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Kantuot, Cambodia

Preah Vihear Temple

This impressive cliff top temple was once at the center of an international custody dispute. 

Sitting majestically atop a perilous cliff among the Dângrêk Mountains, the Preah Vihear Temple is a gem of Cambodian temple architecture, although for a long time, many fought for this jewel to belong in Thailand’s crown. 

A temple has existed on the site since the 9th century, but the elaborately detailed temples that sit on the site today date back to around the 10th century. It was built by the Suryavarman kings who were replicating the glorious intent of the nearby temples at Angkor. While the temple buildings at Preah Vihear are not as glorious as those at Angkor, they were meant to represent the same holy pinnacle. The whole complex is set up in a long horizontal line along the edge of the cliff, comprised of multiple structures, each impressive in their own right. 

As the Dângrêk Mountains have borders belonging to both Cambodia and Thailand, the site’s ownership became an issue between the two countries when the temple was rediscovered in the early 20th century. Both sides wanted to own the ancient site and its rich trove of artifacts, and the dispute even went to The Hague. In 1962, the matter was finally settled when the international court decided that the temple belonged to Cambodia. A ruling that stands today. 

This contentious site might not be as famous as some of Cambodia’s other temples, but its delicate architecture and long, rich history make it just as amazing a place to visit. 

Know Before You Go

Although open from the Cambodian side, the Thailand side is often blocked.