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Audley Travel specialist Mark

Written by Mark
Southeast Asia Specialist

03 Min Read

By Southeast Asia specialist Mark Hotham

Eight years ago, I camped 500 meters above the Cambodian plains, on the border between Cambodia and Thailand. Our campsite was the temple complex of Preah Vihear.

Now, the temple is once again taking its place on the route map for more adventurous travelers to Cambodia, and for good reason. There is so much to love about this location it's hard to fit it all onto a page, but there are some main highlights that stand out in my mind.

An unbeatable location

Preah Vihear has easily the most impressive location of any temple in Cambodia that I've seen. Its isolation, standing sentinel at the top of a cliff with nothing else for miles around, is what elevates it above Cambodia's other temples.

My guide had obtained a special permit for us to stay at Preah Vihear overnight — a sought-after and seldom-given permission slip. Two monks were our only companions, monks being allowed to camp at sacred sites.

As dusk fell, we gathered close to the cliff-edge with the temple behind us and the sun setting in front. The only light came from the cooking fires in the villages on the plains, sending smoke spiraling up into the night.

To be there in the evening after the last day-trippers had departed, and the peace and tranquility it evoked, remains one of my strongest memories from all my travels across Southeast Asia.

Buddhist monks walk alongside the central sanctuary at Preah Vihear
Buddhist monks walk alongside the central sanctuary at Preah Vihear
Preah Vihear, Cambodia
Preah Vihear, Cambodia

About Preah Vihear

Building work really began at this Hindu temple, dedicated to Shiva, in the 11th and 12th centuries. ‘Preah’ means sacred and ‘Vihear’ means shrine. Unlike most Cambodian temples, it sits on a north-south axis rather than aligning with east to west.

The ornate carvings that once decorated it are now mostly gone, but some remain, and the temple’s rows of colonnades give it a faint Roman air. If you walk up the steps from the main colonnade, you'll witness the temples most sacred place and its most spectacular viewpoint, looking out across the rice paddies and plains below. 

Preah Vihear, Cambodia
Preah Vihear, Cambodia
The first gate at Preah Vihear
The first gate at Preah Vihear

Getting to Preah Vihear

The temple is a day's drive north from Siem Reap along variable roads, staying overnight in the local guesthouse. For now, Preah Vihear is only available as a day trip. But, sooner or later, the Apsara Authority will start issuing permits to camp overnight, and then people should be clambering to get there.

Camping at the temple

What we hope to be able to offer our travelers is a temple safari at Preah Vihear the overnight camp that I was lucky enough to experience.

A temporary camp is driven up to the temple by truck, and a proper bed, and toilet and shower tents assembled. A chef from a Siem Reap restaurant will cook your evening meal of Khmer food over a campfire.

In the morning, for sunrise, I recommend sitting on the steps with a hot cup of coffee, as I did, watching dawn unfold. One of the monks sat alongside, and we marveled at the setting in silent companionship. It really is good news to have Preah Vihear back on the map.

Safari tent
Safari tent, Preah Vihear
Preah Vihear, Cambodia
Preah Vihear, Cambodia

Visit Preah Vihear as part of your trip to Cambodia

Start thinking about your experience. These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy some of the same experiences as our specialists. They're just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.

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