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Stars at the Horizon

Pre-Angkorian and Ankorian sites are scattered all over Cambodia.
Feature: Khmer Bronzes in Mandalay (Burma)

Banteay Chhmar

Ruins of an Angkorian monastic city 

Banteay Chhmar, aerial view from east
Banteay Chhmar, aerial view from east

Banteay Chhmar, plan of the city (CAC)
Banteay Chhmar, plan of the city (CAC)

Banteay Chhmar, Central complex
Banteay Chhmar, Central complex

Banteay Chhmar, Demon at the South Causeway
Banteay Chhmar, Demon at the South Causeway

Banteay Chhmar: Demon at the East Causeway
Banteay Chhmar: Demon at the East Causeway

Located a hundred kilometres north-west of Angkor, Banteay Chhmar displays the remains of an ancient city which was centred by an intricate temple plant of enormous size.

A state of indescribable ruin

Aymonier, 1901,

"This temple, which could be ranked among the three or four most beautiful of ancient Cambodia, has fallen (...) in a state of indescribable ruin. It was built on the same level as the ground, but the foundations have certainly been poorly made.
These heavy structures were erected on imported earth only, and soon collapsed under their weight as well as because of the penetration of the rains. (...) The Khmers have never known cement (...)"
(Aymonier 1999, p. 143.)


An inscription at the eastern adjacent temple honours five heroes who lost their lives in the fights after the death of Suryavarman II (about 1150-1181).

Banteay Chhmar was one of the monastic cities which Jayavarman VII (1181-1217/20) founded or extended in his kingdom. Numerous water basins indicate that there were the housings of Buddhist monks.

Banteay Chhmar is located near the Royal Road to Phimai, in the core of the kingdom.


Global Heritage Fund (GHF) has started the restoration at the southern causeway, the south wing of the east gallery, and at a tower in the central complex. Visiting the temple in 2012, I met John Sanday, Field Director of GHF. He told me that now fifty local people are working at Banteay Chhmar.

The central temple

To understand the central temple complex we must refer to Preah Khan in Angkor, where the plant is similar.

  • The central sanctuary (C) encompasses the crossing of the main axes and opens to the east, where it is linked to the eastern causeway crossing the moat.
  • The west sanctuary (W) opens to the west and is linked to the west causeway.

(Map from Carte Archéologique du Cambodge, modified.)

I don’t understand the meaning of the colours in Petrochenko’s plan. 


"The outer gallery is decorated with important reliefs, very similar to those (...) at the Bayon. (...) Banteay Chhmar presents a striking mix of historic events with religious (...) and mythological themes."

Naval battle

 "High up in the relief, the largest boat has its stern decorated with a devata sculpture, makara and ramming horn. On board, above the sixteen pairs of rowers are soldiers with weapons and standards, and, on a platform, the Khmer leader, wearing a breastplate, in the process of throwing an arrow at the Chams. His hairstyle, with the chignon fixed by a pin ending with a Lokeshvara statuette indicates he might be the king."

Bharata Rahu

"A monstrously large man with the head of a lion, crawling on the ground and about to devour the man with the Cham hat on his chariot. Above is a large man trying to kill an even larger similar monster. (...) The monster depicted is believed to be the Bharata Rahu (?)."

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara

Originally, the south wing of the west gallery was more than 25 m long and showed eight large images of the bodhisattva; two are still in place.
In 1998 the biggest part of the gallery was dismantled and carried away. Eyewitnesses have reported that they have seen Cambodian soldiers loading the stones on military trucks. 1999 the Thai border police confiscated a truck with the enumerated stones of a 6 m long sector. Later these stones were handed over to the National Museum Phnom Penh, where they are now on display.

Moat and Gates

The core of Banteay Chhmar is the central temple. All other structures are relating to this temple.

  • South Causeway in 2006 and 2012. (A)
  • South-East Corner of the Moat in 2006. In 2012, this place was dirty. (B)
  • East Causeway and ruin of the Outer East Gate in 2006. (C)
  • House of Fire (D)
  • East Gate of the Temple with Terrace. A pair of sprawling Nagas was recently unearthed. Photo courtesy of Alex Angkor. (E)

A beautiful face tower at Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm is located south of the southern causeway. The tower and the moat are well preserved. The best light is in the late afternoon.

The Mebon, or: Prasat Samnang Tasok, has another face tower.

