I recently went to Cambodia for probably the 7th time in three years. On these occasions, I usually travel there for work and do not always have the chance to visit the country. This time around a friend – fond of birding – organized a trip to the ruins of Koh Ker, a mere 3 hours drive from the national landmark Angkor Wat.

A great opportunity to try out our new cameras 😛

Prasat Phram

Koh Ker, on the Wikipedia Encyclopedia:

Koh Ker is an Angkorian site in northern Cambodia. 100 km northeast of Angkor itself, it was briefly the capital of the Khmer empire between 928 and 944 under king Jayavarman IV and his son Hasavarman II[…]. Here a vast number of temples were built under his reign, until his successor returned to the Angkor area about twenty years later.

The Koh Ker site is dominated by Prasat Thom, a 30 meter tall temple mountain raising high above the plain and the surrounding forest. Great views await the visitor at the end of an adventurous climb. Garuda, carved into the stone blocks, still guard the very top, although they are partially covered now.

Across the site of Koh Ker there are many prasat or tower sanctuaries. […] Most of them are surrounded by libraries and enclosures, many also had moats. At that time, the roofs were still made of wood. Today, only the holes for the beams remain in the stone structures.

The site is still 3 hours away from Siem Reap[…]. This makes Koh Ker very attractive for anyone who would like to experience lonely temples partially overgrown by the forest and inhabited only by birds, calling to each other from the trees above.

Not quite inoffensive

From Siem Reap, the trip is half easy, half not. We left around 5am to avoid the heat once at destination. The last tier of the track is beaten earth and the recent floods did not help maintaining in a good shape.

Thanks Hanno has a 4-wheel drive.

Prasat Chrap (?)

Many panels about area cleared of mines greet the visitors. A sad reminder of what the country had been through and is still suffering from.

There NO visitors. Until recently the area – thus the temples – was jungle and virtually no roads existed. It is still home of many birds (don’t forget your binoculars!), ants :(, and we saw only 2 tourists over the course of the day, several young Cambodian and about 2 dozens of officials (in theory to check if you paid the 10$ entrance fee, 60 kms down the road).

Ancient Sanskrit inscription in (?) Prasat Chen

We did not have a guide and I cannot pretend knowing exactly what we were seeing. So perhaps the Prasat (towers) names I give here are erroneous. Hanno shared a couple of information he got from a local guide and that’s how I know these temples (sometimes older than Angkor) had wooden roofs – hence non existent anymore – and that the above inscription is reputed to be the first known sample of Khmer alphabet.

Decoration at Prasat Krachang or Prasat Angong Kuk

Most of the temples are in a really bad shape. On some occasions, we could see the carvings and sculpture were raided long ago. Fortunately, some have been saved and are now exhibited at the National Museum in Phnom Penh. I can only regret we have not seen these elephants. And as above, minor artistic features may be still in place.

Entrance to Prasat Thom

7-tiered pyramid of Prasat Thom

We achieved our trip at the impressive Prasat Thom pyramid (home of the only drink stalls of the area). It used to be possible to climb it as a wooden step ladder was built, but unfortunately it is too damaged to use it nowadays. The original stairs are very narrow, steep and damaged… So forget it, unless you look for troubles (remember the first hospital is three hours away…)

That close up a great ‘half-day excursion’, a real insight into Asia’s History, away of mass tourism. I look forward going back there again 🙂