Koh Ker is one of the most unique and interesting sights of Cambodia, about which not very much is known around the world. Everyone knows about the Khmer temple of Angkor Wat, and they can also remember the many-sided Bayon and tell something about the jungle of Cambodia. It would seem, what else could be so interesting there? Surprisingly, Cambodia is also a country that has its own pyramid, which is located in Koh Ker - the ancient city of Angkor, built at the beginning of the 10th century, at the dawn of the Khmer Empire.
I have always been interested in ancient structures around the world, and therefore when I learned about the Cambodian seven-step pyramid, which is also called the pyramid of death, it became interesting for me to look at it. And so, finally finding herself in the city of Siem Reap, in addition to visiting the most important temples of Angkor, I decided to definitely get to Koh Ker and see this pyramid of death.
Koh Ker is a temple city and a huge temple complex in the Preah Vihea province, 120 km northeast of the city of Siem Reap in Cambodia. In ancient times it was called Lingapura, that is, the city of Lingi (phallus), and was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. This ancient city has a number of attractions, the main place of which is the mysterious death pyramid Prasat Prang, located on the territory of the main temple of Prasat Thom. In addition to it, there are still many ruins of Khmer temples of the Angkor period - some of them are almost completely destroyed and not explored. However, all of them are of considerable interest, since the era of Koh Ker was special in the history of the Khmer empire.
Basic information about Koh Ker:
|Name||Koh Ker (Prasat Prang), or "The Pyramid of Death".
The earlier name is Lingapura.
|Where is||90 km northeast of Angkor (Cambodia), in the province of Preah Vihea, Kulen district|
|GPS coordinates||13 ° 47′0 ″ N, 104 ° 32′0 ″ E|
|Nearest town||Siem Reap, 120 km|
|What is||A dilapidated temple complex on the territory of the ancient Khmer capital city of the Angkor period|
|What is famous for||The seven-step pyramid (ziggurat) is one of the most unusual places in Cambodia|
|Pyramid dimensions||Height - 32 meters, Side of the pyramid - 55 meters|
|Layout feature||The main temple of Prasat Thom and the temple-mountain Prasat Prang are located on the territory of the ancient city with an area of 35 sq. Km.|
|What is it built of||Sandstone, laterite, brick|
|When was it built||X century|
The Koh Ker temple complex belongs to the so-called distant temples of Angkor. This means that a visit to Koh Ker can take an entire day. Koh Ker will be interesting for those who are really keen on the history of Cambodia and Angkor.
Features of the Koh Ker pyramid
Despite the fact that mistakes in construction led to the rapid destruction of the pyramid, one cannot but admit the obvious things - some elements of the main temple of Prasat Thom served as an example for the construction of the most famous Khmer temple - Angkor Wat in Cambodia. These are the famous long galleries. They first appeared here, in Koh Ker, then were tested during the construction of Beng Melia, and then appeared in all their glory in the design of Angkor Wat. And seeing how Prasat Thom collapsed due to water washout, the builders of Angkor Wat took this into account and made an additional embankment of sand and a unique engineering system for stabilizing the soil using groundwater.
For a long time the ancient city of Lingapura was in oblivion, however, with the beginning of the tourist boom in Cambodia and the clearing of mines from fields and jungles, Koh Ker also began to attract the attention of travelers, albeit not on a par with the famous Angkor Wat complex. Residents of the neighboring village of Koh Ker lived here for centuries in the shadow of the great pyramid and led a very simple lifestyle, and now they receive tourists, asking to take them as a guide in order to earn some money. The name of this village gave its modern name to the ancient city.
Barrai around the main sanctuary in Koh Ker.
Construction history of Koh Ker
Koh Ker was built during the reign of King Jayavarman IV at the beginning of the 10th century, who decided to move the capital of the empire closer to the village where he was born. Changes in the life of the Khmer Empire began with a struggle for power, which was not crowned with success: Jayavarman left Yashadharapura (that was the name of the capital of Angkor and it was located where the temples of Roluos are now located), proclaimed himself the real king, built a new city of Lingapur, and ruled there for a while. Thus began a completely unique era in the history of Angkor, which has not yet received a clear explanation in scholarly circles.
Compared to another usurper king in Sri Lanka, Kasapa built a smaller, but still impressive palace on top of the huge Sigiriya rock. Like after the overthrow of Jayavarman IV, they tried to forget about the Sinhalese king, but his miracle palace is now very popular among tourists.
The short reign of King Jayavarman IV ended (in fairness, it must be said that it lasted 20 years, and during this time a huge city was built), the capital returned to its former place. And, judging by the ease with which everything was forgotten, no one wanted to remember Jayavarman's revolt. Lingapura was not destroyed by the hands of conquerors, but fell under its own weight - the main temple-pyramid was erected with technical errors.
