Overview of Koh Ker
Koh Ker was the Capital of the Khmer Empire for a very brief period from the year 928 to 944 AD. In this short time; some very spectacular buildings and immense sculptures were constructed. Left to the jungle for nearly a millennium and mostly un-restored; this great archaeological site has been rarely visited until very recently.
This remote area has no towns and only a small village in cleared forest nearby. The village of Sra Yong is a few kilometres away.
The Koh Ker site is dominated by Prasat Thom, a 30 meter tall temple mountain raising high above the plain and the surrounding forest. Great views await the visitor at the end of an adventurous climb. Garuda, carved into the stone blocks, still guard the very top, although they are partially covered now.
In late 2011 the remote location drew media attention worldwide when Sotheby's, an auction house specializing in the antiquities trade, attempted to sell a statue of a mythic Khmer Empire warrior. In March 2012 the US and Cambodian governments filed court documents to seize the statue that they purport was illegally removed from the site. A twin statue, also linked to the Koh Ker site, is on display at the Norton Simon Museum in California.
Across the site of Koh Ker there are many prasat or tower sanctuaries. A couple still feature an enormous linga on a yoni that provides space for several people. The outlet for the water that was sanctified by running it over the linga can be seen in the outside wall of one of them. In other cases, three prasat stand next to each other, dedicated to Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. Most of them are surrounded by libraries and enclosures, many also had moats. At that time, the roofs were still made of wood. Today, only the holes for the beams remain in the stone structures.
The site is still 3 hours away from Siem Reap, the area has been demined only recently and basic visitors' facilities are just being built. This makes Koh Ker very attractive for anyone who would like to experience lonely temples partially overgrown by the forest and inhabited only by birds, calling to each other from the trees above.
History of Koh Ker
The temple complex at Koh Ker, northeast of Siem Reap, represents the remnants of the capital of the Khmer Empire from 928 AD. - 944 A.D. - a very unique period in the Age of Angkor. From the time the Khmer capital was first moved to the Angkor area in the late 9th century, it would remain there for almost 500 years, with one brief interruption. Just a few decades after the establishment at Angkor, there was a disruption in the royal succession for reasons that remain a matter of academic debate. What is known is that in 928 A.D. King Jayavarman IV, possibly a usurper to the throne, created a new capital 100km away at Koh Ker, either moving the capital city from Angkor or creating a rival capital. Obviously a king of much wealth and power, he raised an impressive royal city at Koh Ker of Brahmanic monuments, temples and prasats, surrounding a huge baray (reservoir) Rahal. Jayavarman IV reigned at Koh Ker for 20 years before he died in 941 A.D. His son Hashavarman II would remain at Koh Ker for another 3 years before returning the capital to the Angkor area. The monuments of Koh Ker are now on a road loop around the baray past the most important temples. The premier ruin of the complex is Prasat Thom, an imposing 7-tiered pyramid and temple complex. (Best photographed in the morning and offering a bird’s eye view from the top.) As you round the loop, there are several nicely preserved ruins sit just off the road, impressive prasats and small temple complexes. There are lingas still in place in some monuments such as Prasat Balang and Prasat Thneng. For the enthusiast, there are also dozens of other, more remote ruins in the area. A good guide can be most helpful at Koh Ker. A trip to Koh Ker takes the better part of a day out of Siem Reap and is usually combined with a visit to Beng Melea. To get there take Route #6 east from Siem Reap to Damdek. Turn north and follow the signs. Part of the way is a toll road. Check road conditions before leaving Siem Reap, especially in the wet season. $5 entrance fee to Koh Ker.
Get in Koh Ker
Koh Ker is relatively easy drive but involves an early start to get a good full days sightseeing and returning to Siem Reap in the same day. The site is 130 km north of Siem Reap and the road, repaired in 2004, is in decent condition (by Cambodian standards) with a black top road as far as Beng Melea temple and a wide new dirt road in good repair from there. There are no public transport for tourists but taxi and cars can be arranged at hotels and guests houses. Two small restaurants provide basic food at the entrance to the the temple complex near Prasat Thom.
Get Around Koh Ker
There is no transport around the area so you will have to use the car/4wd or Motor bike that took you there.
See Koh Ker
The ancient Khmer city is in a distant jungle location with up to a hundred ruined temples including a huge stepped pyramid; the largest in the region. More ancient temples are being found in the jungle; so there is a true sense of discovery here. Many of the temples were built in brick using a mortar made from tree sap. It is quite remarkable how well they have stood up to the test of time
The entry fee is $10 payable at the booth near the entrance to Beng Mealea temple 60 km to the south west. If you are heading from Tbeang Meanchey and Preah Vihear there is no means if getting a ticket … but no doubt a facility will be set up in the not too distant future.
There are temples in abundance , most are brick built and all are in a picturesque state of ruin with many being overgrown. The Prang is the largest structure here, it is a 7 stepped pyramid approx 40metres high the views from the top encompass a lonely landscape of forest with the distant Dangrek Mountains on the Thai Border to the north and the Koulen Mountain Range 70 km to the south. Prasat Thom is the name of the temple that lies directly at the bottom of the Prang and one must negotiate this to gain entrance to the pyramid enclosure. In 2007 Prasat Thom was cleared of vegetation and the moats cleaned out by villagers working for the APSARA Authority that now manages the site. Tickets are sold by the Kham Samet Company that built the road to Koh Ker.