Travel Report: The Linga Temples, Koh Ker.
The Linga Temples, Koh Ker, Cambodia.
After the breathtaking majesty of Koh Ker’s pyramid temple at Prasat Thom, I imagine some people might be a bit disappointed by The Linga Temples. In fact, this collection of five single-chamber structures is entirely understated in comparison.
Nevertheless, I was fascinated and charmed by the three Linga Temples we visited. Our first stop was Prasat Linga I, just a few minutes drive from Prasat Thom. Like all three temples, it sits perfectly alone in a sandy clearing, surrounded by lush green woodland.
Also known as Prasat Balang, this sandstone structure is the largest of Koh Ker’s Linga Temples. Having made a quick circuit of the exterior, we sought shelter under the large, pretty tree that protected us from the ferocity of the afternoon sun.
The Linga Temples, Koh Ker.
Entrance to the tiny chamber comes via a short staircase. As soon as you enter, you find yourself face to face with a commanding linga, one of the biggest and best preserved in the country.
The linga (or lingam) is a complex symbol of Hinduism associated with the supreme god Shiva. According to Hindu scriptures, it represents male creative energy. Now I know what you’re thinking at this point. The linga looks a bit like a penis, right? Well actually yeah, the linga has a long tradition as a phallic symbol.
Moreover, the flat stone base on which the linga stands is called The Yoni, a symbol of the Goddess Shakti. When put together, the linga and the yoni represent the union of feminine and masculine principles. Pretty deep.
As with all the temples we visited across Koh Ker that day, the place was perfectly empty and silent. However, somebody had obviously checked in before us, as there were a number of burning candles and incense sticks.
Visit Koh Ker.
The next linga temple is just thirty seconds down the road in the car. We could have easily walked, but it was scorching hot and the driver insisted we jump back in.
Here the chamber was noticeably bare, with no candles, incense sticks or offerings of any kind. In addition to its Shiva connections and notions of fertility, the linga stands for supreme royal power. Which is possibly why King Jayavarman IV had them built.
Heading back to our vehicle, I realised we had company. He was sitting on the wooden fence by the entrance, barefoot and worryingly scrawny. “Local boy!” laughed our driver. “His parents in forest, look for the buffalo”.
Although very shy and seemingly mute, the boy never once took his eyes off me. When I shot him a cheery hello, he responded with the faintest trace of a smile. And he was still staring at us as we sped off.
The Linga Temples, Koh Ker.
Our final linga structure, Prasat Linga 3, was much more ruinous than the others. Indeed one of its walls had completely collapsed, a stream of rubble spilling out onto the grass.
In order to access its shrine, I had to pick a precarious path up the rubble. Inside, I found a battlefield of fallen rocks and columns. Furthermore, the linga itself was heavily damaged and unreachable.
At the side of the temple there were more ruins, including this platform of embedded rocks and toppled lingas. Nearby, we found a giant anthill fortress. Upon closer inspection, I spotted a large, black spider moving between the holes, presumably up to no good.
An opportune moment, we concluded, to move on. The Linga Temples had proved a fascinating change of pace to the day’s exploring. Happily, there were plenty more delights to come. 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.
Check out more of my reports from The Temples of Koh Ker.
You can also read my articles from the amazing Temples of Angkor.
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Such an interesting area where you visited. Very historic site to see. I love the photo of the young boy.
Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, Anita.
Well youve done it again. this group of cambodian temples seem every ounce the equal of angkor with the added bonus of being totally off the grid. have not been online recently but catching up with all your posts today. i was not familiar with the linga, amazing stuff and wowza all that sexual imagery
Thanks Stan, it’s great to have you back. They are such modest structures, but what they lack in size or grandeur they definitely make up for in charm and personality. The linga is such a weird and wonderful thing and it was a privilege to be able to tour these ancient temples.
These are lesser known yet interesting monuments, at least their small size makes them easy to visit. Thanks for the presentation.
Thanks for reading, they are easier to visit than your average Angkor temple, especially if you get taken from point to point in a car like we did. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a luxurious temple day before. We felt quite pampered.
