I’m currently in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It is hot as hell and the humidity is approaching 100 percent. Yesterday, a combination of the heat, digestive issues, and dehydration shortened my day.
However, yesterday morning I did have a chance to briefly play Indiana Jones at Koh Ker, an unrestored temple complex in northern Cambodia. Koh Ker was the capital of the Angkorian empire between 928 and 944 (it predates Angkor Wat). Until recently, it was largely inaccessible. But improved roads have now put it squarely on the tourist map.
Just past the entry to the Koh Ker complex is Prasat Bram which contains a grouping of 5 towers. Two of which are being overhelmed by giant fig trees. Their impressive root structure seems to be squeezing the life out of the towers. As with all the temples at Koh Ker, there is rock rubble everywhere, as there has been little or no restoration, only some shoring up of walls and gateways to protect visitors.
You can drive to within a short distance of each of the temples at Koh Ker. And the jungle has obviously been thinned. But since there has been no restoration, you briefly get a feel for how the jungle reestablished itself after the area was abandon by the Khmer.
A visit to the most heavily visited temple complex starts with Prasat Krahom (Red Temple). Here there are ornate windows, gracefully carved lintels, a half fallen collonade, and rubble everywhere. Since there has been little restoration, one can sort of get the feeling (but only a false feeling) of how the early western explorer must of felt when they first encountered the ancient Angkorian ruins.
Water is a prominent feature here, and the complex has a scenic baray (reservoir). Someday, I must find out how the water systems worked in these developments.
The principal monument at Koh Ker is Prasat Thom, a 40-meter-high pyramind with 7 distinctive tiers. Compared to the other temples that I visited here and at Angkor Wat, this one looked the most out of place. It seems more Aztec/Mayan than Khmer. (Unfortunately, access to the top of the pyramid is currently forbidden because of the deteriorating condition of the stairs.)
The other prominent feature at several of the Koh Ker temples are the giant lingas (phalax symbols). As one travel writer has pointed out, they are noted for their breadth rather than their length.
The Koh Ker area has been largely de-mined. But it is still best to stay on the trails.