Why Koh Ker is called the pyramid of death
Prasat Prang, a seven-step pyamid, was built as the seat of the royal linga, the symbol of the god Shiva and the king as his representative on earth. This happened during the life of the king, and after his death the pyramid was supposed to become his mausoleum, therefore it is called the pyramid of death. However, as scientists report, they did not find the grave of Jayavarman IV. And the name "Pyramid of Death" still stuck.
When tourists began to enter Koh Ker, many tried to get inside out of curiosity. For many years, there were terrible rumors that strange things were happening inside her. For a long time no one dared to get in, but at last there were daredevils who, having violated all the prohibitions, nevertheless got inside. According to their stories, there is an empty sarcophagus in the center of the pyramid. What conclusion can be drawn from this?
The Koh Kerr pyramid of death was intended to become the posthumous haven of Jayavarman and (like Angkor Wat later) performed a double function - it was a temple of life during the reign of the king and was supposed to become the place of his transition from one plane of existence to another after death. According to the beliefs of the ancient Khmers, it is the seven steps of the pyramid that provide the king with the most favorable outcome for rebirth.
How to get to Koh Ker from Siem Reap
The Koh Ker temple complex is located near the small village of the same name in the province of Preah Vihea.
You can come to Koh Ker from Siem Reap in about 2 hours, but in general, an excursion to this distant temple of Angkor will take a whole day. There are several options for how to get there:
- Book a tour at any of the travel agencies in Siem Reap (the more people, the lower the price). In this case, you will be clearly tied to the tour schedule. However, these are significant savings if you are traveling alone. The price for a trip to Koh Ker can be around $ 45.
- Order a car with a driver. It will cost more, but more profitable if there are two or three of you. The car costs $ 90-100. The good thing about a private transfer is that you are on your own, you can easily calculate the time. And also you can combine a trip to Koh Ker with a visit to the Beng Melia temple, which is located on the way to the pyramid of death.
- Come to Koh Ke on your own by renting a motorbike. Rent - $ 15-20, gasoline - $ 5-10.
How to get to Koh Ker.
The cost of a ticket to Koh Ker: - $ 10. Tickets to the Angkor temple complex are not valid here.
Opening hours: 7.30 am - 5.30 pm.
It is necessary to take at least 2 hours to inspect the city-temple and the pyramid of death, and with a great interest in the Khmer culture: - 3-5 hours.
Important information: Someone from the locals can link up as a guide in hopes of making some money. If you do not want an assistant, then say so immediately and clearly. Perhaps not the first time, so from the second or third they usually understand with whom it is not profitable for them to walk. Children can be especially intrusive, who will also offer you all kinds of postcards, books and souvenirs in the hope of pitying you and getting cash dollars.
The road to the pyramid of death runs along dusty country roads, but most of the way - this is the new highway from Siem Reap to Stung Treng.
Temple complex of Koh Ker in the city of Lingapura
The ancient city of Koh Ker (Lingapura) occupies a huge area around the artificial Rahal basin. All tours and excursions from Siem Reap, entering the territory, immediately pass to the parking lot, which is located near the main attractions of the Koh Ker temple complex - to the distant temple of the Angkorian period Prasat Thom and the step pyramid Prasat Prang.
Attractions of the ancient city of Koh Ker (Lingapura):
- Prasat Thom - the main temple of the city was built even before Jayavarman moved the capital here.
- Prasat Krahom is a red brick temple, which is reflected in its name, which is translated from Khmer "red tower".
- Prasat Prang is a seven-step pyramid, the burial place of the king and the storage of the linga, part of the Prasat Thom temple.
- White Elephant Grave Hill - The hill and sanctuary behind the pyramid, offering views of the surroundings and the Prasat Prang pyramid.
- Numerous prasatas with lingas along the road. Worth visiting are Balang, Tneng, Krachap, Chrap and Damrei.
- Prasat Pram - five harma towers at ground level, entwined with tree roots.
- The Rahal pool is filled with water only during the rainy season.
Map of the main sanctuary of the ancient city of Lingapur.
Entering the territory of Prasat Thom, you immediately come across the prototypes of the future long galleries, which will glorify Angkor Wat throughout the world. The great sanctuary is in ruins, but many elements are visible and striking in design.
A variety of materials were used to build the city - sandstone, laterite and brick. All three are presented here in all their glory. The walls are made of brittle laterite, and some of the prasats, including the tall Prasat Krahom, are made of bricks. The main buildings are built of solid sandstone blocks of rather impressive size.
