WHS: Temple Zone of Sambor Prei Kuk

Heading north from Banteay Prei Nokor, our next stop is one of the 21 new inscriptions this year on the World Heritage Site list:

Temple Zone of Sambor Prei Kuk, Archaeological Site of Ancient Ishanapura


The archaeological site of Sambor Prei Kuk, “the temple in the richness of the forest” in the Khmer language, has been identified as Ishanapura, the capital of the Chenla Empire that flourished in the late 6th and early 7th centuries AD. The property comprises more than a hundred temples, ten of which are octagonal, unique specimens of their genre in South-East Asia. Decorated sandstone elements in the site are characteristic of the pre-Angkor decorative idiom, known as the Sambor Prei Kuk Style. Some of these elements, including lintels, pediments and colonnades, are true masterpieces. The art and architecture developed here became models for other parts of the region and lay the ground for the unique Khmer style of the Angkor period.

Most of those more than a hundred temples look pretty much like this one,

Sambor Prei Kuk

and are plain brick inside with no ornamentation at all except for the active shrines people are still using them as,

Sambor Prei Kuk

but yes those unusual around the neighborhood octagonal temples are there too:

Sambor Prei Kuk

That is a bit of a bafflement why there would be just a few here and none anywhere else nearby. Somebody must have visited India perhaps — where there are lots of octagonal temples — and tried to start a fad here maybe?

Speaking of bafflements, the young scarf sellers who attached themselves to me at the first stop — because apparently Sparky The Wonder Drone was the most interesting thing they’d seen in a long time around there — were very insistent that I couldn’t miss taking a picture of this particular banyan tree:

Sambor Prei Kuk

Er, sure, but why this banyan tree in particular, what’s special about it? And … they had no idea, they just knew it was the special one. So if any of you Dear Readers know why that’s a special banyan tree, let us know!

Personally, we think the banyan trees that are growing on the temples make a much better case for being special. This one in particular looks like a Tomb Raider cover shot, even more than Cambodia temples generally do:

Sambor Prei Kuk

Sambor Prei Kuk is reasonably convenient to visit — it’s some 20 miles from Kampong Thom, which makes a good stop for travelling between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap; if you’re interested in what came before Angkor Wat and the other famous Khmer sites, this is the place to see it!

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  1. […] thing you’ll notice immediately when you start planning to visit Sambor Kruk — or as TripAdvisor calls it, Sambo Preykuk — is that it’s not situated conveniently to any […]

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