Playing Indiana Jones in Cambodia

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.

Fig Tree Strangling Tower at a Koh Ker Temple

Fig Tree Strangling Tower at a Koh Ker Temple

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 Baray (Reservoir) at the Main Complex at Koh Ker

The Baray (Reservoir) at the Main Complex at Koh Ker

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 7-Tier Pyramid at Koh Ker

The 7-Tier Pyramid at Koh Ker

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.

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4 Responses to Playing Indiana Jones in Cambodia

  1. Under the reign of the kings Jayavarman IV and Harshavarman II Koh Ker was briefly the capital of the whole empire (928–944 AD). Jayavarman IV forced an ambitious building program. An enormous water-tank and about forty temples were constructed under his rule. The most significant templeR09;complex, a double sanctuary (Prasat Thom/Prang), follows a linear plan and not a concentric one like most of the temples of the Khmer kings. Unparalleled is the sevenR09;tiered and 36 metres (118 ft) high pyramid, which most probable served as state temple of Jayavarman IV. Really impressive are the shrines with the two meter high lingas.

  2. There are temples in abundance , most are brick built and all are in a picturesque state of ruin with many being overgrown. The Prang is the largest structure here, it is a 7 stepped pyramid approx 40metres high the views from the top encompass a lonely landscape of forest with the distant Dangrek Mountains on the Thai Border to the north and the Koulen Mountain Range 70 km to the south. Prasat Thom is the name of the temple that lies directly at the bottom of the Prang and one must negotiate this to gain entrance to the pyramid enclosure. In 2007 Prasat Thom was cleared of vegetation and the moats cleaned out by villagers working for the APSARA Authority that now manages the site. Tickets are sold by the Kham Samet Company that built the road to Koh Ker.

  3. Bill Chapman says:

    I am completing book about ancient sites in Southeast Asia and came across your image of Koh Ker in Cambodia. This is an academic publication with little prospect of profits. I wonder if I could get a one-time use permission from you to us the image? I teach archaeology and historic preservation at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Your image fills an important gap in my coverage and would add greatly to the publication. I would give full credit to the photographer.

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