Koh Ker was once an ancient capital of Cambodia, located in the Kulen district, about 49 kilometres west of Siem Reap. The Koh Ker temple complex is built on the Chhork Koki highlands and was originally built by King Jayavarman IV (AD 928-942).
Koh Ker temple is 35 meters high, and its design resembles a seven-stepped stupa. The temple faces west toward Angkor city. It was built to worship Treypuvanesvara, the god of happiness.
So far, over 96 temples have been found in the Koh Ker temple area including Rumlum Bey, Beung Veng, Trapiang Prey, Dey Chhnang and Srok Srolao. Unfortunately, today, many of the temples are no longer standing, and some are buried in the ground. Please see below for a description of the main temples in and around the Koh Ker temple complex.
Neang Khmao Temple
The Koh Ker temples run along a trail that is approximately 3 kilometres long. The first temple is called Neang Khmao and it sits atop a small hill on the east side of the trail. The temple, which faces west toward Angkor city, is made of beautifully carved sandstone.
It is 20 meters high and resembles a stupa. The temple once housed lingam and yoni, but only the yoni remains. The lintel sculpture has been damaged, but otherwise, most of the temple is in good condition, while nearly three-quarters of the rampart are in good condition.
About 700 to 800 meters north of Neang Khmao temple is another temple called Pram temple. Constructed of laterite and sandstone, it sits on a small hill surrounded by bushes that block the lingam and the lintel. The main body of the temple is in good condition.
Farther down the trail is a three-peak temple made of laterite and sandstone. It faces east and is called Chen temple. Inside the temple, there is a piece of lingam and remnants of a statue of King Jayavarman IV. A sculpture of garuda’s head on the south lintel is missing. The temple is overgrown by forest.
About 800 to 900 meters farther, there is the Preng well, which is similar to a pond. Surrounded by stone, it is 20 meters square. The terrace is about 8 centimetres high. The water in the pond is clear, and a nearby tree provides shade for weary visitors looking for a place to relax.
Kuk Temple or Gopura
Kuk temple or Gopura is made of sandstone and has a sculpture of lotus petals on the temple fronton. Although the door frame is damaged, most of the temple is in good condition. A Shiva lingam that once was housed inside has been looted.
Prang temple is constructed of sandstone and bricks. There are five separate parts of this temple. About 70 percent of the temple is still standing.
About 10 meters farther is Krahom temple (The red temple). Constructed of brick and shaped like a seven-level pyramid, the temple is decorated with a 20-meter-tall sculpture of lotus petals. Inside the temple, there is a 3-meter-tall statue of Shiva with eight arms and four heads. The statue is supported by a square-meter base. The statue is seriously damaged, only some parts remain.
Farther down is Khmao temple. On the wall and door frame of the temple, there is a partially damaged inscription. Near the temple is a rampart gateway to Kampiang temple. The gateway is a 2-meter staircase. Some sculptures of lotus petals, seven-headed nagas and garudas remain.
Koh Ker Temple
About 300 meters farther to the west is Kampiang or Koh Ker temple. From a distance, the temple looks like a small hill, because it is covered by forest. Up close, however, it is actually a 35-meter-high stupa made of sandstone. It has seven levels, each level about 5 meters above the other. Each deck has a 2-meter-wide terrace, and there is a 55- step staircase to the top.
At the top of the temple, there are large statues of garudas supporting Shiva lingam Treypuvanesvara. Nearby, there is a 4-meter square well, now completely covered by grass. According to local villagers, if a coconut is dropped into this well, it will appear in the pond near Neang Khmao temple.
There is vegetation growing on top of the temple, and from there, visitors have an excellent view of the surrounding landscape, in particular, Phnom Dangrek, Phnom Tbeng, and Kulen district.To the north of Koh Ker temple is another temple, Damrei Sar temple, but it is heavily damaged. To the northeast, is Iingam temple. This temple once housed three Shiva lingams, but some are now damaged.
Koh Ker in Preah Vihear Province is located in one of the poorest and most remote regions of Cambodia. The road from Siem Reap to Koh Ker is 110 km long, but partly in a bad condition.
This is why you need up to 4 hours for one way. Visitors need a separate ticket available at the begin of the excavation area or also at Beng Mealea. The entry fee is 10 US Dollars. All important temples are located close to a ring road in Koh Ker, easy to find and safe.
The Forgotten City
Koh Ker was briefly the Khmer capital during the reign of Jayavarman IV (928-942 CE), who was the principal in this area already before he seized the throne of the Khmer empire. After succeeding his rival Ishanavarman II in Angkor, Jayavarman IV decided to continue to reside in Koh Ker.
Those days it was called Chok Gargyar “Island of Glory” and Lingapura “Phallus-city”. During the reign Jayavarman’s son Harshavarman II, the elites in Angkor managed to gain the upper hand again, and Rajendravarman II finally shifted the capital back to Angkor in 944.
Almost all monuments in Koh Ker were erected by Jayavarman IV, most of them even before he became king of the empire. The principal structure of Koh Ker is Prasat Thom, its remarkable procession alley connects two structures, the enlarged gate Prasat Krahom and an ensemble of nine Prasat towers surrounded by an impressive moat.
This layout is not the usual concentric one, it is linear. Koh Ker’s landmark is Prasat Prang, a 35 m high sandstone pyramid with seven levels. It is integrated into the linear layout of Prasat Thom. Other temples are located along a ring road in the large excavation area.