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Preah Vihear – Magnificent Temple

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Last Update: January 2024




We don’t always realize, but it’s only since the 90’s of the previous century that travelers are really starting to explore Cambodia. Before that, the country was off limits, because of an oppressive regime and several (civil) wars. Nowadays, Cambodia is definitely on the tourist radar with Angkor Wat and Sihanoukville as the main poster boys.

However, Cambodia still has tons of unbeaten trails and destinations that are undiscovered by the masses. Laid-back riverside towns along the Mekong that even feature fresh water dolphins for instance. Also, numerous national nature parks with elephants and other rare wildlife. A vast countryside that offers a wonderful peek into rural village life and tropical Islands including white sand beaches with turquoise waters. Or, in the case of Preah Vihear, ancient Khmer temple ruins that rival the splendor of Angkor Wat, but without the crowds.


Preah Vihaer Temple
Preah Vihear – Magnificent Temple




Preah Vihear – General Info


Preah Vihear province is situated in the Northwest of Cambodia and derives its name from the ancient Prasat (temple) Preah Vihear that was built during the times of the great Khmer Empire. The Preah Vihear temple predates Angkor Wat by a century and is listed as an Unesco world heritage site. Construction started in the 9th century as a homage to Hindu God Shiva. Later on this was converted to Buddhism with Hinduism on the decline in the region.

The temple’s architecture and historical significance certainly justify a visit. As does the location right next to the border with Thailand on top of the 600 meter high “Poy Tadi Cliff” in the Dangrek mountains. The views over the Northwestern Cambodian plains are nothing less than spectacular. This temple site is indeed what we would call a “must-see”, but please be careful.


View from the Poy Tadi cliff over the Cambodian plains

Skirmishes

For decades, Thailand and Cambodia have been disputing ownership of the Preah Vihear temple and surrounding lands. In 1962 the International Court of Justice ruled in favor of Cambodia, but Thailand denied to acknowledge the ruling.

Over the years, incidental skirmishes took place at/near the temple site. As recent as 2011 there was an exchange of heavy gunfire between Thai and Cambodian troops. Up to today, heavily armed paramilitary forces continue to face each other in a deadlock stand off.

However, since 2011 the area is relatively quiet and in 2013 the International Court of Justice ratified their decision to award Cambodia with the rightful ownership of the area. Thousands of visitors have safely visited the temple without any incident since then. So thousands, and not millions of visitors like at Angkor Wat and that’s exactly why I enjoyed visiting this temple so much.


Preah Vihaer Temple



Reasons (not) to visit Preah Vihear


Why you should visit Preah Vihear

  • Off the beaten path;

  • The temple’s historical significance rivals Angkor Wat, but without the crowds;

  • Spectacular views over the Cambodian plains;

  • Doable as a day trip from Siem Reap;

  • Authentic experience.

Why to avoid Preah Vihear

  • Although there isn’t a real security risk, the military display can be intimidating;

  • Other attractions in the immediate area are limited;

  • Tourist infrastructure is not really developed;

  • Getting there is a bit of a hassle.


Private tour to Preah Vihear Temple
Private tour to the Preah Vihear temple



Things to do see/do in Preah Vihear


The Temple

Half day to whole day activity

As mentioned before, the Preah Vihear temple site is stunning and of magnificent proportions. An 800m long monument, built during the Khmer empire era from sandstone bricks and rocks. Large wooden beams were used to support the terracotta tiled roof. The site bears different architectural elements as several successive kings ordered modifications and expansions over time.

I’m a fan of Khmer temples. Not an expert or even knowledgeable at the slightest, I just love the architecture and the atmosphere that lingers around them. Like clockwork, my mind always starts to wander in admiration of what people were capable of building more than a thousand years ago. And just imagine enjoying this in the almost complete absence of other visitors.

Admission to the temple site is $10 and in line with security measures you will have to show your passport at the ticketing center. Opening hours are every day from 8:30am to 4:30pm.


Detailed carvings Preah Vihear temple
Detailed carvings Preah Vihear temple

Eco Global museum

2 hour to half day activity

The temple complex is interesting enough to keep you busy for at least a half day, more if you have a special interest in history, archeology or architecture. In any case, you should definitely combine the temple with a visit to the The Eco Global museum.

10 years after the start of construction the museum finally opened its doors in March 2018. No less than 11 buildings on a 177-hectare plot of land present artifacts from the nearby Preah Vihear temple and other Cambodian heritage sites.

Furthermore, the museum which is supported by Unesco, provides a unique insight into local culture and local flora and fauna. It’s conveniently located approximately 6 km from Sra’Aem on route 62 towards the Preah Vihear temple. Entrance fee is $3.


Eco-Global Museum in Sra'Aem, Preah Vihear
A peek into one of the Eco-Global Museum’s exhibition halls

Cruisin’ the surroundings

Half day to whole day activity

Whether you’re staying in Sra’Aem or Preah Vihaer City, renting a small motorbike or even bicycle is a great idea to explore the rural North of Cambodia. No fixed routes, just start your engine and see where it takes you. Hidden temples, small villages, stunning green nature and lively markets, never a dull moment.

Ask your guesthouse for the best place to rent a motorbike or bicycle.


Stunning Nature
Stunning Nature

Rare bird watching

Multiple days activity

Birdwatchers should head over to the tiny village of Tmatboey, which is a mere 40 km from Preah Vihear City. As part of the Kulen Prum Tep Wildlife Sanctuary, the “Tmat Boey Ecolodge” is a community based tourism project that has the villagers involved with conservation of the area and protection of wildlife. Former poachers and illegal loggers have now become environmental protectors.

