Kantharalak: Khao Phra Wihan, Cambodia
December 1, 2004
Dear Family and Friends,
Giacomo and I traveled east from Nang Rong, a five hour bus ride to Kantharalak, and checked into the Kantharalak Palace Hotel.
The next morning we hired motor-bike taxis and sped south to the Dangrek Range, the mountains of the Thai-Cambodia border.
Unexpectedly, our drivers took us first to Khao Phra Wihan National Park - one of the sites designated as "Unseen Thailand." I'm glad we saw it.
Down a long railed stairway, past the "good luck" sticks "holding up" the mountain, was a small sensitively carved bas-relief executed directly into the sheer face of the cliff, looking outward to the deep valley and plains below. The smooth and detailed images are a mystery to the archaeologists.
Then, across the border to the main site.
"Khao Phra Wihan was built over two centuries under a succession of Khmer kings, beginning with Rajendravarman II in the mid-10th century and ending with Suryavarman II in the early 12th century - it was the latter who also commanded the construction of Angkor Wat."
"The hill itself was sacred to Khmer Hindus for at least 500 years before the completion of the temple complex, however and there were smaller brick monuments on the site prior to the reign of Rajendravarman II."
"One of the most impressive of all Angkor-period archaeological sites, Phra Wihan sits atop a 600m cliff at the edge of the Dangrek escarpment, commanding a dramatic view of the Cambodian plains to the east. Built originally as a Hindu temple in the classic Baphuon and early Angkor Wat styles, the complex extends a linear 850m, encompassing four gopura (entrance pavilions), and a large prasat (ornate building) surrounded by a courtyard and galleries. A stepped naga (mythical serpent-like being) approach ascends approximately 120m from the foot of the hill to the sanctuary."
Jake and I spent a couple of hours climbing, climbing, climbing the 850m - up the three levels to the sanctuary and a spectacular view at the top - all green and sunshine below. Since this is a pilgrimage site, I received the monk's blessing.
And since this is Cambodia, we are followed by a cadre of smiling young girls selling postcards and offering to be our guides. Every one cute and irresistible. "You can buy from me, mister?"
I encourage all travelers to Thailand to visit Khao Phra Wihan. It is much larger than either Phimai or Phanom Rung and is a good preview of Angkor Wat.
You can cross the border without a visa and return to Thailand the same day.
Part of the charm of the visit: "From the Thai border, visitors must walk down and then up a rocky and sometimes steep slope. You may tour only the immediate surroundings of the complex. There are still plenty of land mines and live ordnance in the fields and forests nearby; stick to the designated safety lanes leading to the ruins."
Phra Wihan was a Khmer Rouge hideout not so long ago. Many red signs with skull and crossbones are nearby.
"Mind your step!"