Sambor Prei Kuk,Preah Vihear,Koh Ker


Mar 29, 2004
Feb 03 to 08 2005
In February I completed a six day motorbike tour from Sihanoukville to Preah Vihear temple on the North Cambodian / Thai border .Along the way I also took in the sights of the Chenla ruins of Sambor Prei kuk and the other Angkorian city of Koh Ker. I do not consider myself a temple buff but Cambodia is covered in ancient ruins and they do provide something of interest to look at in between rides.
The roads leading to these sites vary from newly constructed dirt/gravel roads to almost impassable ox cart tracks.
An off-road bike is still the best way to see the hard to get to places, and you are rewarded for your efforts by not so many other tourists being there.
Road construction is going on all over Cambodia now, so in a couple of years, I fear there will not be many places left that cannot be reached by the tourist buses.
The first day ride was the 225km stretch between Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh. This is a good tarmac road full of insane truck and taxi drivers. I usually get run off the road at least twice by oncoming impatient motorists pulling out to pass. Its one of the best roads in Cambodia and the most dangerous. I feel a lot safer on an ox cart track in the middle of the jungle. I spent the afternoon in Phnom Penh having new tires fitted to the bike and the carburetor cleaned.
Next day I headed up to Kompong Thom(KT), 164km Nth of Phnom Penh on a good road. Checked into the Arunas Hotel around midday. Had a very comfortable room with fan, TV, bathroom and balcony, only $4/night.The hotel even had an elevator. Spent the afternoon at Sambor Prei Kuk.
Sambor Prei Kuk is about 30kms out of town on reasonably good dirt roads. It consists of around 100 small temples built during the Chenla era around the 7th century AD. Not many tourists around when I went there and the ruins are scattered amongst the forest, so it’s quite nice to stroll around in the shade.
Had an early night in KT ready for a 6am start next morning.
The plan of attack was to head up to Tbeng Meanchey, 137km Nth of KT ,plus do a side trip to Preah Khan Temple.
Preah Khan is a very hard to get to place, deep sand ox cart tracks plus its easy to go the wrong way. I got 20km/1hour into this side trip and aborted. I could have made it there but did not fancy sleeping in the jungle.
Apparently it’s doable in one day, but I need to do more research on the best route. So it was on to Tbeng Meanchey along a dilapidated dirt road. It’s interesting to read about Cambodian road conditions. Current guidebooks have this down as a good dirt road ,which it was at the time of writing, but several rainy seasons and lack of funds for road maintenance have taken there toll.
Tbeng Meanchey (TBM) is a dusty little outpost. For me, it was the base point to visit Preah Vihear Temple(PVT) and Koh Ker
The road from TBM to PVT is around 120km to the base of the mountain. There is a middle stretch about 40km long which is absolutely atrocious, tedious on a dirt bike, almost impassable in a car. The other 80km is a good quality dirt road. It took me around three and a half hours one way.
Upon reaching the base of the mountain I had to pay a $5 entrance fee.
PVT is situated on top of the 550 meter high Chour Phnom Dangkrek Mountain. The Khmers are currently building a cement road up to the temple. It’s about 20% complete as I write this. I rode my bike all the way up, although it was rather steep and sandy in some places. Once up there, you can see Thailand on the other side, with a nice mountain highway leading up to the temple.
Most of the tourists at Preah Vihear were fashionably dressed Thais, looking fresh, and oblivious to the Khmers slogging away at the road works on the Cambodian side of the mountain below.
The temple itself is reasonably substantial, but it’s the location on the mountain top and the views that make it most impressive.
Cruised back down after a couple of hours and had lunch with a motorcycle tour group from Siem Reap. They were well organized with backup vehicle and full camping gear. Their plan was to sleep on the mountaintop and enjoy the sunset.
I headed to TMC for the night, and arrived back around 5pm, so you can do the temple as a day trip from TMC, but start early.
Talked to several Cambodians in TMC regarding getting to certain destinations. I even got help from the tourist officer,(after I woke him up from his afternoon nap).I found the people very friendly and still “innocent” compared to their counterparts in the more touristy towns.
Dining is a mediocre experience in TMC, so another quite night and early start for the trip to Koh Ker
Considering the countries violent past, Cambodians are truly optimists, they have to be. This optimism certainly extends to describing road conditions. A good road means passable. A bad road means passable after incredible endurance on the part of the traveller.20 km of bad road means 40km etc, etc
So the 2km segment of bad road to Koh Ker turned out to be a 15km. stretch where the unfortunate locals were still hacking out a track through the malaria infested jungle.
The combination of mud, sand, bulldozers and freshly felled trees in the middle of the forest is quite a sight.
Anyway, the other 50km of this 65km trip was plain sailing and I arrived at Koh Ker after two and a half hours on the road.
Koh Ker was the capital of the Angkorian Empire for a brief period in the 10th century. There are a lot of smaller structures spread out through the forest, but the main draw card is Prasat Thom, a 40 meter high pyramid shaped temple. The main group of temples is situated in a well forested area, so once again, it’s nice to stroll around. You can also climb to the top of the pyramid for views of the surrounding countryside.
Fortunately, not many tourists were there, but this will change very soon. A new road, equipped with toll booths and public toilets is almost complete and will link Koh Ker to Siem Reap. The Police are already asking $10 to visit Koh Ker and soon there will be bus loads of tourists on day trips from Siem Reap.
After two hours at Koh Ker, I had a leisurely cruise back to Kompong Thom and overnighted there.
Day 6
Next day back to Phnom Penh to have a wisdom tooth removed.
All in all, a nice trip, challenging in places, but not too hard overall.


Jan 3, 2004
great report and great reading especially for me as I have been in america for 3 weeks visiting my father that hadnt been doing so well. he is better now. I can relate to the mixed info you get on the road and I sometimes feel that they have communication to the next village, "theyre coming your way we told them 5 K, you tell them something different" and so on and so forth. The locals are helpful in trying to insure you see what you set out to see. I have on many occasions put a villager on the back of the bike to show me things I would never have found and on a couple occasions to show me things that were right in front of my face!
Road conditions are changing fast but there are still alot of places to get to. My last ride late January to Mondolkiri/Sen Monorom had us on dirt track from Snoul. I think it will still be some time before they pave that, however there was some agressive road projects going on in sen monorom. The main road thru town getting a facelift and they are paving to Busra Waterfall. Still alot of great rides in the area to other falls and P'nong (hilltribe) villages.
while in the USA I have taken time to update my site as well and add a few more pics. Should be back on the road by the middle of March. Jim California 2