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"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Travel Report: Prasat Thom Temple, Koh Ker, Cambodia.

Prasat Thom Prang Temple Koh Ker Cambodia.

Prasat Thom Temple, Koh Ker.

June 2020. When I look back on the highlights of my Cambodia adventures, I know there’ll always be a special place for Koh Ker. While we’d had an amazing time exploring The Angkor Temples, there was something about Koh Ker that appealed to my more intrepid instincts.

Scattered across an isolated jungle region of northern Cambodia, most people simply can’t be bothered to get all the way out here. And yet, Koh Ker’s temples are every bit as significant and stunning as their world famous siblings in Angkor.

Private driver Cambodia.

Approaching Koh Ker.

Visit Koh Ker.

Getting to Koh Ker certainly is problematic. Firstly, there are no public transport options from Siem Reap. Secondly, the length of the journey and the generally poor state of Cambodia’s roads rule out taking a tuk tuk. As non-drivers, the only choice we had was to hire a private car for the day.

Hired through A Mei Travel in Siem Reap, our driver was a friendly Khmer man who did everything he could to make our day memorable. Having picked us up from Apsara Greenland Boutique Hotel, his air conditioned Toyota Highlander made short work of the drive. In just under two hours we were smoothly cruising towards the entrance gate of Prasat Thom, Koh Ker’s principal structure.

Entrance Prasat Thom Temple Koh Ker.

Arriving at Prasat Thom.

With the tourist industry virtually wiped out due to COVID-19, I figured we’d more than likely have this ruined city all to ourselves. And so it proved, with just a few baffled looking vendors in attendance as Sladja and I jumped out of the car.

Prasat Thom Temple, Koh Ker.

Prasat Thom Temple Koh Ker Cambodia.

The entrance to Prasat Thom.

From the 24 temples accessible to visitors, Prasat Thom stands as the most dramatic of all. Not that we could feel that as we entered the complex via the understated East Outer Gopura. Rather, its majesty takes time to reveal itself.

Prasat Thom Temple Koh Ker.

The ruins of Prasat Thom.

Prasat Thom Temple, Koh Ker.

Prasat Thom was built by King Jayavarman IV in AD921, some seven years before Koh Ker became the capital of The Khmer Empire. For a brief spell this temple was the most important structure in the country, until 944 when the seat of power shifted back to Angkor.

Library Prasat Thom Temple Cambodia.

One of the libraries at Prasat Thom.

Soon after entering, we found one of several elongated libraries, now roofless. Walking through the deserted library was highly atmospheric, with no sound other than our own footsteps and the rustling of the leaves.

Creepy crawly Koh Ker Temple Cambodia.

A Prasat Thom resident stops to say hello.

Not that we were completely alone, I should add. At the far end of the library, we came across this furry guy, slithering his way over to a crack in one of the walls.

The Gate Tower.

Gateway shrine Koh Ker Temple Cambodia.

The Gate Tower at Prasat Thom.

This overgrown Gate Tower is known as Prasat Krahom. Apparently King Jayavarman IV was an ardent worshipper of Shiva. Hence he had a statue of the Hindu god built within the tower’s shrine.

Hindu shrine Koh Ker Cambodia.

Gate Tower shrine, Prasat Thom.

Today there’s nothing but a stone pedestal inside the tower, the statue of Shiva having long disappeared. We saw a number of offerings at the shrine that day, including money, plants and incense sticks.

Prasat Thom Temple, Koh Ker.

Central Sanctuary Prasat Thom Temple Koh Ker.

The Causeway at Prasat Thom.

On the other side of the Gate Tower stands a long, rubbly causeway flanked by a colonnade of pillars. It’s an amazing stretch of the temple, where many of the columns and other stone tablets lie fallen on the ground.

Lion Paw Koh Ker Cambodia.

One of many cool discoveries at Prasat Thom.

Taking a closer look at the details of the stonework, we found all kinds of Khmer engravings and mythological imagery. Including a broken pillar decorated by a single lion’s paw.

The Central Sanctuary.

Central Sanctuary Prasat Thom Temple Koh Ker.

Koh Ker, Cambodia.

The Central Sanctuary features nine brick towers, most of which have plants and flowers sprouting out of their roofs. There are more broken statues and fallen pillars here. Some articles mention a buffalo sculpture connected to Yama, the god of judgment over the dead.

Fallen statue Koh Ker Cambodia.

Three wishes anyone?

Unfortunately, we didn’t find the buffalo. However, we did discover this weird and wonderful broken sculpture. Was it a likeness of the king? A Hindu god? Or, as Sladja likes to think, some manner of ancient genie?