I know the feeling, I did the same thing for a day in Siem Reap and another day in Phnom Penh; just getting back into the air conditioning after the heat outside is worth it.
Super interesting, Leighton! I need to learn more about the world’s religions. Do you remember how old these temples are?
Hey Kellye, the entire complex dates back to around 921 AD. Throughout our day touring Koh Ker, we were told that historians couldn’t be sure precisely when they were built, but that the previous date is a good marker.
Thank you. Like I said, I need to learn more about the world’s religions and also the religious sites.
Intriguing. When I saw the first two lingas, they looked almost metallic. Polished but not really quite shiny. Great still life of the candle but you can keep the spider. Put him with Indiana Jones’ snakes.
Yes, metallic is about right, I wonder if they are “treated” in some manner for preservation. That spider was horrible, but there’s one coming up in a later article that was pure evil.
So glad you visited the lesser visited temples too Leighton. It is always amazing to me how much “male/female” symbolism exists in Thai/ Lao/Cambodian culture. Lots of erotic art, like a stone age version of Playboy. Did the artists create these under the guise of fertility, or were they just “out there” for the times? Thanks for sharing. Enjoy your Sunday. Allan
Glad you took the opportunity to visit temples off the beaten track, Leighton, instead of only those at Angkor Wat as most people do. So rewarding to visit where you are there with the chance to discover the linga with no one else around to disturb and distract you.
Thanks you Annie, for that very reason I think we’ll always look back on Koh Ker as one of our favourite days in Cambodia. Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave a comment.
A stone age Playboy, love it. You’re right about all the erotic, historic art across Asia. That’s always fun and the linga really takes things to an interesting and bizarre new level. I would imagine fertility was the official party line, but you know…. 😉
I think I need about 10 years in Cambodia, rather than the 2.5 weeks I have planned!
Well, you’ll have to cram in what you perceive to be the highlights I guess.
Interesting to learn about these lesser known temples off the beaten track Leighton. Great photos.
Thanks for your comment Marion.
It is really neat how different each of the temples are!
Glad you enjoyed them Allie, thanks for your comment.
Impressive phallic symbols. I wonder what the youngster was thinking about.
Me too. Waiting in an isolated, largely deserted forest for his father to finish whatever buffalo duties he had seemed to be a less than thrilling proposition. I guess in that respect our sudden arrival was a gift.
Now this might be me being irreverent and/or philistine, but I’ve often wondered this, regarding ancient erotic art and phallic symbols and the like. Suppose it wasn’t at all significant, or anything to do with fertility, it was just ancient people mucking about and having a laugh – like a schoolboy drawing a penis on a figure (as schoolboys always have). “OK, Caesar, I’ve finished the statue, it’s good, but I’m gonna stick a willy on it”. “Ha ha yeah go on then”…..
You know, there could be a bit of that involved, who knows. Indeed, Allan puts forward the same idea in this thread. Historians would be horrified, but it would be funny if there was something in this theory. “Is that a Linga in your temple or are you just pleased to see me?”
Another lesser-known collection of temples to check out in and around Angkor Wat! Phallic symbols certainly pique interest, haha, but truly, it’s a wonderful little place to visit (massive spiders aside)!
Thanks Rebecca, glad you like this understated collection of “suggestive” ruins. Just keep in mind that Koh Ker’s scattered forest ruins lie roughly 120 kilometres north of Angkor, which is why few tourists manage to get out there. It’s a bit of a trek!
We didn’t know much about Hinduism when we visited Cambodia and had no idea what a Shiva Linga was. You found yet another cute kid, he probably wanted to go home with you two. Maggie
Ah the poor guy, I’m sure he doesn’t have an easy life. Hope he managed to get through the pandemic reasonably unscathed and that he’s now living through better times. Thanks for the catch up.
Amazing photos. It’s like something out of an Indiana Jones movie.
It truly is, even more so than Angkor. I really should have bought myself one of those signature brown Indy hats. 😉 Thanks for reading and commenting.
