A long ride up a windy mountain road, seated on the back of a bike of a friendly Khmer man who was very happy to take ‘Madam’ (that’s me) to the top. Soldiers smile and wave as I pass, for this is disputed territory after all. It is also the location of Cambodia’s other UNESCO world heritage site, Preah Vihear.
That’s right! This is not Angkor Watt, Cambodia in fact does have another although less well-known UNESCO world heritage site called Preah Vihear, an ancient Hindu temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Preah Vihear, built around 1002 AD actually pre dates Angkor Watt by about 100 years and is situated right on the border of Cambodia and Thailand, the territory has long been disputed by both countries.
I won’t spend much time talking about Angkor because it’s probably one of the most well-known historical sites in the world and you have all seen hundreds of pictures of it. I will just say that despite the mammoth crowds it really is well worth the visit.
A quick saving money tip – if you are on a budget it is completely feasible to hire a bike and ride around the ruins. Tuk tuk drivers may try to tell you this is to far and to hard, but it is actually quite doable for anyone with a moderate level of fitness – and the bikes only cost $1 a day compared to around $15 for the tuk tuk.
Personally, I love clambering over ancient ruins, which meant that I really enjoyed my day at Preah Vihear. We started the day early and were the first tourists up there. The journey up there itself is nice ride. I have found throughout my travels that many religions seem to build their temples or churches on top of a hill and this one was no exception. The interesting thing on the ride up to Preah Vihear is that because it is disputed territory the road is lined with army posts. There is no threat though, the soldiers just smiled and waved as we rode by.
The temple itself has some very intact outer parts, with stone carvings depicting Shiva dancing on an Elephants head. Which in Hindu mythology is an unusual combination. A more full explanation of the meaning of the depictions can be found for anyone with a particular interest in Hindu symbolism.
Getting there and costs
It is possible to book a day tour from Siem Reap to Preah Vihear but this will cost around $100+ per person If you’re not up for the cost the independent method goes something like this:
- Take the bus from Siem Reap to Anlong Veng – it leaves daily at ‘about’ 1.30 pm and should cost around $5. You can buy the bus ticket from the office in town near the G.S.T. bus station.
- To catch the bus you will need to get a tuk tuk out of town to where the bus leaves – the cost of that will depend on how good you are at negotiating with tuk tuk drivers
- You will most likely need to stay the night in Anlong Veng. There are many large empty guesthouse to choose from and a room should set you back about $7-$8
- From Anlong Veng there are no real public transport options out there – so you are going to need to negotiate a car. It is over 100 kms so don’t expect it to be super cheap. We managed to negotiate a car for $50 for the round trip – the starting asking price was $100 – so you will need to bargain. Obviously the more people sharing the cheaper this will work out for you.
- The ticket office is located at the base of the mountain. The tickets are surprisingly free, although you will still need to provide your passport and be issued with one.
- Transport to the top of the mountain is sold at a fixed price at the ticket office – $5 to jump on the back of a motor bike or $25 for a pickup truck. It is quite a long steep accent, so while you could walk it you would need to allow yourself a good few hours.
Should I Go?
Angkor Watt: Absolutely of course! There is a reason some sites are so full of visitors – which is because they are amazing and Angkor is one of them!
Preah Vihear: Yes. If you have the time and like me find ancient sites kind of fascinating you will really enjoy this one. The ruins are older than Angkor and more open. Without the crowds you can wander around and get a great feel for the place. If you aren’t a big fan of ancient ruins it is probably a little to far out of the way for the cost.
What is your favourite ancient site?