Chau Srei Vibol. Oddly enough my 5-year-old’s favourite Angkor temple!? We were ready to go back to Siem Reap for a cold one whilst she was still taking ‘just one more photo’. Not quite sure why she liked the rarely-visited Chau Srei Vibol so much – maybe all the trees and the hilly terrain – though even at her age she seems to prefer the temples without many other tourists at them.
If you can make it out to this site then you are pretty sure to have the place to yourself but continually improving roads means it isn’t that inaccessible anymore. Chau Srei Vibol is actually located on the old Angkor-period road to Beng Melea so lies some 13 kilometres due east of Prasart Kravan. (The old road is the track that leads off the sealed road between Kravan and Sra Srang – signposted Bat Chum.) However it’s not easy to get to it that way these days and the main access road is the track that runs from Phnom Bok down to the National 6 near Rolous – it’s on most maps anyway. That’s a half-decent track linking several villages though may get a bit tricky during heavy rains.
Chau Srei Vibol is a large, albeit very ruined, site with a unique layout. A wide moat and laterite enclosure wall surround a steep hillock on the summit of which the inner enclosure and central shrine were constructed. The laterite wall has 4 entrance gopuras – all in very ruined states and at the foot of the hillock is an unusual cruciform building whose purpose is unknown. In fact not too much is known about this temple since to my knowledge no inscriptions were found and its severely ruined state makes it difficult to work out what’s what but it does have the hallmarks of an 11th-century, Suryavarman I period temple.
Some laterite terracing can be found on the sides of the hill whilst on the top is an enclosure gallery, central towers and a ‘library’ – all in sandstone. The ‘library’ is one of the few intact buildings and indeed the overall level of destruction points to the hand of man rather than nature alone. (Locals blame it on 14th-century Siamese invaders.) The carvings that remain are also in poor condition though it doesn’t seem to have been particularly well endowed in that respect anyway. The layout and location have led some archaeologists to suggest the temple had more of a military function than religious and there may be something in that theory.
So don’t go there expecting delicate apsaras and fine reliefs but it is an atmospheric and fun site to explore in the classic clambering over massive piles of sandstone blocks and ruined towers glimpsed through encroaching jungle style plus as we said you’d probably have the place to yourself!
Note the particular itinerary is not a regular feature of our Cambodia tours but an optional afternoon of off the beaten track temples tour is easily arranged.