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Sambor Prei Kuk is an archaeological site located in Kampong Thom province in Cambodia. It is known for the pre-Angkorian ruins, which are clusters of temple complexes located in the premises, surrounded by forests.
This UNESCO heritage listed site is the most ancient archaeological site of Southeast Asia. Sambor Prei Kuk is a popular day trip option for people traveling in Kampong Thom to explore the architectural brilliance before the Khmer period in Cambodia.
The North Group- Sambor Prei Kuk has more than 150 structures, with about 50 of them being temples. Start with the oldest among them all, the north group of monuments. Notable structures in the north group include the temples with four towers and galleries including bas-reliefs depicting mythological scenes. Prasat Chrey and Prasat Luong Chom Bok are other monuments worth visiting here, covered with forest growth.
The South Group- This group of monuments mainly functioned as sanctuaries under King Ishanavarman I, indicating that he was also the builder of these structures. Some sections in these complexes house the famous flying palaces. The intricately carved lintel reliefs found here are excellent examples of Chan architecture, consisting of birds decorated with garlands. There are smaller octagonal towers found in these sanctuaries.
The Central Group- The most recent of all the structures is the central group of monuments in Sambor Prei Kuk. Some of them are believed to be of the Angkor period as well. The most notable attractions worth checking out in this section is the Lion Temple, a prasat named so due to two elaborate carved lion sculptures along the stairway. Also, this section consists of bas reliefs and inscriptions depicting the scenes during the later part of the Chan period.
Sambor Prei Kuk belongs to the Pre-Angkorian Chenla Kingdom which ruled Cambodia between the late 6th to the 9th century. The north group of monuments indicate that they existed before this period. The site was later conquered by Chenla King Isanavarman I, who renamed the city as Isanapura after establishing it as his capital. It served as the central royal sanctuary and inhabited more than 20,000 people during his reign.
The King built many administrative buildings, temples and other complexes during this period in Sambor Prei Kuk. The inscriptions found on the site provide details of all his construction works and social life. It was declared a UNESCO heritage site in 1993 and is considered to be one of the oldest archaeological sites in SE Asia.
The monuments of Sambor Prei Kuk are located on the eastern bank of the Tonle Sap lake, close to the Stueng Saen River. They are divided into three groups, and each of them has a square outer wall made of bricks. The buildings of Sambor Prei Kuk have a simple exterior, unlike the Angkor structures with multiple enclosures.
The material used is mainly brick, but sandstone has also been used. The structures are from various periods and hence exhibit different architectural patterns. They are entirely different from Angkor ruins, with the bigger halls and spacious galleries.
There are also more structures within the temples, including Prasats, Shiva Lingams, Yonis, ponds and reservoirs. Among the notable features are octagonal towers and many lion sculptures found very commonly.
A unique characteristic found in these monuments are the Flying Palaces or Flying Temples, which have intricate stone carvings depicting the lives of ordinary people and the King. They are mostly located in these octagonal towers.