Posted on 12/10/2007

Photo taken on January  3, 2000

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Prasat Khao Phra Vihaan, Cambodia

Prasat Khao Phra Vihaan, Cambodia
In January 2000 this ancient place on Cambodian territory was opened for visitors a short time. My home place in Bangkok is opposite of the Thai Forest Department and we've very good connections to the officers who immediately informed us that this place we could have to visit. Due the permanent conflict between the local Cambodian and Thai officers about making the tourist business this very interesting and amazing place is closed for the public most of the time.

Several attempts were made after 1991 to open Khao Phra Vihaan to visitors. This was intermittently successfully but the complex tended to close frequently due to the propensity of Khmer Rouge guerilla units to reoccupy the complex at will. This caused numerous clashes between Cambodian Government and Khmer Rouge forces between 1993 and 1997. After the death of the Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot in 1998 and the eradication of the last Khmer Rouge bases in the area, Khao Phra Vihaan finally reopened to visitors. From that time the only hiccups tended to be bureaucratic, caused by disputes between Thai and Cambodian Officials over dividing up the admission fees to the Complex.

For people interested in Khmer monuments together with contemporary history, a place to see is Khao Phra Vihaan in the Isaan province of Sisaket . The monument on the Thai/Cambodia border sits astride a sheer drop mountain ridge on the Dangrek mountain range with sweeping views across North-West Cambodia. Although the monument appears to be on Thai territory, the Temple complex itself actually belongs to Cambodia.
This was due to a World Court decision in 1963 recognising in practical terms that the complex was on Thai soil due to its general inaccessibility from Cambodia, but in the end still declared in Cambodia's favour because of its strong connection to the Angkor period of temple construction.
Although the complex slumbered out of world view for centuries Khao Phra Vihaan has not escaped the consequences of modern times. After the Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia in 1975 and its subsequent defeat by the Vietnamese in 1978, remnants of the Khmer Rouge occupied the complex and surrounding forests. In doing this they seeded the local area and the complex itself with land mines, constructed bomb shelters and even installed some artillery pieces.

1998 I made my first attempt to visit Khao Phra Vihaan. After passing through several Thai Army checkpoints, I reached the border, but couldn't enter the complex due to the reoccupation of the monument by a Khmer Rouge Unit.

In 2000, my wife and I tried another visit; we were successful and the following is what happened on our one day visit to Khao Phra Vihaan.

Together with my wife Salama, we traveled from the village of Ban Puthsa in Korat province.
Like the Khmer Temple at Phanom Rung Hill in Buriram province, the structure of Khao Phra Vihaan is long and narrow with steep stone staircases leading to long/narrow boulevards which in turn lead to further staircases up to the next level of the complex.

After years of sloth and overeating, Salama and I looked up at the staircase with trepidation but commenced to climb. The broken and uneven stones made ascending difficult but we finally made it.

Once we had made it to the top of the staircase, we came across a long narrow paved walkway which lead up to the next part of the complex. Again we were confronted by another modern reality in post war Cambodia - landmines. Although the walkway was safe, roped off areas on both sides with skull and crossbones warning signs were an appropriate warning that landmines and other unexploded ordnance still awaited the unwary. Teams of engineers were in the roped off areas and were painstakingly searching every square centimetre of earth.

The further we walked and climbed into the complex we were entranced by the atmosphere of the place. Because we had arrived early there were only a handful of tourists. The tumbledown nature of the place with most of the stone structures in disrepair did nothing to distract from the magic that is Khao Phra Vihaan. Even amongst the ruins one could only marvel at the vision and patience that would have been required to build such a place.

Our walk now was drawing us up to the top of the complex, and it felt like walking along the back of a stone serpent sitting flush against the mountain ridge. We again found further evidence of the previous occupancy by the Khmer Rouge - two bomb shelters, a crashed down chopper and an old artillery piece of either Chinese or Soviet make.

At the the top of the complex we stopped and looked out at across Cambodia. Down we could see a still green terrain, dirt roads and at the sides a sheer rocky drop right down to Cambodia. Sitting on a rocky outcrop with my wife I rediscovered my fear of heights but nothing could take away the magic of the moment.

By the time of opening the ancient place the number of visitors had markedly increased, including a party of Buddhist Monks who posed for a Photograph. I would certainly suggest any visitor to Isaan to make a visit to Khao Phra Vihaan if their will be further opportunities to step on Cambodian territories and the senseless conflict between the Thai/Cambodian local officers will find an end. Money shouldn't be the reason to detain culture interested visitors this value historical treasure, this should get soon in their mind. If any place can be called as a "must" destination, Khao Phra Vihaan it is.

Helitek, Jerry Lee, Dany have particularly liked this photo

nice shot and great story.
11 years ago.
Philippe Rouzet
Philippe Rouzet
Magnifique paysages aux couleurs somptueuses

Super chouette photo sympa
Clic Le cerf dans la Toile
9 years ago.