Preah Vihear, Cambodia
An ancient mountain-top temple complex on the Cambodia
border, the possession of which has long been contested, despite an International Court ruling in favour of Cambodia's claim in the 1960s.
More recently it was declared an official UNESCO world cultural heritage site … of Cambodia! Which again enraged Thailand (which was given the site by the French colonialists at one point, in disregard, or maybe ignorance, of the clearly Khmer cultural origins of the site) – in fact in summer 2008 it ignited so much anger that it led to a violent border conflict with neighbouring Cambodia (including casualties on both sides!).
For that reason it's a place that one has to research carefully before going – there may be times when it should rather be on the list of dark sites not to be visited
. At other times it may be quite safe to go. It's important to check ahead what the current situation is. Otherwise it's danger tourism
– which is not encouraged by this Website!
But why should it be on the list of dark tourism sites, then? Well, for its role in another conflict, and a much bloodier one at that: It's the site of one of the world's least known (and/or forgotten) atrocities. In the early 1980s Thailand repatriated thousands of Cambodian refugees who had fled the country and the terror of the Khmer Rouge
to seek safety across the border.
forcibly made them cross the border in the other direction – and into the minefields around Preah Vihear. Many were killed or maimed. Today, nothing of this dark episode can be seen, however, the area remains heavily mined to this day, so you can imagine … Do heed the omnipresent landmine warning signs, though, when in the area and stick to paths that are clearly safe and have been cleared.
The site is difficult to access from the Cambodian side of the border, though it may be possible to include it in longer tours via Koh Ker and/or Siem Reap. Theoretically, Anlong Veng
can be combined with a visit of Preah Vihear – it's not far away as the crow flies, but road access can be tricky, esp. on the Cambodian side (easier on the Thai side).
Most visitors to the site come via the Thai border crossing point, where visa waivers for day-trips may be obtained (unless the border conflict is flaring up again). Both Thailand
charge admission fees independently of each other ... Thailand for the national park that its side of the border is located in, Cambodia for access to the temple site itself.