The spotlight of Southeast Asia’s Khmer Empire always shines brightest on the fabled Angkor Wat. But for a brief moment in time – for some 16 years in the mid-tenth century, Koh Ker was the heart of the entire empire, which encompassed much of what today is Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and southern Vietnam.

Although the empire lasted more than six centuries, from 802 CE to 1431 CE, Koh Ker’s brief dominance came in 928 under King Jayavarman IV and ended in 944 CE. But these were busy years. Nearly all of the monuments found in the temple town, the second largest in Cambodia after Angkor, originated during this short period. During this time, the art of sculpture reached a pinnacle. Many masterpieces of Koh Ker are now in the collection of the National Museum in Phnom Penh as well as other museums and private collections around the world.

More than 180 sanctuaries have been identified in a 31-square-mile protected area, most of which are hidden in the forest and have yet to be excavated or restored. Sadly, the entire area has not been cleared completely of land mines left over from past military actions.

Travelers can currently only explore about two dozen monuments, which includes the spectacular seven-tiered pyramid. Called Prang, this almost Mayan-looking pyramid was probably the state temple of Jayavarman IV, and its style referred to as the Koh Ker Temple. Its prang, or temple tower, is the highest ever constructed by the Khmer, rising 118 feet above the forest floor. Prasat Krahom (Red Temple) is the second-largest structure at Koh Ker, and was once known for eight great stone lions that are now gone.

The remote archaeological site in a sparsely populated region in northern Cambodia is about 75 miles from Siem Reap and the more famous Angkor temple complex. Until relatively recently, this great archaeological site had been mostly hidden under thick jungle and was rarely visited. It remains one of the least-studied temple areas from the Angkorian period, and is on the UNESCO’s Tentative List for World Heritage Site status.

If you want to get a feel for what it might have been like for those early European explorers who first discovered sites such as Angkor Wat, a visit to Koh Ker will help you capture that experience. Walk among the tumbled-down stones, through free-standing doorways, and past tree sprouting from old walls and roots encasing giant corner stones. Explore this remarkable site on our President’s Pick: Incredible Indochina.

P.S. Can you name the guy in the white shirt?

Big Five

From: Big Five Travel

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