Banteay Toap

After some 7 km on the road from Banteay Chhmar to Sisophon, a road goes to the left (west), marked by an adorned doorway. After some 2 km, you see the towers on the right. Five towers were linked by axial galleries and a mandapa at the east. At the east and the west are large entrance buildings. The temple is surrounded by a wide moat and two enclosure walls. At the centre, and at east and south, three towers are still standing upright. Some remains of the original carved wooden ceiling still exist. The towers make an impressive picture; best light is in the afternoon.

Community Based Tourism

Banteay Chhmar is more than a "second Angkor"

Banteay Chhmar is a relaxed rural place. Visitors are rare. Visiting the temple you may be alone.

The place is in the best sense of the word undeveloped, charming with its naturalness, genuine Cambodian.

Community Based Tourism (CBT) is a great asset of Banteay Chhmar: Visitors are welcomed as guests, and not taken as subjects of exploitation as in Angkor. The money they spend is channelled to the village.

Travelling from Siem Reao to Banteay Chhmar

Taxis to Sisophon start from "near the river", a few meters from La Noria Hotel. For the front seat (which counts for two) you pay $ 10. There are also regular busses running Siem Reap – Sisophon and retour.

In Sisophon you change the taxi at Phsar Thmei ("New Market"), to Banteay Chhmar it is $ 10 again.

In Banteay Chhmar, you head to "Community", the office of CBT.

Back to Sisophon in the afternoon, taxis are at the Bus Station. Have the phone number of your accommodation, as the drivers don't speak English.


  • Aymonier 1999, p. 132-145.
  • Briggs, p. 225-227.
  • Roveda 2005, p. 434-444.
    Vittorio Roveda has thoroughly studied and described the reliefs of Banteay Chhmar. (Citations from there.)
  • Jacques/Lafond, p. 239, 246-255.
  • CAC, Groupe de Banteay Chhmar, 2007
  • Jacques/Lafond, p. 235-240, 246-256.

Photo album

External links

Banteay Chhmar Gallery

  • Banteay Chhmar: South Causeway in 2006.
    Banteay Chhmar: South Causeway in 2006.
  • Banteay Chhmar: South Causeway in 2006
    Banteay Chhmar: South Causeway in 2006
  • Banteay Chhmar: South Causeway in 2012
    Banteay Chhmar: South Causeway in 2012
  • Banteay Chhmar: South Causeway in 2012
    Banteay Chhmar: South Causeway in 2012
  • Banteay Chhmar: South Causeway in 2012
    Banteay Chhmar: South Causeway in 2012
  • Banteay Chhmar: South-East Corner of the Moat in 2006. In 2012, this place was dirty.
    Banteay Chhmar: South-East Corner of the Moat in 2006. In 2012, this place was dirty.
  • Banteay Chhmar: East Causeway and ruin of the Outer East Gate in 2006.
    Banteay Chhmar: East Causeway and ruin of the Outer East Gate in 2006.
  • Banteay Chhmar: Ruin of the Outer East Gate in 2006.
    Banteay Chhmar: Ruin of the Outer East Gate in 2006.
  • Banteay Chhmar: House of Fire
    Banteay Chhmar: House of Fire
  • Banteay Chhmar: Terrace at the East Gate of the Temple. A pair of sprawling Nagas was recently unearthed. Photo courtesy of Alex Angkor.
    Banteay Chhmar: Terrace at the East Gate of the Temple. A pair of sprawling Nagas was recently unearthed. Photo courtesy of Alex Angkor.
  • Banteay Chhmar: Restoration work in 2012.
    Banteay Chhmar: Restoration work in 2012.
  • Banteay Chhmar: John Sanday, 2012.
    Banteay Chhmar: John Sanday, 2012.
  • Banteay Chhmar: Ta Prohm
    Banteay Chhmar: Ta Prohm
  • Banteay Toap
    Banteay Toap
Koh Ker: Pyramid
Koh Ker: Pyramid

Koh Ker

Koh Ker: View from the colonnades to Prasat Kraham
Koh Ker: View from the colonnades to Prasat Kraham
Koh Ker: Linga Temple
Koh Ker: Linga Temple
Koh Ker: Elephant at Prasat Damrei
Koh Ker: Elephant at Prasat Damrei
Koh Ker, Prasat Chen: An attendant posing as "Bhima", (which was robbed). In front is the pedestal with the feet of Duryodhana
Koh Ker, Prasat Chen: An attendant posing as "Bhima", (which was robbed). In front is the pedestal with the feet of Duryodhana
Koh Ker: Prasat Neang Khmau
Koh Ker: Prasat Neang Khmau


Koh Ker, map from CAC
Koh Ker, map from CAC

Koh Ker: Prasat Kraham.
Koh Ker: Prasat Kraham.