The prototypes of the galleries in the Angkor Wat complex.
The ruins of Prasat Thom.
A row of megaliths on the ruins in the city of Lingapura.
Ruins of the Prasat Krahom temple.
Prasat Thom and Prasat Prang are separated from each other by laterite walls decorated with small lingas around the perimeter. The famous ficus-stranglers that adorn the more famous temples of Angkor - Ta Prohm and Ta Som, also tried here and approached the wall of the temple, even putting down roots in some places. However, they did not show full rights to win.
Laterite walls with lingas around the pyramid of death.
The strangler ficus leaned against the wall, but did not break it.
Death pyramid in Cambodia
Due to illegal entry into Prasat Prang and general insecurity, some time ago, the pyramid of death was forbidden to climb, and the only staircase leading to the top was closed to tourists. However, by 2016, another staircase was built, and Prang was fortified, and now curious travelers can go upstairs and look around.
The stone pyramid can be walked around from all sides, marveling at its solid masonry, which still holds the entire structure, despite the fact that the internal levels have collapsed. The outer wall seems impenetrable. Behind the pyramid is the White Elephant Burial Hill, which you can climb and view the high prang not only from ground level, but also from a small elevation.
An old precarious staircase.
View of Prasat Prang from the neighboring hill - burial hill of the White Elephant - even in the dry season, the pyramid is covered with grass.
Lingapura was distinguished by gigantism: everything here was the largest and more than that of its neighbors - the city was larger (covered an area of 35 km2), the pyramid was higher (36 meters), the linga on the top of Prasat Prang was also larger (4 meters), the linga in the city was larger. And even the stones from which the pyramid was built are large compared to the rest of the buildings in Angkor (including those that were built later). Angkor Wat then surpassed Koh Ker in only two indicators - in height (42 meters) and in length of galleries.
It is believed that Khmer temples can be compared with the Inca temples in terms of technology and construction method. However, in my opinion, Inca temples and buildings in Peru differ from Cambodian ones radically. Yes, the size of the stones, especially during the construction of Koh Ker, were similar, the masonry is very reliable. However, a fatal mistake allowed the temple to collapse, which would not have happened if the ancient Khmers figured out how to build from stone without wooden beams, as, for example, in Peru, in Egypt, or during the construction of other megalithic structures around the world.
This is the most important difference (there are others, of course) that do not allow to put the temples of Angkor on a par with other incredible megalithic structures of antiquity. Usually, looking at the "temples" of the Incas, one cannot help but ask the question: how was it built, why is it still standing, despite earthquakes, is it within the power of a person at all (more precisely, the technologies that humanity possesses)? In the case of Khmer temples, everything is extremely clear: a person is capable of doing this, and we see exactly how everything worked out or did not work out.
In Cambodia, we see a logical history of architecture (and if you are interested in getting to know the temples of Angkor in the order in which they were built, read the materials on our website). In Peru, methods and technologies appear ready-made, there is no development, only perfection and incomprehensible logic. Compare with the famous fortress next to Cusco Sacsayhuaman, for example. And Cambodia is alive - with mistakes, miracles and beauty. And apparently this is what causes admiration for any of the temples of Angkor and Koh Ker in particular.
Prasat Prang in the territory of Prasat Thom. And we usually call this miracle the pyramid of death Koh Ker.
The stones of the lower level of the pyramid.
The imposing wall of the first step of Prasat Prang.
Prasatas with lingas in Koh Ker
Numerous prasatas of small size in comparison with the main pyramid, in which the lingas are also stored, are built around the rakhal bar. If we compare them with the royal linga that stood on the top of Prasat Prang and was estimated by scientists to be 4-4.5 meters in height, then these lingas seem rather small. However, they are still larger than any linga found on the territory of other Angkor temples. Jayavarman definitely wanted to make his city the most majestic and did not regret anything for this.
Admittedly, the idea was grandiose, but the technical side and technologies of the Khmer civilization were not ready for such construction feats.
There are even more lingas of small prasats than on the territory of other temples of Angkor. What can we say about the 4-meter ling, which stood on the top of Prasat Prang?
A visit to the ancient city of Koh Ker in Cambodia can be a lasting experience. Indeed, the unique period in the history of Angkor, during which Lingapur was built, clearly stands out in the logical and consistent history of the Khmer Empire. The structure of the seven-step pyramid of death cannot be compared with other temples-mountains, like Bakong, Phnom Bakeng, Bapuon or later erected Pre Rup, Eastern Mebon or Ta Keo. The gigantic size of the city could then be repeated only by Jayavarman VII, who built temples-monasteries at the end of the empire. But a parallel can be drawn only in the scale of the work, but the gigantism of the megaliths and the size of the buildings were not beaten.