Another wonderful tour through these beautiful temples! This one definitely seems more meditative than others, probably because of its size and ruin. If that is suppose to be a phallic symbol, then having a burning candle on top of it does not seem like an all together good way to honor. Just saying’ 🙂
Ha ha, good point Meg. So glad you are enjoying this romp through Koh Ker. There will be five very short articles coming out from Wednesday onwards on the remaining structures and I’ve decided to put them out daily until they’re done. It feels like I’ve been posting about Siem Reap for months! (Which I probably have).
Cheers bud, hope you enjoy the rest of the Koh Ker series.
PS: I have tried commenting on a few of your articles but am unable to do so through the WP reader. There is no like or comment facility right? Anyhow, great content and what a magnificent creature the spectacled bear is.
Thanks for the info. I’ll look into that. On my end the like and comment button works and there are likes and comments from other WordPress users. I wonder if they go to the site to like and comment instead of inside the reader. I’ll have to take a look as I would like to fix that if there is an issue.
Yeah, I can see there is a facility to like directly on the website, but you have to manually put in your name, email address etc. WordPress Support should be able to sort out your WordPress Reader settings.
Thanks Leighton. I will definitely take a look this afternoon after work. Thanks for the heads up as I definitely want people to be able to like and comment in the reader.
Thanks again Leighton. I believe I fixed it in the discussion and sharing section of WordPress. I unchecked the email and name box and also allowed for reader to show full posts. I really appreciate you letting me know. I also really like your blog. Thanks again.
You’re very welcome! Here’s to your successful blog and an increased readership.
I love the photo of the ruined temple with the lush trees around it. But that spider, YIKES! Interesting post as usual.
Thanks Tricia, The Linga Temples are really cosy structures I think and yes, the surrounding greenery does much to bring out this feeling. Thanks for stopping by.
Your articles are fantastic.
Thanks for dropping by, appreciate the kind words.
Linga and its female counterpart yoni are ubiquitous in Hindu temples in Southeast Asia, largely because at some point in history Shaivism became the dominant denomination of Hinduism in this part of the world. Even long after the fall of the last major Hindu kingdom in the Indonesian archipelago, the modern country of Indonesia still retains some aspects from its Hindu past, including the Monumen Nasional, a 132-meter tall structure at the heart of Indonesia’s political center. Its design was inspired by linga and yoni.
That’s fascinating! I shall now go and take a look at Indonesia’s National Monument, thanks for reading.
I still find the trees growing between these temples so fascinating! And what a lovely close up photo of the burning candle.
Hey Corna, it’s great to have you back. Hope all has been well with you recently.
Thanks Leighton, all is well. Berto surprised me with a week in our hometown Langebaan. We had a great time with our Cape Town friends and also got to spent some quality time with my mum. We arrived again in East London yesterday … refuelled and ready for the next few months until the Christmas break (can you believe we’re almost there 😮).
Great to hear you’ve been the good kind of busy. Yes, we are already edging towards Christmas. Time stops for no one. Just watched The Queen’s funeral from our laptops here in Georgia. Exceptional times.
I’ve also watched a bit of the funeral on my laptop and was thinking that it must be hard for her family – they have not just lost a Queen, but a mum/grandmother/great-grandmother (to mourn publicly can’t be easy). But like you’ve said … time stops for no one …
Your pictures of the Linga Temples are beautiful. How amazing to have them mostly all to yourself. That black spider is massive!! How scary!
Thanks, the whole linga thing is really interesting and somewhat bizarre. The temples are very modest, but it’s the location and atmosphere that make them so special.
I loved exploring these temples with you and am only sorry (again!) that we didn’t fit Koh Ker into our brief time in Siem Reap. You have captured the atmosphere really well – I especially love the tumbled stones around the third temple and that lone red candle.
The beliefs and culture around linga fascinated me when we learned about them, more in Laos in fact than in Cambodia. I read the speculation in some comments above about the extent to which these beliefs were pure religion or had an element of eroticism or even smuttiness, and I wonder if the two are so mutually exclusive?
Hey Sarah, glad you enjoyed your look at The Linga Temples. Religion, empirical power and plain smut? Why not.