Prasat Thom. Drawing by Parmentier, modiefied.
Prasat Thom. Drawing by Parmentier, modiefied.

Prasat Thom: Main Temple. Map from GAC, modified.
Prasat Thom: Main Temple. Map from GAC, modified.

Koh Ker

King Jayavarman IV (921-941) erected his capital at Koh Ker (Chok Gargyar), some 80 km north-east of Angkor, and called it Lingapura.

In the centre is the Rahal, a rectangular water basin of 1,200 m north-south by 560 m east-west.

At its north face is Prasat Thom, with the Main Temple and the Pyramid. Almost all the towers are ruined.

More temples are arranged around the Rahal, and along the road to Angkor (to the south).

Prasat Thom (A)


2nd quarter of 10th century


Jayavarman IV (c. 928–941)


East (15° north)


Hindu: Shiva


Ancestor temple and state temple

The buildings are arranged along an axis, extending some 600 m, similar to Wat Phu in Laos and Preah Vihear.
09.13 Map of Prasat Thom, drawing by Parmentier

From east to west:

A pair of “Palaces”, each consisting of four halls, arranged in a rectangle.

A complex of entrance pavilions

Prasat Kraham, “The Red Tower”, east gate of the Main Temple.


Causeways at the east and the west with colonnades and sprawling Nagas.

The Main Temple, a complex of twenty-one small brick towers in five groups.

The Pyramid
Six tiers plus the base of the truncated tower make a height of 35 m. A one-piece stairway climbs at the east.
The base of the tower and lingam is adorned by life-size reliefs of standing lions.
By an inscription we know that the lingam was 4.5 m tall, its diameter was 1.5 m. If made of sandstone, the weight would have been 24 tons (!); perhaps it was made of metal which has vanished. The tower itself was probably made of wood.

The Hillock locally called Phnom Damrei-Sa (“Hill of the White Elephant”), it is an Ancestor shrine.

Prasat Thnoeng (B)


2nd quarter of 10th century


Jayavarman IV (c. 928–941)




Hindu: Shiva

Two so-called Linga Temples, opening to the west. The Linga and Yoni are cut from the bedrock.

Prasat Krachap (C)


2nd quarter of 10th century


Jayavarman IV (c. 928–941)




Hindu: Shiva

This temple of intricate design is in a very poor condition. But its western entrance pavilion is peculiar.

Prasat Damrei (D)


2nd quarter of 10th century


Jayavarman IV (c. 928–941)




Hindu: Shiva

The temple features elephants at the corners (“Damrei” means “elephant”.) and lions at the axial stairways.

Prasat Chen (E)


2nd quarter of 10th century


Jayavarman IV (c. 928–941)




Hindu: Vishnu

Two enclosure walls frame three much destroyed towers, with gate pavilions to the east and the west.

Statues stolen from this temple are now in Phnom Penh.


Prasat Neang Khmau (F)


2nd quarter of 10th century


Jayavarman IV (c. 928–941)




Hindu: Shiva

The tower, carefully built of laterite and well preserved, opens to the west. It features a monolithic linga and yoni. The lintel shows Brahma.

Prasat Pram (G)


2nd quarter of 10th century


Jayavarman IV (c. 928–941)



There are three towers in a line, and facing them two fire shrines. (“Prasat Pram” means “five towers”, but two of them are fire shrines.) All the five are well preserved.

Innovations at Koh Ker

Koh Ker is an episode in Khmer history, lasting little more than twenty years. But within this short time, many revolutionary features in Khmer architecture and art were created:

The huge dimensions: The pyramid is the highest, the lingam was the biggest, and the statue of the dancing Shiva was the tallest ever in Cambodia.

The combination and skilful use of brick, sandstone and laterite as building materials.

New ground plans of the temples, different to what we can see at Angkor.

Gables ending in spirals.

Halls are joined with the wall behind to pillar-colonnades, the predecessors of the galleries.

Statues are unsymmetrical and with a dynamic expression.


Koh Ker is now accessible from Siem Reap by a good road via Svay Leu and Srayang. Visitors will approach Koh Ker from the south.

Entrance fee is $10.

Recommendation: Visit the temples which are orientated to east in the morning, and the temples orientated to west in the afternoon.

Restaurants and toilets are just east of Prasat Thom.

On the way, one can visit Peung Komnou.

