Ancient Cambodian temple city of Sambor Prei Kuk poised for rebirth after Unesco listing

A temple in the city of Sambor Prei Kuk, which was listed by the Unesco World Heritage Centre last month. The ancient city, some 200km north of Phnom Penh, boasts nearly 300 brick temples and heaps of ruins across a 25 sq km compound.
A temple in the city of Sambor Prei Kuk, which was listed by the Unesco World Heritage Centre last month. The ancient city, some 200km north of Phnom Penh, boasts nearly 300 brick temples and heaps of ruins across a 25 sq km compound.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

SAMBOR PREI KUK (Cambodia) • It has survived centuries of monsoon rain, a United States bombing campaign and rampant looting.

Now the ancient temple city of Sambor Prei Kuk in Cambodia is finally ready for a renaissance - and is drawing tourists to its forest- cocooned ruins.

Cloistered by trees and linked by winding dirt trails, the site has played second fiddle to its much bigger cousin to the west - Angkor Wat - Cambodia's top tourist destination.

But last month, it gained a listing by the Unesco World Heritage Centre, promising a tourist bonanza that could breathe new life into a once-thriving 6th and 7th century metropolis.

"We have already seen more and more local and foreign tourists flocking to visit our site," said Mr Hang Than, an official who manages the compound, as he strolled towards one of several temples spectacularly wrapped in tree roots.

For now, the tourist infrastructure is basic.

The ancient city some 200km north of Phnom Penh lies down a potholed road where a few food hawkers cluster beneath umbrellas in a dusty carpark. Several tour guides lounge around a small booth servicing a growing fleet of tour buses that arrive, for now, mainly on weekends.

Sambor Prei Kuk, which means "the temple in the richness of the forest", boasts nearly 300 brick temples and heaps of ruins across a 25 sq km compound.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2017, with the headline 'Ancient Cambodian temple city poised for rebirth'. Print Edition | Subscribe