Preah Khan Kompong svay ruins.

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Preah Khan of Kompong Svay

Top choice in Northwestern Cambodia

For tantalising lost-world ambience, this remote temple complex about 90km south of Preah Vihear City can't be beaten. It's wrapped by vines and trees, and thanks to its back-of-beyond location, the site is astonishingly peaceful. You'll very likely be the only visitor, although you’ll need private transport to get here. Preah Khan of Kompong Svay is the largest temple enclosure constructed during the Angkorian period, quite a feat when you consider the competition.

Preah Khan’s history is shrouded in mystery, but it was long an important religious site, and some structures here date back to the 9th century. Both Suryavarman II, builder of Angkor Wat, and Jayavarman VII lived here at various times during their lives, suggesting Preah Khan was something of a second city in the Angkorian empire.

Don’t confuse Preah Khan of Kompong Svay with the similarly gargantuan Preah Khan temple at Angkor. This Preah Khan covers almost 5 sq km, and includes the main temple as well several satellite temples, including Prasat Damrei, Prasat Preah Thkol and Prasat Preah Stung, distinguished by four immaculately preserved Bayon-style Avalokiteshvara faces.

The main temple is surrounded by a moat (now dry), similar to the one around Angkor Thom. It consists of half-toppled prangs (temple towers), entangled with trees and overgrown by forest. As recently as the mid-1990s, the central structure was thought to be in reasonable shape, but at some point in the second half of the decade, looters arrived seeking buried statues under each prang. Assaulted with pneumatic drills and mechanical diggers, the ancient temple never stood a chance and many of the towers simply collapsed in on themselves, leaving the mess we see today.

One entry fee gains you admission to all of the temples in the enclosure. Locals say there are no land mines in the vicinity of Preah Khan, but stick to the marked paths just to be on the safe side.

Upgraded roads mean that you can now visit Preah Khan year-round, although it's still easiest in the dry season. It’s an extra-long day trip from Siem Reap; to do it more cheaply, hire a moto or a taxi in Preah Vihear City or Kompong Thom.

To get here on your own, turn west off smooth NH62 in Svay Pak, about 60km south of Preah Vihear City and 75km north of Kompong Thom. From here an all-season dirt road (substantially pitted with potholes) takes you to Ta Seng, about 30km from the highway and just 4km from the temple. The last 4km are in surprisingly good shape.

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