Photo AlbumReference

Jacques/Lafond, p. 107–131.

Peung Komnou

Peung Komnou: Detail of the Great Frieze
Peung Komnou: Detail of the Great Frieze

Huge sandstone boulders are scattered at the slope of the easternmost corner of the Phnom Kulen, north of Svay Leu, 2.5 km as the crow flies. Access by a dirt lane.

I have visited this site in January 2014 conducted by Noel Hidalgo Tan.

The reliefs are remarkable.

In an inscription, dated 1074, a hermit writes that he has carved the reliefs.

Access: Follow the road from Svay Leu to Koh Ker. After c. 1 km a road branches to the north, left side. This you follow c. 2.5 km. Then a small way runs west, left, c. 1km, maybe foot walk. A local scout is recommended. 

Reference: GAC 5, p. 170-174. 

Photo album with all reliefs

Phnom Baset

Prasat Srei Krup Leak and Preah Aung Thom

Prasat Srei Krup Leak
Prasat Srei Krup Leak

Preah Aung Thom
Preah Aung Rhom

The Phnom Baset is a steep hill, north-west of Phnom Penh. You follow the National Road 5. 12 km north of the Japanese Friendship Bridge, at Preak Phnov, a vivid market, you turn left and follow the asphalt, then laterite road to the West. After 12 km the road bends half right. At your right hand sight you see a golden 'pagoda' topping the Phnom Basset. A narrow asphalt road runs up the hill.

Prasat Srei Krup Leak

Located on a terrace on the north slope of this hill, it is a rectangular brick edifice, 12 m west-east by 8.45 m north-south. It shelters a rounded granite rock, with a natural grotto, facing west. The temple also opens west.

Scholars are at issue if it was vaulted with brick or covered with light material. The entrance door is framed by sandstone colonnettes and a lintel showing foliage. The outer walls are decorated with reliefs of palaces. At the East is a false door of brick.

Aymonier has visited the site in 1882 and saw "sculptured debris, altars, pedestals, bas-reliefs representing Shiva on the bull Nandi, Vishnu on Garuda". Nothing has remained.

Scholars suppose that the temple was built around the middle of the 8th century.

Recent constructions of Neak Ta shrines have damaged and are defacing the temple.

Preah Aung Thom

“The Great Buddha” is in an enormous, impressive lying Buddha, carved from the granite rock, amended with cement, and recently painted. The figure measures 15 m in length and 6 m in height.

Photo album


  • Briggs, p. 77.
  • Brugier/Lacroix 2011, p. 19-25.

Prasat Andaet

Prasat Andeat from south
Prasat Andeat from south

Prasat Andeat, drawing by Parmentier
Prasat Andeat, drawing by Parmentier

Located 22 km northwest of Kampong Thom, south of the RN 6, this tower is remarkable for its age and as it is fairly well preserved.

The temple is dated to the late 7th centuy. 

On an artificial hill is a brick tower, rectangular and much elongated.

The superstructure consists of two false storeys, topped by a terminal vault.

The gables to the East and West were rounded.

The temple was dedicated to Harihara (a god who is half Shiva and half Vishnu). The statue found here is now in the National Museum Phnom Penh.

A recent vihear was erected close to the east face of the tower. 

Photo album



  • Briggs, p. 76 f.
  • Dalsheimer, p. 91 f. 
  • Brugier/Lacroix 2011, p. 142-145.
Phnom Chisor: North fire shrine from east
Phnom Chisor: North fire shrine from east

Phnom Chisor

Mountain Temple of King Suryavarman I

Phnom Chisor: Churning of the Sea of Milk
Phnom Chisor: Churning of the Sea of Milk


The original name of the temple is Sri Suryaparvata , "The mountain of the Sun", or "The Mountain of Surya[varman]". The temple was built by King Suryavarman I (1002-1050). The temple was consecrated to Shiva in the shape of linga "Suryavarmesvara" [Suryavarman Isvara = Shiva].

Suryaparvata is located on the east edge of a steep hill, dominating a vast plain of rice fields. The view is great.

An avenue runs to the temple from the East, starting at Tonle Om, the ancient baray of the temple. Two outer gates are on the way, both are of cruciform ground plan. Son Reveang is a stately building, now used as a Buddhist sanctuary. Sen Thmol, at the foot of the hill, is heavily overgrown.

From here a stairway climbs up the hill. Starting with 7.5 m width, the steps narrow steadily to 5 m.

