Pyramid Temple-Prasat Thom, Koh Ker, CambodiaMost people are familiar with Khmer Empire’s capital of Angkor in the Siem Reap district in Cambodia, but not many have heard of Koh Ker, the once grand capital of the Khmer empire for a brief period between 928 to 944 AD.

Left for a millennium in the jungle in the northern province of Cambodia close to the border of Thailand, Koh Ker is the most remote archeological site in the country. It was very inaccessible for a long time and was rarely visited until the road development in 2004. The site can now be easily reached by car from Siem Reap in about two hours and forty-five minutes.

 

Prasat Krahom (Red Temple), Koh Ker, Cambodia

Khmer Empire’s capital was moved from Angkor to Koh Ker (pronounced ‘Ko Kei’) by King Jayavarman IV during his reign. Being the least studied among Khmer temple complex, it is unclear what motivated King J IV to move the capital.  The capital was moved back to Angkor when his son succeeded him to the throne.

 


Ruins of Koh Ker in Cambodia,More than 100 temples and sanctuaries were built in Koh Ker during its brief stint as a Khmer capital. However, only about 40 of them are accessible to visitors today. Most of them are still hidden in the thickness of the jungle.  Local authorities are unable to clear them of vegetation as they are located in areas that have not been cleared of landmines.

 

Ruins of Koh Ker in CambodiaKoh Ker temples housed extraordinary sculptures, but none of them are left at the site as the temples were heavily looted.  Many of them are illegally in the possession of private collectors and international museums, and some are kept in Cambodian museums.

 

Ruins of Koh Ker in CambodiaInterestingly,  New York Times recently published an article reporting that the Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York was  returning two Koh Ker statues to Cambodia. This was the outcome after Cambodia’s officials successfully documented that the two statues that were donated to the museum were actually smuggled out of the country in the 1970’s.

 

Ruins of Koh Ker in CambodiaIt looks like efforts are being made to secure some of Koh Ker’s structure from further falling apart, but no restoration works has been done at the temple complex. Archeological surveys were undertaken in the 1960’s but all studies were destroyed during the rule of Khmer Rouge regime.

 

Pyramid Tempe-Prasat Thom, Koh Ker, CambodiaThe main temple in Koh Ker is Prasat Thom, a 7-tiered pyramid that look more like a Mayan than a Khmer temple. A giant linga, a phallic symbol for Hindu god Shiva,  used to sit at the summit but has long disappeared.

 

Prasat Thom, the pyramid structure and main temple in Koh Ker, CambodiaVisitors used to be able to climb to the top of the temple but the staircase has been closed for safety reasons. We thought it was too bad; we heard the view from the top was very spectacular.

Our driver, Mr. Pop, who had been to Koh Ker many times, was surprised to get a cell phone signal at the site for the first time. He saw wires going up behind the  temple and realized that it is now used a cell tower.

 

Linga base, Koh Ker, CambodiaMost temples and sanctuaries housed a linga. Most of them are gone but some of their bases still stand.

 

Ruins of Koh Ker in Cambodia

 

Ruins of Koh Ker, Cambodia

 

Ruins of Koh Ker in Cambodia

 

Ruins of Koh Ker in Cambodia

 

We hopped back into our car to visit some of the Prasats (temples) that dotted the access road that circles the main temple area.

Shiva Linga in Prasat Thneng, Koh Ker, CambodiaThe largest remaining Shiva linga in Koh Ker is housed in the ruin of Prasat Thneng, located one km from Prasat Thom.

 

Prasat Cha Krap, Koh Ker, CambodiaPrasat Kra Chap

 

Prasat Neang Khmau, Koh Ker, CambodiaPrasat Neang Khmau known as the Temple of Black Virgin.

 

The Caretaker, Koh Ker, CambodiaAside from the two of us and Mr. Pop, the only other souls in the temple complex during our visit were the lovely caretaker and her adorable children and pet.

If you’re looking for well-restored temples, then obviously Koh Ker is not for you. What we liked about this site was that it gave us a sense of how the Khmer temples were like when the explorers just stumbled upon them in the 19th century. It also let our imagination go wild on how grand the temple complex was at its peak. Also, Koh Ker may be a long drive from Siem Reap but we very much enjoyed the beautiful and tranquil view of the countryside along the way.

Check out our other Angkor Highlights:
1.  Angkor Wat.            2.  Bayon Temple
3,  Ta Prohm                 4.  Banteay Srei
    5.  Kbal Spean              6.  Beng Mealea

—————-

Travel Notes:
  • Koh Ker is located 130 kms north of Siem Reap.
  • There are no public transports to and around Koh Ker. A private transportation can be arranged from Siem Rep. A trip to Koh Ker can be combined with a visit to Beng Melea.
  • We paid U$120 for a car for a combined day trip to Koh Ker and Beng Melea.  The car and driver was referred to us by our tuk-tuk driver. It was cheaper than the $150 being charged by our hotel. We could probably found a cheaper one if we had more time to research while in Siem Reap.
  • The admission to the site is US$10.

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About Marisol

Taking you on our journey one photo - and footstep - at a time.

42 responses to “Koh Ker: The Forgotten Capital of Khmer Empire

    • Hi Agness, it’s a real pity indeed. I guess even when people know about it they skip it because it’s out of the way or they don’t enough time . We were really happy we saw it; it was worth the trek.

