Surrounded by jungle and situated in a province that sees few foreign visitors, the pre-Angkorian site of Sambor Prei Kuk could nonetheless become one of Cambodia’s top tourist destinations.
Built in the 7th century in what is now Kompong Thom province, the temples at Sambor Prei Kuk have been the subject of recent study by scholars and of planning for possible development by government and Sokimex company officials eager to cash in.
It has also been the subject of Japanese photographer Yasushi Sugimata, whose photos of the ancient temples went on display Monday at the National Culture Center. The exhibition, sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, is intended to stir interest and support for the site. It runs through Saturday.
The center is at 15 Sisowath Quay, across from the Buddhist Institute. Admission is free.
Making Sambor Prei Kuk, located 30 km from Kompong Thom town, a tourist destination will require preserving existing structures, improving access and creating a development strategy that focuses on keeping its character, officials said last week.
Nestled in the forest, Sambor Prei Kuk spreads over 2,000 hectares, said Kong Bolin, deputy director of the Ministry of Culture’s Department of Cultural Heritage. There are 55 standing brick monuments, 47 of which date from the 7th century, and 107 brick mounds visible above ground, he said.
Scholars believe Chenla was the dominant kingdom in the region in the 7th century. Its capital of Isanapura, now called Sambor Prei Kuk, was built by Isanavarman, Chenla’s most famous monarch, who reigned from 611 to 635, Kong Bolin said.
Although it may have suffered some looting in recent years, the biggest threat to Sambor Prei Kuk has been nature—rain, wind, trees and vegetation. During the first part of the 20th century, the country’s French administration concentrated on restoring Angkor.
In 1994, the Ministry of Culture organized basic maintenance at the site with the help of nearby villagers. And in 1998, Takeshi Nakagawa, director of the Japanese government team for safeguarding Angkor and an official at Wadesa’s Laboratory of Architectural History, joined the ministry in launching a study of Sambor Prei Kuk.
In 2001, the laboratory and the ministry expanded the maintenance program to strengthening weak structures. This March, the laboratory and ministry team submitted a report to the Council for the Development of Cambodia, complete with a zoning proposal and recommendations for development that would preserve the site’s pristine environment and surrounding villages.
Meanwhile, Sokimex has postponed its plans for a hotel near the site until the government has established hotel zoning and written a master plan, Sokimex manager Svay Vuthy said. The company sees the site as promising once renovation on National Route 6, which runs from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap through Kompong Thom, is completed, he said.