Primitive galleries form the enclosure. These are a series of halls [F-L], built of laterite and sandstone, and vaulted by brick. Apart from three entrances to the East, and three to the West, the outer walls are closed. The principal entrance is to the East.

Inside are six towers [A-D], a mandapa, and two fire shrines [E]. The towers open to the East, the fire shrines open to the West. All buildings are made of brick, with sandstone doors. The plant is symmetrical to the east-west axis, except tower D (which may be older or younger than the other towers.)

You can find inscriptions at door frames. And there are many interesting reliefs.

Photo on top: Phnom Chisor, inner enclosure, view from east: SE fire shrine - lateral tower - mandapa - lateral tower - NE fire shrine,


Phnom Chisor is 42 km south of Phnom Penh, near RN 2. You start the visit at Son Reveang, and drive on to Sen Thmol. From here you climb up the steep stairway. You descend to the North, along a concrete stairway and an unpaved road. Your driver can pick you up at the parking space. As the hill is steep, you should climb up in the early morning or late afternoon. The view is best when the rice fields are green.

Phnom Chisor, map by EFEO
Phnom Chisor, map by EFEO


  • Rovada 2005, p. 67, 361.
  • Zieger, p. 162-164.
  • Brugier/ Lacroix 2009, p. 65-95. From there the maps

Photo album

Preah Khan of Kampong Svay (Prasat Bakan)

The site is located c. 90 km east of Angkor; it is, secluded, and heavily looted.

The main area of the site is a square of c. 5 km by 5 km, orientated north-east, 20° south.

The outer enclosure, an unfinished earthwork, dates probably form the 14th or 15th century; it was built to defend the city in troubled times.

The place originates from an ancient iron industry. It was centred by the Prasat Boeng Srae and the nearby Baray.

The city and further temples were built in the times of Jayavarman V (968–c. 1000), Suryavarman I (1002–1049), Suryavarman II (1113–c. 1150), and Jayavarman VII (1181–c. 1220).

In the centre of the ancient city

Central Temple

Date 11th to 13th centuries

Orientation East (10° north)

Cult Buddhist

Function Central temple

The central tower was totally destroyed and has vanished.
It was surrounded by a nearly square gallery, with gate towers in the cardinal directions.
Another gallery enclosed the cells of the monks and some small buildings.

Prasat Kat Kdei

Date Inscription of c. 1010

Orientation East (10° north)

Cult Buddhist

A small but skilfully built laterite temple, located between the Central Temple and the East Gate of the city.

he inscription is the only considerable found in Preah Khan. It honours King Suryavarman I (1002–1049), the Buddha, and Shiva.


East of the Central Temple is a Dharmasala, the chapel of pilgrims’ rest places along the Royal Road to Angkor, which runs to the west.

East Gate of the City

A third wall enclosed the monastic city; the East Gate with three gate towers is still standing upright; in front of it is a causeway with carved walls.

At the Baray

Prasat Preah Stung

Date Late 12th to early 13th centuries

Orientation East (10° north)

Cult Buddhist

The tower of Prasat Preah Stung displays four faces of the Bodhisattva. To the east is a terrace with a jetty.

Prasat Preah Thkol

Date Late 12th to early 13th centuries

Orientation East (10° north)

Cult Buddhist

Prasat Preah Thkolis on a manmade island in the Baray.

Preah Damrei

Date Late 11th century

Orientation East

Function State temple

A simple pyramid temple was probably the state temple of a regional prince in the late 11th century. The enclosure wall and the terrace are from the Bayon era.

Other Sites

Prasat O Beng Sre

Date 2nd half of 10th century (?)
Orientation East

Beng Sre, a water basin, and Prasat O Beng Sre, a laterite temple were the core of iron industry.

Preah Chatomukh

Date 13th century or later
Cult Buddhist

The four Reliefs of the standing Buddha, 15 m high, were of later age. They were restored and have then again collapsed.

The three Choeuteal Temples are also of a later age (9).


The road to Ta Saeng branches from the road from Kampong Thom to Tbaeng Meanchey.


Jacques/Lafond, p. 176–197.

Preah Vihear from northeast. Drawing by Lajonquière, about 1900. From a baknote.
Preah Vihear from northeast. Drawing by Lajonquière, about 1900. From a baknote.

Prasat Preah Vihear

Where Shiva is dancing in the Sky

Date           11th to 12th centuries
Orientation   North
Cult            Hindu: Shiva
Function      Central Temple of the Kingdom

The Dangrek Range made the backbone of the ancient Angkor Empire. Preah Vihear is located at an outstanding cliff in this range. The Mun Valley, north of the Dangrek, is also inhabited by Khmer, and shelters important pre-Angkorian and Angkorian sites.

