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Thursday, 31st December 2015

Sambor Prei Kuk ? the most impressive pre-Angkorian site in Cambodia

If you’re planning a trip to Cambodia, then the chances are you’ll have heard of Angkor, but what about the country’s other archaeological sites? There are plenty to choose from, but undoubtedly the most impressive from the times prior to Angkor’s construction is Sambor Prei Kuk.

Located on the eastern banks of the Tonle Sap Lake, this collection of more than 100 brick temples dates back to the Chenla era. They emerge out of the forest like something out of a film and were constructed in this stunning setting between the 6th and 9th centuries.


Sambor Prei Kuk was the capital of Upper Chenla during King Isanavarman’s reign and was known as Isanapurna. It is believed that its layout, including shrines surrounding a tower and enclosed in two concentric walls, could have been the inspiration for Angkor. Even when Angkor was at its height, Sambor Pre Kuk continued to be an important centre for learning.

The complex’s history has included being bombed by US forces in the 1970s, as they fought alongside Lon Nol to try and overthrow the Khmer Rouge. Craters can still be seen in the landscape, but all remaining landmines were cleared by 2008, making it a safe place for tourists to visit.

Prasat Tao

The biggest of the Sambor Prei Kuk temple groups, Prasat Tao is hard to miss and has some of the most significant carvings in the whole complex. Two Chenla lions on a large scale, complete with ornate hairstyles are undoubtedly a highlight attraction, while the peace and tranquillity experienced around the rectangular Srah Neang Pov pool is breathtaking.

Prasat Sambor

While the other temple groups at the site are all dedicated to Shiva himself, Prasat Sambor was built to honour one of his many incarnations – Gambhireshvara. This part of the complex was built in the 7th and 10th centuries, with many of Prasat Sambor’s towers retaining their brick carvings to this day. Head to the central tower to see a selection of yoni – female fertility symbols, which have been well preserved.

Prasat Yeai Poeun

Almost being swallowed by the forest, Prasat Yeai Poeun is an incredible sight, with trees becoming part of the structure. The eastern gate is at once being held up by the roots of an ancient tree, while at the same time having huge pressure placed upon it by the trunk and branches. The western gate has not escaped the presence of the surrounding forest either, with another huge tree casting its shadow over the feature.

Related news stories:
5 things you didn't know about Cambodia (12th July 2016)
Understanding religious practices in Cambodia (9th July 2014)
Six books you should read before travelling to Cambodia (5th November 2015)