Cambodia’s Koh Ker archaeological site, now a proud member of UNESCO’s World Heritage List, was ranked 34th among the top 52 travel destinations for 2024 by the US-based New York Times (NYT).

Built over a 23-year period, Koh Ker was one of two rival Khmer Empire capitals – the other being Angkor – and was the sole capital from 928 to 944 CE, under King Jayavarman IV, according to UNESCO.

The remote temple complex in Preah Vihear province is situated between the Dangrek and Kulen mountain ranges, some 100km northeast of Angkor in neighbouring Siem Reap province.

“For anyone put off by the constant throngs and overly Instagrammed images of the Angkor Wat Temple in Cambodia – a bucket list destination for seemingly everyone on Earth – a millennium-old sprawl of ruins in a nearby region offers a more remote and adventurous alternative. Built in the 10th century, some two centuries before Angkor Wat, the sacred city of Koh Ker was recognised with UNESCO World Heritage status in the fall of 2023,” the NYT reported in its January 8 edition. 

“The heart of the site is a 4.5-square-mile [about 7.24sq km] cluster of temples, notably a seven-tiered pyramid known as Prasat Thom, along with statues, stone carvings, artificial ponds and vast trees whose roots intertwine with many of the crumbling structures,” it added. 

The ancient structure, also known as Lingapura or Chok Gargyar, covers 1,187ha in Kulen district, Preah Vihear province, which is home to the Preah Vihear Temple, another World Heritage Site. 

Siem Reap, now the country’s second-largest city and the main gateway for Koh Ker visitors, is located about 113km away, and is a two-hour taxi ride from the newly constructed Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport (SAI).

Thourn Sinan, president of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Cambodia Chapter, told The Post on December 9 that the secluded site is a key attraction for both local and international tourists eager to delve into the country’s rich, yet unexplored, culture and civilisation.

“Since Koh Ker is not far from Angkor Wat, tourists can conveniently visit both the Preah Vihear and Koh Ker temples on the same day. They can choose to stay overnight in either Preah Vihear or Siem Reap,” he said.

Following its recent inclusion in UNESCO’s list, Koh Ker requires further infrastructure development to enhance tourist attraction. 

Prime Minister Hun Manet, in a congratulatory letter last September, hailed the listing as an historic event, noting that the Kingdom began the application process for its inscription in 2018. 

After extensive review and evaluation, former Prime Minister Hun Sen formally requested UNESCO to recognise it as a world heritage site in January 2021.

The temple complex was officially added to the list during the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on September 17, 2023.

According to the National Authority for Preah Vihear (NAPV), Koh Ker witnessed a 71.2% increase in visitors in 2023, attracting 105,464 people, including 14,806 foreign tourists.

The number of visitors to Preah Vihear Temple saw a 16.7% decrease from 2022, with 83,723 domestic and 9,243 international visitors in 2023, the latter marking an almost 126% increase.