Introducing Preah Vihear Province
Bordering Thailand and Laos to the north, vast Preah Vihear Province (ខេត្តព្រះវិហារ), much of it heavily forested and extremely remote, is home to three of Cambodia’s most impressive Angkorian legacies. Prasat Preah Vihear, stunningly perched on a promontory high in the Dangkrek Mountains, became Cambodia’s second Unesco World Heritage Site in 2008, sparking an armed stand-off with Thailand. The mighty Preah Khan isn’t as far north, but is reachable only in the dry season. The 10th-century capital of Koh Ker is more accessible and lies a straightforward toll-road drive from Siem Reap, via Beng Mealea.
Preah Vihear Province, genuine ‘outback’ Cambodia, remains desperately poor, in part because many areas were under Khmer Rouge control until 1998, and in part because of the catastrophic state of the transport infrastructure. The needs of the Cambodian army in its confrontation with Thailand, and the patriotic fervour unleashed by the Prasat Preah Vihear crisis, seem to have had a dramatic effect on the implementation of long-promised road upgrades. A huge number of roads have been bulldozed through, graded and surfaced in the past couple of years, making travel a bit more straightforward, although public transport is still in short supply.