The Ancient site of Koh Ker: Cambodia

I mentioned in my previous post that my trip to Cambodia in 2019 had been primarily made up of temple hopping.

Basing ourselves in Siem Reap, we had explored Angkor Wat again (in great detail!), but also ventured up to Preah Vihear, a temple perched high on a mountain top on the Cambodian/Thai border.

Preah Vihear IMG_20190304_111625
Preah Vihear

This was a (very long!) day trip and on the way back from Preah Vihear, we wanted to stop off at another complex called Koh Ker.

Koh Ker is located about 100km from Siem Reap and is a large complex which remains largely unexplored.

The main attraction here is Prasat Thom, a temple complex which contains a very unusual 7 tier step pyramid called ‘Prang’, which looks like it would more at home amongst the Mayan ruins in Mexico, rather than buried in the jungles of Cambodia.

Koh Ker was an ancient city built by Jayavarman IV and it was briefly the capital of the Khmer empire between 928 to 944 AD.

Having driven up to visit Preah Vihear (a long drive from Siem Reap!) which was the main attraction of the day trip, we also wanted to stop and see Koh Ker on the way back.

It was about a 2 hour journey from Preah Vihear to Koh Ker and I must admit that I was flagging quite badly by the time we arrived. I had hardly eaten anything and it was hot, hot, hot! Still, we couldn’t miss it, the complex sounded quite different to others we had seen and I was intrigued by the main attraction, Prasat Thom.

The road towards the complex was empty, dusty and rough.  Our driver bumped us towards the temple very carefully and we wondered where on earth we were being taken!

Koh ker road IMG_20190304_160358
The empty road to the temples.

On arrival we were faced with a walk through the outer temples which were in various states of disrepair, but were being fixed up by some workmen.

We picked our way through these ruins, sweating (it was so hot, there was no glowing going on!) and swatting away the mosquitoes.

There was no-one else around apart from the workmen, it was so peaceful.

Koh Ker - entrance IMG_20190304_143808
The entrance to Prasat Thom

After wandering around a while taking in the beauty of the surroundings, we finally found what we were looking for.

We were faced with this temple which was quite awe inspiring!  I had not really expected something quite so impressive!

Koh ker view IMG_20190304_153949
Prasat Thom at the Koh Ker temple complex

We passed some people on their way out but there was no-one else there, so we walked quietly around the base of the temple…or in my case, I dragged myself around!

Koh Ker IMG_20190304_150046

As we neared the North side of the temple, we saw that there was a wooden staircase that scaled the side of it.

Koh ker - stairs IMG_20190304_150901
To climb or not to climb?

And what is one to do when faced with a wooden staircase up the side of an ancient temple??!!

My partner of course wanted to scale it, and me being me, didn’t want to be left behind, even though I really didn’t like the look of that staircase!

So once again I took a deep breath and told myself that I couldn’t not get to the top (there is a recurring theme going on here!!), who knew if I would ever return to see it again.

A deep breath and I started the ascent.  My partner trotted easily up the wobbly, wooden steps, stopping on one platform to wait for me. I looked up at him and I completely froze.  At this point local children were scampering up and down the staircase, looking at me in bewilderment and amusement! I couldn’t go up and I couldn’t go down, all I could see was the space between me and the ground.

I took deep breaths and repeated ‘it’s all fine, it’s all fine, it’s all fine’ under my breath as I shakily took step after step upwards, my partner encouraging each movement.

Wow, was it difficult!

But slowly I made my way to the top, which was now quite crowded with a few local families and a couple of other tourists.  I found a comfortable stone and rooted myself to the spot, whilst everyone else moved around me.  I almost had a heart attack when many of them, my partner included, clamboured up on the stones at the front of the temple to get a better look at the view!!

Koh ker - heights IMG_20190304_152908
Oh my god! There is no way I could clambour up there!

I have to admit though, when I did look around the view was pretty impressive. You could see for miles in each direction and it gave us the sense as to how secluded this complex is.

Koh Ker view IMG_20190304_152730
The view from the top.

I was so glad that I had made the effort though and when it came to departing, I found that getting down was a hell of a lot easier than getting up there!!

Koh ker - stairs from above IMG_20190304_153407
The way down!

After the exertion, we took our time wandering back out, there was something about the space that was really quite calming.

On the way back out of the complex, we stopped at two other monuments.

The first being the very striking Prasat Neang Khmau (The Black Lady), which is a really unusual temple because it is black in colour. I’m not entirely sure why, but it seems it might be fire scarred.

Koh ker black temple 2 IMG_20190304_160207
Prasat Neang Khmau (The Black Lady),

We also stopped at Prasat Pram, which is a collection of small towers.  Again so very peaceful as there was no-one else around, only the exceptionally loud noise of the local insects!  The towers are very atmospheric as they are slowly consumed by the strangler fig trees.

Koh ker 3 temples view 2 IMG_20190304_161508
Prasat Pram

There are a handful of other temples that you could see at the site, however, as we were pushed for time, we couldn’t fit anything else in.

And to be honest, I was pretty impressed with what we had seen anyway….and in desperate need of a sit down!

I loved Koh Ker, it made quite an impression on me, it was so peaceful and I thoroughly enjoyed wondering the ruins in the jungle!

Useful info

Cost: It was $10 each to enter the complex.

Location: Koh Ker is located approx two hours from Siem Reap.  It can be combined with a journey to Preah Vihear as we did, or alternatively with visiting Beng Melea which is also on the way to Koh Ker.

Total cost: We paid $120 for the car and driver for the day.

10 thoughts on “The Ancient site of Koh Ker: Cambodia

  1. The heat in Asia can be overpowering, can’t it? It actually sounds like you were a bit dehydrated that day. But you saw those ancient monuments – that’s most likely worth the discomfort. It is strange but there is nothing surrounding the temple set for jungle

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really can! I think you are probably right, I had hardly eaten anything all day as well, having missed breakfast because we set off so early. I don’t the few chocolate bars cut it!! But it was definitely worth it, I particularly loved Koh Ker so I’m really glad we made the stop there.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Absolutely! A stunning location of historic importance. I would not have missed Koh Ker either, if it was me in the same circumstance, even with the heat and the difficult conditions. Those memories imprint deeply into our minds and make us smile in quiet moments. I am glad you made it home safe.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I have to admire your grit in struggling up those stairs and your stamina on the whole trip. I’ve been to Cambodia and I know how enervating the air can be and how easy it is to become dehydrated and discombobulated! I’ve never been to Koh Ker but I visited Preah Vihear some years ago when there was a spot of bother between the Thais and Cambodians and that made for a very interesting trip! I’d love to see Koh Ker, maybe another year but it was really good to read about t, so thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, thank you so much, i’m glad you enjoyed it.
      Oh wow, when did you visit Preah Vihear? What was it like when you were there?? It’s somewhere that been in the list for us to visit for a while so it was great to finally make it. The heat can be overwhelming can’t it! It was all worth it though for the trip. I did love Koh Ker and I really wanted to get to the top to see the view, even though it was a bit of a trial!


  3. Beautiful photos, especially that last one with the trees overtaking the three towers. I also love the falling-down structures at the entrance to Prasat Thom. It looks like the only thing that has visited that place for centuries is time…


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