Introducing Khao Phra Wihan National Park
The main attraction of this 130-sq-km national park is Khao Phra Wihan (Preah Vihear in Khmer), one of the region's great Angkor-period monuments. Technically it's just inside Cambodia, but it's almost always visited via Thailand. Hugging the edge of a cliff on the brow of the Dangrek escarpment and accessed via a series of steep stepped naga approaches, the large temple complex towers 500m above the plains of Cambodia, offering both evocative ruins and dreamy views.
Claimed by both countries because of a misdrawn French map (that went unchallenged by Thailand for decades), the temple was awarded to Cambodia in a 1962 World Court ruling. Thailand's bruised pride never healed. In June 2008, as the Cambodian government sought Unesco World Heritage status for the complex, a border conflict over 4.6 sq km of land in front of the temple flared and has since led to several deadly clashes between the nations' armies and become a cause célèbre of Thailand's ultra-nationalist 'yellow-shirts'. This situation remains unresolved and the park is currently closed.
Renewed access to the temple may be years away – previously the Cambodians charged 200B and the Thais required a 5B border pass – though the park could reopen earlier. Its best feature is Pha Mo-E-Daeng, a cliff with some fabulous views of the temple and also the oldest bas-relief in Thailand. The 1000-plus-year-old carving depicts three figures sitting below a roughly cut pig (which might represent Vishnu) whose identities are an enigma to archaeologists and art historians. Although they give the general impression of representing deities, angels or kings, the iconography corresponds to no known figures in Thai, Mon or Khmer mythology. Nearby Nam Tok Khun Sri is a waterfall flowing (June to October only) over a cave large enough to hold an orchestra.
Landmines have been laid during the present conflict and others remain from the Khmer Rouge era, so don't stray from any well-worn paths and heed all skull-and-crossbone signs.