Prasat Thom Prang.

Pyramid temple Koh Ker Cambodia.

The pyramid temple at Koh Ker.

As fascinating as our explorations had been, nothing could compare to the genuine wow moment when Koh Ker’s stupendous pyramid temple came into view. This amazing seven-tiered structure is called Prasat Thom Prang, the highest ancient temple ever constructed by the Khmer empire. Also referred to as simply Koh Ker Temple, it was constructed using a mixture of volcanic rock and sandstone blocks.

Prasat Thom Prang Koh Ker Cambodia.

Prasat Thom Prang.

Towering thirty six metres above the forest floor, we simply couldn’t wait to climb the pyramid. Happily, there are a series of wooden staircases for just that purpose. So up we went, with a spring in our step.

Koh Ker Temple.

Sweeping views from Koh Ker Cambodia.

Taking a break, half way up the pyramid.

The climb to the top quickly got us out of breath, thus we stopped for a breather half way up. And of course to take in these magnificent views of the surrounding lawns. As I sat posing for this photo, I saw a young Cambodian boy emerge from the trees in the corner of the compound. Heading straight for the stairs, he sprinted up, dashed past us and duly disappeared onto the platform at the summit.

Beggar boy Koh Ker Cambodia.

Beggar boy, Koh Ker.

When we reached the top there he was, kneeling down in the dirt. His hands clasped together in a direct plea for our kindness. It was a surreal moment, just the three of us atop one of Planet Earth’s greatest temples.

The views from the top are just awesome, nothing but lush greenery as far as the eye can see. Back in ancient times there used to be a four metre linga enshrined up here. Now, there’s nothing but loose bricks, irksome insects and a few resting benches.

Views from Koh Ker Temple Cambodia.

At the top of the pyramid.

If you want to visit Koh Ker, bear in mind that you can’t gain access with The Angkor Pass. Instead, there’s a separate entry fee before you enter the forest. Tickets go for $15 per person.

Prasat Thom Temple Koh Ker.

Prasat Thom Temple, Koh Ker.

Check out more of my reports from The Temples of Koh Ker.

You can also read my articles from the amazing Temples of Angkor.

Or maybe delve further afield with my travel reports from all across Cambodia.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

Leighton Travels logo travel reports and short stories.

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14 Comments

  • Ankur Yadav

    Nice post. Thanks for sharing.
    Please follow us and visit https://fromtraveling2fooding.com/2020/07/16/the-last-village-of-india-mana/

    July 21, 2020 - 4:55 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading, I’ll take a look.

      July 21, 2020 - 4:56 pm Reply
  • Sam

    Beautiful post and pictures Leighton. I love the photos of the ruins, they just beg to be explored. I like that they have added the staircases to that temple too, great way explore them further!

    July 21, 2020 - 5:26 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers Sam, appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. Hope you’re keeping well back in the homeland.

      July 21, 2020 - 5:29 pm Reply
      • Sam

        I am good thanks, London is okay so far in terms of the whole covid situation. I hope you are well too.

        July 23, 2020 - 2:49 pm
  • Memo

    Love old stone temples and churches. You always seem to find the best and shoot great pics.

    July 21, 2020 - 8:39 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Memo, thanks a lot. Koh Ker is something else, plenty more articles to come from that day.

      July 21, 2020 - 8:52 pm Reply
  • Eromonsele Emmanuel

    These are the kinds of ruins that I like to visit. Koh Ker is beautiful.
    If I may. What’s a tuk tuk?

    July 22, 2020 - 9:54 am Reply
    • Leighton

      It’s a three wheeled motorized vehicle that people use here as taxis. Kind of a cross between a motorbike and a car. Very basic and very cheap. Not the fastest way of traveling!

      July 22, 2020 - 9:56 am Reply
  • Eve

    Wish I had read this before we visited Koh Ker, still, interesting to read, thanks. Ticket price was $10 when we visited 2 weeks ago.

    July 25, 2020 - 8:36 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Eve, thanks for reading. More Koh Ker pieces to come over the next few weeks. We also paid $10, although according to their online page it’s just been increased to $15. Seems to be some confusion over when this will be applied.

      July 25, 2020 - 8:41 am Reply
  • Henry Lewis

    Your posts always remind me why I love SE Asia so much.

    July 27, 2020 - 12:33 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Henry, we enjoyed the first episode of your nightmare neighbourhood show! 🙂

      July 27, 2020 - 12:34 pm Reply

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