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Travel Report: Prasat Thom Temple, Koh Ker.

Prasat Thom Temple in 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.

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.

The Koh Ker Temples Cambodia.

The ancient temple complex of Koh Ker.

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.

Visit Koh Ker.

The fascinating ruins of Prasat Thom Temple in Cambodia

Outside the entrance to 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.

Exploring Prasat Thom Temple Koh Ker

Prasat Thom Temple, Koh Ker.

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.

The ancient ruins of Prasat Thom Temple in Cambodia

The ruins of Prasat Thom.

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.

Prasat Thom Temple, Koh Ker.

Visit Prasat Thom Temple in Koh Ker 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.

A creepy crawly in Prasat Thom Temple

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.

A gateway shrine Prasat Thom Temple Koh Ker

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.

A 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.

The Causeway at Prasat Thom Temple in Cambodia

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 stone carving in 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 this broken pillar decorated by a single lion’s paw.

In the 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.

The Central Sanctuary.

Fallen statue Koh Ker Cambodia.

Three wishes anyone?

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

The Pyramid Temple in 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 incredible 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.

Cambodia's Pyramid Temple

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.

Prasat Thom Prang.

Killer views from halfway up the Pyramid Temple in Koh Ker

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 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. What a fantastic start to our day exploring Koh Ker, and happily there were more wonders to come.

Prasat Thom Temple, Koh Ker.

At the top of Prasat Thom Prang Temple in 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.

A touch of green Prasat Thom Temple Cambodia

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.


  • qprgary

    Again amazing architecture and history. Were you a Buddhist in a previous life 😂😂😂

    September 7, 2022 - 11:26 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha you know what, I may just have been…

      September 7, 2022 - 11:28 am Reply
  • ourcrossings

    Isn’t there just something special about visiting places where you are likely to be the only visitor, especially given how overrun some of the tourist attractions around the world can be?
    The pyramid temple at Koh Ker is truly stunning, Leighton and the views from the top are quite sensational. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    September 7, 2022 - 12:11 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Aiva, touring Koh Ker has got to be one of the absolute highlights of our seven months in Cambodia. The so-called Pyramid Temple really is something else and what a privilege for us to have had it more or less to ourselves.

      September 7, 2022 - 12:14 pm Reply
  • Anna

    This place looks really special, especially the pyramid shaped temple! So much to explore in Cambodia, you’re lucky you’ve had so much time to see so much of it!

    September 7, 2022 - 12:37 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Yeah we really lucked out during what was the most intense period of the pandemic back in the spring and summer of 2020. Koh Ker is just fabulous Anna, 6 more temple reports across that complex coming over the next few weeks. This place is easily the rival of Angkor and, maybe for me, just a touch more exciting when I look back on it. Thanks for reading!

      September 7, 2022 - 12:50 pm Reply
      • Anna

        Six more! Damn boy you get around! 🤣🤣🤣

        September 7, 2022 - 2:11 pm
      • Leighton

        I do my best 😉

        September 7, 2022 - 2:11 pm
  • NattyTravels

    Wow! I can’t believe how incredible the architecture is here! This is now added to my extremely long bucketlist ha.

    September 7, 2022 - 12:40 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Natty, Koh Ker stands as my favourite temple complex in the world. So far, at least. This was the big one at Koh Ker, but hope you enjoy the remaining six instalments. Cheers!

      September 7, 2022 - 12:51 pm Reply
  • Memo

    Wow. That main temple is truly impressive. And they had a secure (looking) staircase to the top. I hesitate to tackle stairs any more but I’d certainly try these. Probably have to stop more than once though on the way to the top. The grounds look immense and very well maintained, yet there didn’t seem to be anyone tending to them. BTW I’d go with genie. I hope Sladja got her wish.

    September 7, 2022 - 3:22 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Yeah, the pyramid is just awesome, easily a highlight of our stay in Cambodia. The staircase up was indeed very safe and, I believe, recently built. The grounds were spotless and not a soul to be seen, as you say, in terms of staff. Down to COVID I guess. I’ll have to check with Sladja re the wishes, but she may keep shtum 😉

      September 7, 2022 - 5:06 pm Reply
  • Lyssy In The City

    Wow! What an incredible place to explore all by yourselves. It’s always worth going a little further to leave the tourists in the dust. It really looks like it should be a movie set!

    September 7, 2022 - 4:05 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Lyssy, Koh Ker is a special, special temple even in a country packed with special temples.

      September 7, 2022 - 5:08 pm Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    That’s quite a long drive to get there … but yes, definitely worth it I would say! The Causeway is such an interesting picture – even with the fallen pieces one can see it must have been a great place back in the days (or should I say centuries?) … more so, when looking at that pyramid temple! What a view – wow!

    September 7, 2022 - 6:25 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Corna, I feel like I’ve been building up to this temple for a while and now so happy to have finally put this piece out there.

      September 7, 2022 - 8:12 pm Reply
  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    Another stunning temple and fantastic post! The pyramid temple is especially fascinating. Of course, the little boy is darling. How I wish I could trade you a few national parks for a few Cambodian temples!

    September 7, 2022 - 7:19 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Kellye! I think, all things considered, that I would take you up on the national park/ Cambodian temple offer. Just not entirely sure I would put Koh Ker on the table ha ha. Thanks for checking this out and hope you enjoy the rest of the Koh Ker temples. They are not quite as dramatic as the pyramid, but equally fascinating I think.