The temple is dedicated to Shikaeshvara, "Shiva the Lord of the Summit". It was founded in the 9th century, but the main buildings are from the 11th and 12th centuries.

In 1904, Thailand, then Siam, and France, then the rulers of Cambodia, marked the border along the Dangrek. Preah Vihear has got in a "peripheral location".

The Holy Path to Shiva

The temple has a linear layout, it is arranged along its north-south axis, with Shiva residing at the highest and final point of the cliff.

From this point, the temple stretches 800 m to the north. The pilgrim approaches at a gently sloped way. It is divided into five levels; every level is marked by stairways and a Gopura (a gate pavilion). The Holy Path links the gopuras.

The core of the temple is enclosed by galleries to the east and west, by a gopura to the north, and a blind door to the south. Preceding to the north is a rectangular court.

Approaching to Shiva, the main temple is, at first, hidden, the pilgrim on the Holy Path can only see the next gopura at a time. And the pilgrim will see the reliefs at the north faces off the gopura; the reliefs at the south faces turn to Shiva, paying homage to the Lord.


From the north:

200 m north of the stairway is Srah Trio, a trapeang. A monumental stairway leads to the temple, guided by lion statues.
The stairway is continued by a 31.8 m long avenue. Two powerful sprawling Naga flank it. 

From the east:     

Another stairway goes up to Gopura V.
 "This stairway led pilgrims, devotees, high officials, and kings from the southern part of the Angkor Empire to … Gopura V. … A paved path which is no longer intact and visible led eastward to a ceremonial path bordered by a Naga on the either side. … Where to Naga path ends … a cascade of alternating stairs and paths take us some four hundred meters down …"
The stairway is now accessible again.

From the west:      

Here a steep, paved road links the temple with the Cambodian plain. There are no traces of an ancient access.

Gopura V

The most photographed building is a cruciform pavilion on an elevated platform which is made from the bedrock. Originally it was roofed with tiles. It opened (like many doors of the temple) to the cardinal points with portals, crowned by gables with upturning ends. 

Holy Path:

275 m long, it is lined with posts on each side.

Near Gopura IV, at the east, is a rectangular water basin, framed by stone steps. A lion is watching near the staircase.

Gopura IV

Gopura IV is another cruciform pavilion, "It works as a curtain to the higher sanctuaries, with a single entrance at its center." Wooden doors could close it.

Reliefs at Gopura IV

  • East face: Krishna is subduing the Naga Kalya.
  • North face: Churning of the Sea of Milk. 
  • Lintel: Reclining Vishnu.

Holy Path: It is 150 m long and flanked by earthen embankments.

The Lion Head Basin, a few metres after Gopura IV, is square. And again framed by stone steps.

Gopura III

The gate pavilion is flanked by two "palaces", rectangular courtyards, framed by halls.

Reliefs at Gopura III

North face: 

  • Krishna killing the bull Arishta.
  • Krishna lifting Mount Govardhana, at the inner door.
  • Krishna killing the horse Kesin.
  • Shiva and Arjuna fighting on a Kala.
  • Krishna killing an elephant and a lion.

South face:          

  • Shiva and Uma on Nandi, under a tree.
  • Yama on the Buffalo.
  • Lintel: Rama's return to Ajodhya. 

Holy Path: The short avenue is framed twice: by border stones and sprawling Naga.

Gopura II and outer enclosure

Gopura II is lengthened by lateral colonnades framing the courtyard.

A huge structure dominates the enclosure. Two lines of pillars supported a tiled roof. At the south face makes the central entrance to the inner enclosure.

Two fire shrines open towards the mandapa. The eastern shrine is tinted red by lichens.

Inner enclosure 

The North Gopura I is a veritable shrine with mandapa, reaching into the second enclosure.

Framed by a gallery with a gopura to the north and a blind gopura to the south, the inner enclosure comprises a tower with mandapa.

The tower, now collapsed, sheltered a lingam.

The pedestal in the mandapa supported a Nandi.

Located at the vertex of the mountain the sanctuary is isolated from the world around. It was a hermetic place of meditation, dedicated to Shiva, as the Lord of the Summit.

Shiva in his sanctuary is the end of the journey.

The Dance of Shiva in the Sky

The top of the entrance of the main sanctuary is the most prominent place; here Shiva is dancing on the head of an elephant, the Elephant-Demon, collapsed over Kala.

