While in this part of Preah Vihear, we also visited two temple sites, Sambor Prei Kuk and Preah Kahn. Sambor Prei Kuk is among the oldest of the temples from the Angkor period dating back as early as the 6th century. However, it is clear that it does not have a lot of tourist visits despite its importance. At Preah Kahn, we visited with the tourism official. His records indicated that only approximately 30 foreign tourists visit the area per month. It will be a significant challenge to get visitors to this area from Siem Reap.
Next, we went to the Prasat Preah Vihear area, which is managed by a National Authority. This is a special government set up through an act of parliament to develop and manage the area. During our visit, we met with the Director of the soon to be opened Eco-World Museum who also acts an archaeologist for Prasat Preah Vihear and with the Director of Urbanization and Demographics, who is also the principal architect for many of the new structures being built in the area. Both of these people bring great historical experience having both worked for the World Monuments Fund in Siem Reap.
Cambodia has a bold agenda to create a large tourist destination at Prasat Preah Vihear and are in the process of creating and implementing a master plan that includes the culture & tourist amenities, new infrastructure, new townsites and protected open space areas. One of the goals of the master plan is to preserve Prasat Preah Vihear in a manner similar to what it was like nearly 1000 years ago. To accomplish this, the government has master planned the area and has already constructed new infrastructure and housing and relocated residents away from protected areas to a new townsite in the development zone of the master plan. Sokty relayed that the meetings he attended with Mike Haynes (Development Services Director for the City) and Pat O’Herren (Chief Planning Officer for the County) were very valuable for the master plan process at Prasta Preah Vihear.
The visit to Prasat Preah Vihear itself is an amazing experience. The mountaintop site is unique among Angkor temples and the sheer scale of it is impressive. 80% of the road to the temple is brand new and highly engineered. However, a border dispute with Thailand disrupted the construction and the final 20% is 4×4 only access. The matter has been mostly settled by the World Court (in Cambodia’s favor), but there continues to be military occupation at the temple site and Thailand has constructed a military installation just 1km away. Once this road issue is resolved, Prasat Preah Vihear will be able to attract many tourists, which would have a significant impact on Preah Vihear province. It was interesting to note that there is still a lot unknown about the temple and a lot more research needs to be done. It made me wonder if the University of Montana or other U.S. archaeology program had capacity for site visits for students. Prasat Preah Vihear staff wold be eager for some additional research capacity.