Preah Vihear (Khmer: ខេត្តព្រះវិហារ – Khet Preah Vihear) is quite a big northern province of Cambodia. Its capital is called Phnom Tbeng Meanchey. The province itself is named after the temple of Prasat Preah Vihear, what is definitely the hotspot of this province. Much of the province is extremely remote and strongly forested.
Preah Vihear is located at a hilltop with a commanding view of its surroundings to Cambodia and Thailand. Predating Angkor Wat by 100 years, the history of the temple is somewhat unclear, but it is known to be dedicated to the god Shiva and thought to have been constructed in the reign of Suryavarman I (1002-50), with further significant additions by Suryavarman II (1113-50).
Unlike most Khmer temples, the temple is constructed on a long north-south axis, instead of the usual rectangular plan facing east. Though easily accessible from present-day Thailand, and for some years occupied by that country, the temple was nonetheless claimed by Cambodia on the basis of a map prepared during French colonial times.
In 1959 Cambodia brought the dispute to the International Court of Justice, which in 1962 ruled that, because Thailand had for years accepted this map, Cambodia had sovereignty over Preah Vihear. Soon afterwards Cambodia was plunged into civil war. The temple remained open to the public from Thailand (although unreachable from Cambodia) until 1975, when it was occupied by the Khmer Rouge, whose rusting artillery guns still litter the area. It re-opened from the Thai side in 1998, and in 2003 Cambodia completed the construction of a long-awaited access road allowing Cambodians to visit the temple. In 2008, after a contentious nomination process, the temple was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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