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Temple on the Cliff (Preah Vihear)

February 2, 2012

Day two of motorcycle trip with my son, Paul. 

Location:  Preah Vihear City to Preah Vihear Temple on the Cambodian-Thailand Border and back.

Distance Traveled:  300 kilometers (10 hours driving)

The second day was the temple we were really looking forward to visiting: Preah Vihear temple.  If you Google this name, you will see it has been the point of bitter warfare between Cambodia and Thailand for the last two years.  The International Court of Justice gave it to Cambodia in 1962, but with the political instability in the country of Thailand, one of the political parties has tried to use the temple issue as a political toy to rally people around them.  Because of this many lives were lost but the temple has become a point of rallying the nationalism of Cambodia.  Even though they still have sporadic fighting along the border, I decided it was safe enough to take my son to see it.

We traveled a few hours toward the Cambodian-Thailand border. The border is an impressive mountain chain called “Dong Riek Mountains” which stretches nearly the entire Northern Border of Cambodia separating it from Thailand.  The temple in question (Preah Vihear) was initially built in the 800’s (yes, that is 1200 years ago!), but most of the temple was built a mere millennium ago!  The temple is positioned on the edge of a 500 meter (1600 foot)  cliff which makes its position so amazing.

I knew the temple would be cool, but I was really looking forward to the motorcycle ride up, and especially down the mountain.  A thousand years ago, a Cambodian king built a staircase all the way to the top.  One of the soldiers on duty there said that he counted more than 2000 steps from top to bottom.  Each a different size and shape due to the stones which were cut.  (They didn’t have building codes in the first millennium!)  Fortunately, the Cambodia military built a road all the way to the top in order to get their tanks and heavy artillery to the top to protect the temple from Thailand.)  In parts I was told the road would be up to 60-70 degrees straight up.  I knew I could get up it no problem, but was excited about the prospect of feeling like we were plunging off a cliff coming down!!

As we approached the mountain we knew we were in an active military zone.  Fifteen years ago I was used to seeing everyone in Cambodia armed, weapons everywhere and the odd tank driving around, but since we have had peace in Cambodia I had not seen this military armor.  It was just like the good old days!  Rows of tanks and heavy artillery ringed the mountain.  Every soldier carried a side-arm as well as a machine gun or rocket launcher.  It was not tense at the time we were there, but everyone was ready; guns loaded!

The temple and view from the top was everything I had expected.  The architecture style is very beautiful to me with its ornately carved designs and elaborate roofs.  My son and I posed for pictures and walked between ancient buildings with fox holes and soldiers monitoring the Thai troops just a hundred yards away.

Have a look at what we found at Preah Vihear Temple:

Classic Preah Vihear Architecture

Military lookout and bunkers

Paul and I at the top sanctuary

Paul in a bunker next to the temple

View from the top of the 500 meter cliff!

After our time at the temple, we had our fun drive down the mountain.  My brakes would not hold us, so I just engaged the engine the whole way down and my trusty Honda 250 did well to keep us safe on the trip down.  I had been on steeper roads and much more rugged terrain, so the condition of the road was just a lot of fun for me and my son.

I was glad to see the temple, because there could be more serious war ahead.  The Cambodian position to defend the mountain temple is presently not very good because it is surrounded by hills held by Thai soldiers, however, the Cambodia army is building two large flanking bases which will be able to neutralize the Thai military positions and devastate the Thai supply lines. . . so, more war games are likely in the future also.

After our visit at Preah Vihear temple we headed to visit some of our students who had recently moved near the temple and started three small congregations.  It was great to meet them and I think our short visit greatly encouraged them.  We are going to help them with a well for water because the area has no drinking water, or streams.  Interestingly, the place where the poor Christians bought their land is filled with semi-precious gems!  They spend their free time digging in the dirt! I think it must be the blessing of God!

Paul checking out a carved lion

Behind these flowers and tarp is a 88mm rocket launcher!

New Recruits: Families of the soldiers live in the fox holes too!

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