Saturday, 25 April 2015

Finally, I step foot on Prasat Preah Vihear

One of the many Gopuras of Prasat Preah Vihear
When the topic of Angkorian temples were brought up, the majestic Angkor Wat, the surreal Bayon and huge trees of Ta Prohm will overshadow all other smaller temples, including the dramatically situated Prasat Preah Vihear. If not for its declaration by UNESCO as a world heritage site and the subsequent fight between Thailand and Cambodia in 2009 over the area border claim surrounding this temple, including this temple itself by Thailand, Prasat Preah Vihear will not be known to the world.
Along the unpaved way up to the main entrance.
I’ve read of this temple since its award as a world heritage site but it didn’t have the pull for me to visit it until I visited Prasat Phanom Rung last year. During my visit to Prasat Phanom Rung, I’ve heard much about Prasat Preah Vihear from the locals. They reminiscent that it was once open to visitors crossing from Thailand because of the difficult and unsafe conditions to reach the temple via Cambodia. It is important to note that the area surrounding Prasat Preah Vihear on the Cambodian side are full of land mines, thanks to the Khemer Rouge.

Thailand or Cambodia?
Since then, I’ve made a mental note that if I ever make it to Cambodia again, I’ll attempt to visit this place which is not easy even by today’s standard. Besides that, it is an extremely costly and risky affair. The threat of land mines at remote area of Cambodia is something that will send the shiver down the spine of many people. However, when there is a will, there is a way! I finally made it to Prasat Preah Vihear today.

You can see many men in uniform all over the place.
There is no public transport to get from anywhere in Cambodia to the base of this temple which is perched atop the Dangkrek Mountains. From Siem Reap, my friend and I arranged for a private car to take us to Kor Muy, where we have to change to a 4WD for the final 5km up the temple access road. For the transportation alone, we paid USD 165 but the entrance to the temple is free. To reach the main gate of the temple, we have to hike for another 20 minutes under the hot sun. If you are looking for tree shades, you’ll be disappointed but there are plenty of men in uniform mingling around, their AK47 in plain view.
The layout is typical Angkorian temple.
According to the Lonely Planet, there is supposed to be a Monumental Stairway that leads down to the Thai border but we did not notice any. After passing through the first Gopura (pavilions), we kept hiking to the next Gopura until we reaches the end of the temple which is a big pile of rubble, waiting for restoration. Sign boards are non-existent at this temple.  You either rely on Lonely Planet or a local guide or you can try to decipher your own the buildings as most Angkor Temples are built with the same design and layout, dedicated to the Hindu deity, Shiva. There aren’t much carvings or statues for appreciation either. Sad to say, it is just another simple Angkorian temple but located on a hill, yet rich with history as a pilgrimage site.

Ruins!
After spending about 2 hours at this temple, I head back to the waiting 4WD and the drive back to Siem Reap, all done within the day. There aren’t any interesting temples or places of interest along the way and there is no absolute need for an overnight trip as recommended by some. On the way back, and even as of writing this piece, I kept asking myself, is it worth visiting Prasat Preah Vihear and all the huh hah associated with the trip all the way up the temple? My answer is no. But being me, I know I won’t be satisfied till I see the place for myself. This place is so much overrated, that is all I can conclude.

An overrated place that you won't go a second time, 
More ruins that badly need restoration.

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