Among the bird species spotted here are the extremely rare Giant Ibis, which is the national bird of Cambodia. But also the white-shouldered Ibis, Indian spotted Eagle, white rumped pygmy Falcon, collared Falconet, rufous winged Buzzard, Indochinese Bushlark, brown Prinia, neglected Nuthatch and white browed Fantail.

Wow, such cool bird names. I have to admit, I didn’t know any of these birds, but I’m sure that serious bird watchers are jumping with excitement right now. Bookings can be made through the Tmat Boey Ecolodge.


Giant Ibis
Giant Ibis

Travel Insurance



Where to stay in Preah Vihear


Most (foreign) visitors choose to visit the temple on a day trip from Siem Reap, which is certainly doable. On the other hand, an overnight stay in Sra’Aem or Preah Vihear City to get an early start can be convenient. Overall, accommodation standards are not very high, but there are a few decent options at least. Preah Vihaer City (also Tbeng Meanchey) is a bit further out, but accommodation standards are slightly better.

Sra’Aem


Heng Sokchamroeun Guesthouse
Budget = from $10 to $30
For sure, the best option in Sra’Aem. Typical Khmer guesthouse with clean rooms. The staff doesn’t speak English, but puts great effort into understanding and helping you. They can also help to arrange your transport to the temple ticketing center. We totally enjoyed our stay here. Contact the guesthouse through Facebook or +855 17 997 727 / 17 442 727.


Preah Vihear City (Tbeng Meanchey)


Sokha Home
Budget = from $10 to $30
Simple and basic guesthouse. Owner is friendly and helpful. Good for a stopover night on your way to/from the Preah Vihear temple. There’s a tour desk, a sun terrace and a free shuttle service to the city center. Also, they rent out bicycles for exploring the surroundings.

Sokha Home Hotel Preah Vihear


Green Palace Preah Vihear
Mid Range = from $30 to $75
Relative comfort in one of the largest hotels of Preah Vihear City (80 rooms). Close to the city center, although there is never much going on. Breakfast included.

Update January 2024: A reliable source informed us that the hotel might have closed its doors since recently. Not confirmed, but like I said, from a reliable source.

Green Palace Preah Vihear Hotel




Where to eat in Preah Vihear


Don’t come to Preah Vihear for the food is all I’m saying. Try to make the best of it with our restaurant recommendations below.

Sra’Aem

Phum Khnhom ស្រអែមភូមិខ្ On road 62, just North of the roundabout in Sra’Aem where the market is you’ll find a small cluster of Cambodian restaurants. Phum Khnhom is definitely our preferred choice. Not only because of their wonderful and affordable food, but also for their friendliness and patience with non Khmer speaking customers. The restaurant has no English signage, so make sure to check their location in the link above.

Preah Vihear Boutique Hotel Sra’Aem. If you can’t do without Western fare, try your luck at the hotel restaurant. Pizza, pasta, burgers and even steak. Expect to pay a little more, and stay for after dinner drinks from the excellent bar.


Restaurant in Preah Vihear
Restaurant Phum Khnhom ស្រអែមភូមិខ្
Restaurant in Preah Vihear
Fresh, clean food at the Boutique Hotel

Preah Vihear City

Green House Restaurant used to simple, but tasty Khmer food for a decent price $2-$3. There’s an English menu, English speaking owners and $1.50 Asian breakfasts. Recently, they moved to a new location and the food is slightly more upscale, as is the pricing. Still delicious though.

Ly Hout BBQ & Soup Typical Khmer BBQ restaurant. It’s always fun to share BBQ or steamboat with a group of friends or family. Ly Hout uses fresh ingredients that are friendly priced for the quality and quantity offered. We tried the seafood steamboat and it was excellent with shrimp, squid and fishcakes, ample veggies and condiments. Atmosphere was really nice with lots of families.


Ly Hout restaurant in Preah Vihear
Ly Hout restaurant in Preah Vihear
Ly Hout restaurant in Preah Vihear
Steamboat dinner



How to get to Preah Vihear


To get to the temple site can be rather complicated. Coming from Siem Reap or from direction Phnom Penh the best way is to get to Preah Vihear City (Khmer: “Tbeng Meanchey”) first. Buses from Siem Reap will take about 3h-4h, while buses from Phnom Penh take a good 7h-8h. For online bus tickets, try the transport platform from bookmebus.com.

Preah Vihear City is still a good +100 km from the temple. You can choose to stay the night in Preah Vihear City and continue your journey to the temple the next day. Or, straight from the bus, go by taxi to the village of Sra’Aem to stay there overnight to have an early morning start the next day.

From Sra’Aem, arrange a taxi or tuk-tuk to take you to the temple entrance. From there, special pick-up trucks will bring you to the top of the temple site for $25 per/6pax. If you’re party is less than 6pax, there are always opportunities to share with other travelers. Motor taxis do the same stretch for $5 p/pax. Or you can climb the stairs (free) to the top if you are ready to take on the 2,442 steps stairway.


After seeing the stairway, many opt for the taxi to take them to the top

A day trip visit from Siem Reap is doable if you rent a car, either self-drive or with a driver. Leave very early, drive 4.5 hours and arrive before the midday heat. The last bit to the top is on a (spectacularly) steep, narrow and winding road. Outsiders are prohibited to drive there, so you will have to make use of either the motor taxis, pick-up trucks or the stairway to get to the top.


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