from Siem Reap.) Consequently, we’ve had to remove Khao Preah Viharn from our Emerald Triangle itinerary for now although the nearby Buriram Province site of the spectacular mountain-top Phnom Rung conveniently provided us with a perfect alternative.

Phnom Rung, Buriram, Thailand
Phnom Rung, Buriram, Thailand

Also sadly, due to the incomprehensible, (not for the first time), FCO advice we aren’t able to include Preah Vihear on our Beyond Angkor tour either though again we have the awesome alternatives of Koh Ker and Beng Melea instead! (We are legally bound by FCO advice whether we agree or not.)

We hope the FCO’s thinking will change before too long so we’ll be able to include, what is one of the most spectacular sites in Southeast Asia, let alone Cambodia, in the near future. (Which will probably then entail adding an extra day on to our Beyond Angkor itinerary since you really can’t miss Beng Melea either!)

Preah Vihear, looking north
Preah Vihear, looking north, Thailand in the background

Last time we visited – on an independent trip so we can afford to ignore the FCO – in July 2011 I think it was, we saw zero other visitors, no guides and no-one even selling entrance tickets. A sad state of affairs for a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We were shown around by a couple of friendly young Khmer soldiers who’s guided tour even included their bunkers and gun emplacements, a view of the Thai positions opposite and an invitation to stay the night, have some beers and watch a football game on their TV!

Posing by the guardian lions
Posing by the guardian lions

Let’s hope the situation, or rather the ‘powers that be’s’ perception of the situation changes soon!