In Preah Vihear, Shiva is residing in his terrific aspect, as the Destroyer of the World.

At Preah Vihear Shiva dances on the head of a demon "to destroy the evil forces threatening the Angkor Empire."

His devotees watched the dance from around the temple, in an open air theatre.

Facing his image and under his control, Vishnu is creating the World, at Gopura IV (lintel and pediment at the south face).

"While Shiva dances after killing the elephant demon in the glow of the setting sun, the whole world dances with him. For a millennium, the sun has been setting with that primordial glow under which Shiva danced for the first time in a hoary mystic past. His devotees watched his dance of emancipation day after day in the crepuscule of the setting sun."

Shiva’s entourage


The pediment and lintel at the east and south doors have the Kala, who looks like the face of a lion.
"Kala is Absolute Time, an emanation of Shiva."
There are much more Kala reliefs all over the temple.

Small dancers

At the upturning ends of the gables of the Gopuras are small reliefs.
"These tiny figures ... effectively transforming the unending space of the blue sky into an infinite stage for Shiva's cosmic dance."


Meditating hermits are depicted at the base of colonnettes at several Gopuras.

The Promontory

Visitors leave the enclosure by the small door in the west face of the gallery, to gain the summit of the cliff.

At the summit are traces of ancient quarries.

The view can take your breath away: In front of us the plains of north Cambodia; in the clear air, you can see Phnom Kulen, 100 km to the Southwest, and Phnom Tbaeng, 90 km to the Southeast. Thailand is to the North, in the back of the mountain.

When the mountain is shrouded in clouds or fog, the temple is in heaven.

Locals call the promontory and the caves in the steep slope Peuy Ta Di (and tell the legend of a Khmer hero or hermit).

Access and visit

Preah Vihear can be reached from Siem Reap on good roads. There are no regular buses.

At the base of the mountain is a station where you have to render your passport or a copy of it. Entrance fee is $ 10.00. Up and down the hill you are transported by pick-ups on a steep road. One pick-up takes eight foreigners and is $ 25.00. The pick-up will drop you some 200 m west of Gopura V. 

Bring everything with you.


This chapter is mostly an abridgment of Sachchidanand Sahai, Preah Vihear: An Introduction to the World Heritage Monument, Phnom Penh 2009. All quotations are taken from this book.

Special thanks to Dave Taylor, who generously placed photographs taken from his helicopter to my disposal.


  • Sahai 2009
  • Jacques/Lafond, p. 148–1163
  • Khun Samen
    At the South Group
    At the South Group

    Sambor Prei Kuk 

    Angkor's charming grandmother

    South Group: Central tower (DT)
    South Group: Central tower (DT)
    North Group: Central tower
    North Group: Central tower
    Yoni in the central tower
    Yoni in the central tower
    Flying Palace
    Flying Palace
    A Goddess in her Flying Palace
    A Goddess in her Flying Palace
    Prasat Tamon
    Prasat Tamon


    Map from CAC
    Map from CAC

    Sambor Prei Kuk: N1. Drawing by Parmentier.
    Sambor Prei Kuk: N1. Drawing by Parmentier


    Date          6th to 10th centuries

    Orientation East

    Cult          Hindu

    Funktion    Capital of a regional kingdom

    Sambor Prei Kuk means “The City of Shiva in the Forest of Towers.” The place is also called Isanapura, “The City of King Ishanavarman”.

    Sambor Prei Kuk is an accumulation of impressive temples and ruins. It was the centre of a pre-Angkorian regional kingdom, located not far from the Tonlé Sap, “The Great Lake”, and 35 km north of modern Kampong Thom.

    There are three major temple complexes and seven further groups of temples, mostly built from the late 6th to early 7th centuries.

    Researchers recovered dikes that framed a nearly square city, 2 by 2 km. It was the capital of a regional kingdom. 

    The Northern Group or Prasat Sambor

    Date          Late 6th to 10th centuries
    King           Bhavavarman I (late 6th century)
    Orientation East
    Cult           Hindu: Shiva
    Function    State temple

    The central tower is a real character with extremely thick walls. Unusually, it opens to the four directions. The interior, some 4.60 m square, is taken by a mighty yoni (linga-pedestal).

    The Southern Group or Prasat Yeay Poan

    Date          Early 7th Century
    King           Ishanavarman I (615?–635?)
    Orientation East
    Cult           Hindu: Shiva
    Function    State temple

    The Central Tower S1 has an interior room of 9.05 m by 5.21 m and is the largest brick tower of all Khmer temples. (The standard in Angkor is 4 m by 4 m.) 

