Preah Vihear Temple, Cambodia

Located 420 km south of the capital Phnom Penh, Preah Vihear Temple—known as the “Temple of Temples”—is one of the Khmer Empire’s architectural masterpieces that still stands today. Its unique location makes it not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a famous tourist destination but also a longstanding hotspot of territorial disputes between Cambodia and its neighboring country, Thailand.

Overview of Preah Vihear Temple

Preah Vihear Temple was built in the 9th century to worship Shiva, the Hindu god of creation and destruction, along with the mountain gods Sikharesvara and Bhadresvara. The temple was continuously expanded and renovated over many centuries, spanning the reigns of seven Khmer Empire kings.

Learn more about the tourist attractions in Siem Reap, see Things To Do In Siem Reap, Cambodia

Preah Vihear Temple
Preah Vihear Temple

Preah Vihear is situated on the Dangrek Mountain range, straddling the border between Cambodia and Thailand. Its architectural layout extends 800 meters from the base to the peak along a north-south axis. The temple is divided into three distinct tiers that ascend 120 meters from north to south. The first tier houses the main entrance, the second features architectural styles reminiscent of Banteay Srei, and the highest tier on the mountain’s peak serves as the complex’s central sanctuary.

Following the stone steps up the slope leads to the main entrance on the second tier. This structure, built from pink sandstone, remains relatively intact and is adorned with intricate carvings on the door frames and temple roof. Notably, the roof’s pinnacle features symmetrical, upward-curving Naga serpent tails, intricately carved against the sky. This second-tier architecture also inspired the construction of Wat Phou Temple on Mount Phou Khao in Champasak Province, Laos.

Read more: Wat Bo Pagoda – One of the Most Ancient Temples in Siem Reap

Preah Vihear Temple

The final tier is situated at the highest point of Dangrek Mountain, reflecting the Koh Ker style. The main sanctuary has been converted into a Buddhist shrine, with monks available to bless devout visitors and tourists. Although the surrounding area once featured numerous tall towers and libraries, over a thousand years of history have left most of these structures severely damaged.

Read more: Angkor National Museum, Cambodia

Resolving the Dispute Surrounding Preah Vihear Temple

The disputes arose because Preah Vihear Temple is located in a poorly defined area on the border between Cambodia and Thailand—one half of the temple lies within Thailand’s Khao Phra National Park, while the other half is in Cambodia’s Preah Vihear Province.

Preah Vihear Temple

In 2008, Preah Vihear Temple was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, reigniting conflicts that caused casualties on both sides. In 2013, the International Court of Justice issued a final ruling, declaring that the area surrounding the ancient temple belongs to Cambodia and ordering Thailand to withdraw its troops from Preah Vihear, restoring peace to the millennia-old site. Following this ruling, Thailand and Cambodia will jointly oversee Preah Vihear Temple and its surrounding areas with the assistance of UNESCO.

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