The prestigious New York Times has recently highlighted Cambodia’s Koh Ker as the 34th must-visit location among its annual list of 52 recommended travel spots for the year 2024. This acknowledgment comes shortly after Koh Ker’s inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List, marking a significant milestone for the ancient site.
Constructed over two decades, Koh Ker served as a pivotal center of power in the Khmer Empire, alternating with Angkor as the capital city during the reign of King Jayavarman IV from 928 to 944 CE. This information is supported by UNESCO’s detailed documentation of the site.
Located in the scenic Preah Vihear province, nestled between the Dangrek and Kulen mountain ranges and approximately 100km northeast of Angkor in Siem Reap province, Koh Ker offers a unique and less crowded alternative to the well-known Angkor Wat Temple. The New York Times, in its January 8 edition, highlighted Koh Ker for those seeking a more secluded and adventurous exploration of Cambodia’s ancient heritage.
The site’s main attractions include a sprawling 4.5-square-mile area that features a collection of temple ruins, with the prominent seven-tiered Prasat Thom pyramid taking center stage. Visitors can also marvel at the intricate statues, stone carvings, man-made ponds, and towering trees that intertwine with the ruins, adding to the mystique of the location.
Koh Ker, also referred to as Lingapura or Chok Gargyar, spans 1,187 hectares within Kulen district. This area is also known for the Preah Vihear Temple, another site recognized by UNESCO for its historical significance.
Siem Reap, Cambodia’s second-largest city and the primary entry point for visitors to Koh Ker, is situated roughly 113km from the site. The city is accessible via a two-hour drive from the newly opened Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport, making the journey to Koh Ker convenient for travelers.
Thourn Sinan, the head of the Pacific Asia Travel Association’s Cambodia Chapter, expressed that Koh Ker has become an essential destination for both local and international tourists looking to explore Cambodia’s lesser-known cultural and historical aspects. With its proximity to Angkor Wat, visitors have the opportunity to explore both the Preah Vihear and Koh Ker temples in a single trip, with accommodations available in either Preah Vihear or Siem Reap.
The recent recognition by UNESCO has sparked discussions on the need for further infrastructure improvements to make Koh Ker more accessible and appealing to tourists. The Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Manet, celebrated this achievement in a letter last September, highlighting the country’s efforts since 2018 to secure Koh Ker’s place on the World Heritage List. The formal request to UNESCO was made in January 2021 by the former Prime Minister, Hun Sen, leading to the site’s official recognition during the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on September 17, 2023.
Visitor statistics from the National Authority for Preah Vihear reveal a significant 71.2% increase in Koh Ker’s visitors in 2023, drawing 105,464 individuals, including 14,806 from abroad. In contrast, the Preah Vihear Temple experienced a slight decrease in visitors, with 83,723 domestic and 9,243 international guests, the latter showing a notable increase compared to the previous year.
Source: Phnompenh Post