  1. I have not heard of Koh Ker. It sounds so remote. Interesting to note that there’s so much in Cambodia that is off-the-beaten track. Are there any efforts to clear landmines in the area where the other temples are?

    • Hi Kirs, I din’t get the impression that they were planning to clear the other areas of mines right now. They’re probably waiting for funding to do so.

  2. Your photography is simply stunning! This looks like a magical place to visit, and it’s the first I’ve ever heard of it…thanks for the introduction!
    Jess @UsedYorkCity recently posted..UYC’s Walks: Duffy SquareMy Profile

  3. Eileen

    What a neat place to visit, I enjoyed your tour and the great photos.
    Eileen recently posted..Around the yardMy Profile

  4. bettyl

    What a great virtual tour! Thanks so much for sharing with us. The wonderful buildings look like great places to wander. I would love to explore that part of the world one day.
    bettyl recently posted..textured gullsMy Profile

    • Traveling Solemates

      Hi Betty, thanks. Glad you enjoyed it. It is a beautiful place to explore; far different from NZ.

  5. This is indeed amazing! Would love to visit!
    magiceye recently posted..BhedaghatMy Profile

  6. I cannot wait to get to Cambodia. Here would be a good place to go to escape the crowds. Such a shame about the land mines. Love that the museum is giving back what was stolen. Love the little boy and puppy photo. That puppy looks like it has been handled and played with constantly – he is so relaxed or accepting :) Loving the Cambodian posts.

    • Hi Jan, it really is a great place to get away from the crowd. It was very peaceful there and the drive getting there was so beautiful. Oh yes, the little boy and the puppy we so adorable. We had a good time hanging out with them.

    • Hi Salika, I don’t think it’s the lack of intention but the lack of funding that keep them from restoring this place. The government has been dependent on foreign funding when it comes to temple restorations. Most of them were funded by French organizations, some were by Japan, and currently India is helping restore one of the major temples. I guess its a matter of time before they got a sponsor for Koh Ker.

  7. I managed to see some architecture like this on the Thai Cambodia boarder many years ago – makes you realise what an advanced culture it was.

    Nice post.

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne
    Stewart Monckton recently posted..Our World Tuesday – Its AutumnMy Profile

    • Hi Steward, thanks! You’re right. It was a pretty advance culture. Their architectural and engineering designs were ahead of their time.

  8. Arija

    A spectacular post with wonderful photos.

  9. Hi Marisol,

    This is a wonderful blog full of a lot of thoughtful information and beautiful photos. I have not traveled much but I dream of seeing Ireland (my ancestors country). I am going to enjoy reading more of your travels. Thank you for your dedication to sharing your adventures with us!

    Peace,
    Debi
    Debi @ One Heart recently posted..around israel: chocolate mousse and mediterranean sunsetsMy Profile

    • Traveling Solemates

      Hi Debi, thank youl! Glad you enjoyed the blog. I hope you get to visit Ireland soon. I’ve been there once. It’s a beautiful country and the people are just wonderful.

    • Traveling Solemates

      Hi Jill,
      Yes, it was worth the side trip!:)

  10. A very nice place, this buildings in the forest have something special. The plants on the building make me a little nervous (I work in the restoration of building stones).

  11. After reading this post, I was so excited to visit the National Museum in Phnom Penh yesterday! As we walked around, I saw all of these amazingly old artifacts that came from Koh Ker and I was able to squeal out all of these great facts that I gained from this article, much to Tony’s surprise (I’m not exactly a history buff).

    As much as I like seeing places that have been restored, I do think there is something special about visiting true ruins that have simply been left. While it requires the use of one’s imagination, I always feel like there’s an authenticity that I respond to, and I think they can really help you appreciate just how old the things you are looking at truly are in a way you can’t fully comprehend when they’ve been so nicely restored. We checked out some ruins outside of Hoi An at My Son that are very similar to this (though less expansive, I think), and I really enjoyed that, so perhaps we’ll have to stop in here as well!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..A Man Named ApocalypseMy Profile

    • Traveling Solemates

      Hi Steph,
      Oh great, glad that the timing of this post coincided with your visit to the musuem.
      You know, we heard from some people who were disapponted with Koh Ker because it was not as restored as they expected. But your right, there’s something authentic about archeological sites that were left untouched. I think that what makes this site unique from most sites in Cambodia.
      I hope you get to visit it. I’m you guys will enjoy it. -Marisol

  12. Bama

    I’ve never heard of this place before, and now it’s on my list to visit when I go back to Siem Reap in the future. Thanks to you Marisol! :)
    Bama recently posted..An Epicurean Adventure of TaiwanMy Profile

  13. damon

    Thanks for your very infomative post and images. From my point of view, I hope it remains way off the tourist path. What an experience !!! To be nearly alone with the spritz of the past.

  14. Mawan

    My husband and I just arvreid from Bangkok 2 days ago. For temples, I suggest you visit the Grand Palace, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha and the Temple of Dawn. The cheap way of going there is to take a tourist boat from Sathorn Pier at Chao Phraya river to Tha Tien Pier. It cost 30 Baht per way per person.But it cost 150 Baht for a whole day trip, hop on hop off sytle. Sathorn Pier is just below the Saphan Taksin Train station. Tha Tien Pier is only 5 minutes away from the Reclining Buddha and the Grand Palace is about 15 minutes walk. The Temple of Dawn is across the Chao Phraya river and you can take a boat ride for 3 Baht one way. Please visit the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat website.

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