    Look at the lintels; they are remarkable for their vivid design. 

    Twelve Flying Palaces adorn the outer walls of the tower.

    S1 was linked to the tower S2 in front of the main entrance by a flat stone bridge, from which only a few scraps have remained. 

    S2 opens the east and west. Inside is a monolithic canopy. The carvings show excellent craftsmanship. It sheltered a silver statue of Nandi who was facing his Lord Shiva in the main tower. Look at the small male faces in Indian style. This tower collapsed in 2008 and is now restored.

    The inner enclosure wall was adorned with circular medallions. Some of them have remained in the west.

    The Central Group or Prasat Tao

    Date          Late 8th to early 9th centuries?
    Orientation East
    Function    State temple

    The central tower C1 stands isolated. The door frames at the east were looted. 

    The lions in front of the entrance may be the oldest in Khmer art; originals are at the Cultural Department in Kampong Thom.

    Characteristic features of the main temples

    • All towers are built of brick.
    • The central tower is raised on a platform, and surrounded by smaller towers.
    • The towers sheltered a lingam in a pedestal or a statue of the god or goddess.
    • The entrance door, which is generally to the east, and the false doors, at the other faces, are made of sandstone.
    • Two concentric brick walls enclose each group.
    • The whole complex is symmetrical to its east-west axis.
    • Straight avenues link the temples to the river.

    Special features

    • Flying Palaces: On the walls of some towers there are miniatures of palaces in heaven; supported by flying hamsa (sacred wild geese).
    • Octagonal towers are only to be seen at Sambor Prei Kuk.

    More groups of towers

    Asram Maha Rusei (N17) is the sandstone core of a brick tower which was totally dismantled.

    The roots overgrowing Prasat Chrei (N18) make a picturesque view.

    Prasat Y is a partially overgrown octagonal tower. Photo see p. ….

    Prasat Tamon or Russei Roleak

    Date          Early 7th century
    Orientation East

    Located in the northwest, formerly in the north-east quarter of the ancient city.

    Srei Krup Leak Group and Prasat Robang Romeas

    Date Early 7th and 11th centuries

    Located uphill, 2 km north of Sambor Prei Kuk, are the remains of an ancient urban settlement, and the oldest temples in Sambor Prei Kuk.

    Monuments of Sambor Prei Kuk


    Jacques/Lafond, p. 81-97.

    Shiva as Dvarapala
    Shiva as Dvarapala

    The Mahamuni Bronzes

    Bronze Statues from Angkor at Mandalay, Burma (Myanmar)

    The premises of the Mahamuni Paya (photo on top) in south-west Mandalay, Burma (Myanmar), shelter some Khmer bronze statues in Bayon style.

    • A Dvarapala (guardian), larger-than-life, in royal outfit. Gems were inlayed in his eyes. The figure shows features of Shiva, like the frontal eye. And it has this charming 'Smile of Angkor'.
      It is, beyond the famous fragment of a reclining Vishnu in the National Museum Phnom Penh, the second-biggest known Khmer bronze.
    • Two fragments of two different Dvarapala statues put together.
    • Two lion rumps; the heads of the lions are from a later date and style.
    • A statue of Airavan, the three-headed elephant. The heads are too small. Obviously the three-headed Airavan can only be depicted head-on in a relief.

    "According to legend, rubbing a part of the image will cure any affection at the corresponding part of your body"
    (Lonely Planet).

    Spoils of War

    1431 (?)  

    The Siamese (Thais) sacked Angkor and dragged thirty statues to their capital Ayutthaya.


    The Mons sacked Ayutthaya and dragged the statues to their capital Pegu (Bago).


    The Rakhaing (Arakan) sacked Pegu and dragged the statues to their capital Mrauk U (Myohang)


    The Burmese conquered Mrauk U and brought the statues, togerher wirth the famous Mahamuni Buddha image to their then capital Mandalay.


    The statues were damaged by fire. The then King Thihaw had most of them melted to cannons.

    Photo album


    • Jean Boisselier, Note sur l'art du bronze dans l'ancien Cambdge, Artibus Asiae, 1967, p. 275 ff.
    • Bruno Dagens, Angkor La forêt de pierre, Paris 1989, 2005, p. 20-21.
    • Johann Reinhart Zieger, Angkor Tempel der Khmer, Chiang Mai 2006, p. 172.
    • Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma), 2006, p. 234.
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