As we have already said, it makes no sense to compare with similar structures in Peru. And what about the pyramids of Mexico and Egypt? The Cambodian pyramid of death is inferior in size and materials, but the function is the same - according to the Khmer (Hindu) cosmogony, the transition from one plane of existence to another. Apparently for this reason, it was the shape of the pyramid that was important, and this unites many cultures that are far from each other around the world.
For us, this pyramid was the first that we saw during our trip to Cambodia, and therefore, of course, it is still special. The ancient monument stands very close to a small village, and the ruins of a Khmer temple serve as a place for local people to gather and rest. Small and dilapidated houses of virtually impoverished Cambodians stand in the immediate vicinity.
It is known that in Lingapur residential buildings were also built of wood and therefore have not survived. But it seems that they should have been different from modern dwellings. This contrast is especially vividly imprinted in memory. The inhabitants of the once capital of a powerful kingdom have endured so much suffering since then and cannot recover from living in the poorest conditions.
Whether to give alms to children in Koh Ker - it is up to everyone to decide for himself. Begging is not very accepted here, maybe because the place is not very spoiled by tourists. The more tourists come (mainly organized tours from China), the more Koh Ker will look like the most visited and popular temples of Angkor, where sometimes you will not be pushed through by children's pens asking for a dollar.
The humble dwelling of modern Cambodians.
Resting in the shade of ancient ruins.
Review of the excursion to the Pyramid of Death
We visited Koh Ker in hot March and arrived by car, which seems to me the most convenient way to travel to the distant temples of Angkor. The pyramid changes every season. In the dry season, the red earth lends a special charm to ancient buildings. In the rainy season, the road used to be difficult, but now after the construction of the highway, this problem is not relevant. There is a lot of grass growing on the pyramid and it turns green. The unity of nature and human structures appears in a completely different way than temples entwined with roots like Ta Prohma or Beng Melia.
I was very surprised how many megaliths lie on the territory of the city of Koh Ker. There are not so many megalithic masonry in Asia: in addition to Koh Ker, you can recall some buildings in Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka. Sandstone for the construction of the temples of Angkor was mined on Mount Kulen, located 60 km (in a straight line). Usually the material was delivered by rivers, but the size of the stones inspires respect for the builders.
We really liked the pyramid, we tried to spend as much time here as possible, despite the heat, we walked around it several times. However, we still regret that as soon as we got into the air-conditioned car, we got a little softer and looked at the prasatas with lingas with not very great enthusiasm. I think that I should have visited them at the very beginning of the visit.
Nevertheless, we took one of the most precious impressions and memories from Cambodia from Koh Ker. Here one of my childhood dreams came true - to see the pyramid! So, despite the distance of the trip and quite significant expenses as part of a budget trip, a visit to Koh Ker met all expectations and was worth the effort.
What else you need to know about Koh Ker
The cost of the excursion from Siem Reap to Koh Ker: for a visit to Koh Ker we paid $ 100 for a car and $ 20 for two tickets. Combining this trip with a visit to Beng Melia Temple, we saved a little. We returned to Siem Reap just before sunset, rested and went to the night market.
Helpful advice: if the cost of a car trip to the distant temples of Angkor seems high to you, find fellow travelers and share the cost of renting a car with a driver with them.
Observation: There is a souvenir market near the main entrance to Prasat Thom and the parking lot. You can also buy water here.
Tips and tricks for excursion to the pyramid in Cambodia
- Koh Ker is best viewed in the morning, after 10 o'clock it is already very hot. Therefore, it is best to leave as early as possible from Siem Reap. You can sleep in the car.
- Walk first along Prasat Thom, and only then go to the Pyramid of Death.
- Be sure to ask the driver to stop shortly after entering the temple complex to view Prasat Pram, famous for its five tree-lined red brick prasats.
- Prasats with lingas are usually seen on the way back, as they are on the far loop of the ring road around the Rahal Basin. However, if you want your impressions of the ancient city not to be clouded in the shadow of the pyramid, ask to stop at Prasat Pram, then take a ride along the main lingas, and only then visit the destroyed Prasat Thom and, finally, the Prasat Prang pyramid.
- You can climb the White Elephant Hill, but the distance between the hill and the pyramid is not so great that the observation deck is impressive. And the hill is not higher than the pyramid. However, there is still an alternative to viewing from ground level!
- Do not under any circumstances leave the territory of the temple. The land around Koh Ker has not yet been completely cleared of mines. Walk only in the permitted area for your own safety.
- Do not forget to bring plenty of drinking water with you and drink it often in the heat so as not to overheat!