      September 7, 2022 - 8:18 pm Reply

    That lofty pyramid temple looming into view must have been a very special moment, there’s something even more exotic when these sites are half swallowed by the surrounding jungle. I’m guessing that given the fairly remote location, this temple is relatively quiet even in non-COVID times. Terrific again.

    September 7, 2022 - 8:00 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      It was a great moment Phil, I can still feel the absolute silence of it all. You’re right, it is reasonably quiet for most of the year, even in “normal” times. But back during our visit we saw not a single person at any of the ruins we visited. Will any other temple visit ever be able to top that? I’m not sure. Hope you enjoy the rest of the Koh Ker series.

      September 10, 2022 - 8:44 pm Reply
  • NortheastAllie

    Magnificent temple and very interesting that volcanic rock was used in creating it, that is really neat!

    September 7, 2022 - 11:11 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for the catch up Allie, much appreciated. This is definitely one of my favourite temples.

      September 7, 2022 - 11:12 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    Yeah. Going that far on those roads by tuk tuk would not have been a good idea. Tremendous views from the top and a very interesting building style on this one Leighton. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    September 8, 2022 - 3:20 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers, Allan. I imagine I would have been in a much less appreciative mood if I’d travelled by tuk tuk. Our friendly driver and comfy, air conditioned car was just the ticket.

      September 8, 2022 - 9:41 am Reply
  • Bama

    That pyramid-like structure really is emblematic to Koh Ker. It must have been amazing to have all of those to yourselves! There are just so many ancient temples around Siem Reap I think to do most of them justice we need probably at least one week.

    September 8, 2022 - 7:12 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Yeah, I think a week would be good. One also needs a break between onslaughts of temples I think, just to keep enthusiasm levels high. I personally found one full day to be as much as I could take, then go back for more after a day or two away. Thanks for checking in, Bama.

      September 8, 2022 - 9:44 am Reply
  • Rebecca

    There’s something almost mystical about Prasat Thom Temple: maybe it’s due to being almost deserted of visitors or maybe it’s the lion footprints and unknown indentations throughout the site. All the same, it certainly rivals that of the Angkor Wat, and it’s definitely a worthwhile see while in Cambodia!

    September 8, 2022 - 8:14 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Mystical indeed Rebecca. I’m glad I finally got Koh Ker started on the blog, hope you enjoy the rest of these wondrous temples.

      September 8, 2022 - 9:47 am Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    Looks to be an ideal trip away from the tourist trail and very tranquil wandering through the ruins. I liked it that you were able to walk up the wooden staircase too. Definitely adding Prasat Thom to my itinerary.

    September 8, 2022 - 12:57 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thank you Marion. I’m glad you really like this one, as it is one of my absolute favourite world temples. Thanks for checking out Prasat Thom!

      September 8, 2022 - 1:04 pm Reply
  • Travels Through My Lens

    What a phenomenal experience! Definitely worth the effort in getting there; especially to have the place mostly to yourselves. The pyramid alone is worthy of a visit. Thanks for sharing!

    September 8, 2022 - 4:52 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Tricia, I’m glad you could feel just what a special place Koh Ker is. Prasat Thom Temple equally matches anything Angkor has to offer and best of it all it remains something of a Cambodian secret in terms of mass tourism.

      September 8, 2022 - 5:05 pm Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    Stunning pictures! I think what makes this place so special is that it is seen as the overlooked under dog compared to Angkor but it is magnificent in its own right. If there was a more accessible way to get there I’m sure that it would become just as popular of a destination. But then maybe it would lose a little bit of what makes it so special. Wonderful place to explore with you today 🙂

    September 8, 2022 - 6:00 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      You’re right Meg, the arrival of mass tourism would spoil much of Koh Ker’s unique appeal. Thankfully it remains all the more special to those who make the effort to drag theirselves out to the north of Cambodia.

      September 9, 2022 - 12:30 am Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    Your pictures are beautiful. Sounds like it was worth the effort to get to Koh Ker. And how amazing that you had the ruins all to yourself. I love the views from the top of the pyramid. It really does look like it’s in the middle of nowhere.

    September 9, 2022 - 12:29 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks guys, it is an exceptionally isolated site, so perfectly located deep in the forests of northern Cambodia. Appreciate you stopping by.

      September 9, 2022 - 10:14 pm Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    Wow what a great find! I’ll have to keep this in kind if we go back to Cambodia. The pyrimaid temple looks stunning and I love the boy you met at the top. Maggie

    September 12, 2022 - 3:16 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Maggie, I honestly believe it’s worth travelling all the way to Cambodia if the only thing one does is Koh Ker. 🇰🇭

      September 12, 2022 - 3:45 pm Reply
      • Monkey's Tale

        Wow that says a lot!!

        September 12, 2022 - 3:49 pm
  • Erik Magnus

    You have convinced me to visit this site one day.

    September 15, 2022 - 1:19 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Erik, you certainly wouldn’t regret spending a day exploring Koh Ker.

      September 15, 2022 - 8:57 am Reply
  • Toonsarah

    Wow, I wish we’d had time for this while in Siem Reap but sadly on a short tour of the country we were restricted in what we could fit in. Never mind, I’ve loved my virtual visit with you 🙂 That pyramid temple is amazing, reminiscent of the Inca and Maya structures in Latin America!

    September 18, 2022 - 8:07 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for checking out a bit of Koh Ker Sarah. This is definitely the one with the wow factor, though I also fell for the smaller understated ruins.

      September 18, 2022 - 8:23 pm Reply
      • Toonsarah

        I’ll definitely get around to exploring those with you too!

        September 18, 2022 - 8:29 pm

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