GPS = 14.3915607,104.6779853

Lat/Long = 14°23'56”N, 104°40'40”E

This spectacular temple is located just over the Cambodian border at the southern tip of Khao Pra Wihan National Park on top of a small mountain.  Due to a misguided decision by the World Court the temple is no longer accessible from Thailand, however it can still be reached by entering Cambodia and approaching it from the south.  The closest you can get to it from the Thai side is the observation pavilion at Pha Mo E Dang.  From here you can barely see the twin stupas near the start of the walkway leading up to the temple and if you use binoculars you can see an decorative gateway (gorupa) that's part of the actual temple.  If you're determined to visit the site you can cross the border at Choam, pay 1400B to leave Thailand, pay 600B to enter Cambodia, hire a van to take you west on highway 2648 for two hours, pay 10 U.S. dollars for admission to the “Temple of Preah Vihear World Heritage Site” and hire a motorcycle or 4-wheel truck to take you up the steep slope to the temple site.  Note that Thai citizens can freely cross the border but they're not allowed to visit the site without first obtaining special permission.

The temple is actually a linear series of causeways and staircases that take advantage of the gentle slope from the south.  This is one reason why the World Court's decision is so misguided: the entire site is designed to be approached from the south, which in modern times is Thai territory.  The site's layout is therefore quite unlike other Khmer sites, which unvaryingly face east and are either simple rectangles (hospitals) or squares with quincunx (cross-shaped) layouts.  Phreah Vihear can be accurately described as a “stairway to heaven”, and certainly that's what it must have seemed like to the Khmer royalty and spiritual aspirants who visited it in the 11th century.  The paved walkway that leads up the slope passes through a sequence of arched stone gateways which are fairly simple at first and become more elaborate towards the peak.  The first causeway has large stone nagas (9-headed serpents) on either side.  A small baray (stone-lined reservoir) is located about half-way up the slope on the left, which is one of the few features that brakes the symmetry of the linear layout.  In addition to the impressive nagas there are numerous stone lions less than a meter tall at various points along the walkway.

The final structure at the top of the stairway is an enclosed courtyard with narrow galleries on either side of a collapsed central structure.  The galleries have numerous square openings facing the center of the courtyard, forming narrow hallways.  One can imagine the scene a thousand years ago as spiritual aspirants sat in these galleries facing the central tower.  Another possible interpretation is that devotees of Shiva left statues in these gallery windows as a way of paying homage to their god.  We shall probably never know whether humans or bronze statues sat in these porticos, but since there are no traces of any statues so it's easier to assume humans sat here and prayed.  Most of the primary doorways have richly decorated lintels depicting scenes from Hindu mythology.  Most or all of them appear to be originals.  Other than a few inadequate wooden beans supporting some of the gorupas and collapsed towers, there is none of the careful restoration that the Thai Department of Antiquities is so good at.

The area beyond the final courtyard is a relatively flat surface formed by the natural sandstone that underlies the entire site.  All of the structures at the site are made of sandstone which is abundant on the sloping hill that inspired the Khmer to build a templAe here.  There are no bricks or laterite blocks anywhere which is another unique aspect of the site's construction.  The flat area beyond the courtyard ends abruptly and from the edge of the cliff one can see the vast Cambodian plain stretching off to the horizon.

Khao Pra Wihan (Preah Vihear)