Weƒ??d heard about Prasat Preah Vihear long before getting to Cambodia. In July, the 1000 year old temple complex, perched on top of a string of mountains that stradles the Thai-Cambodian border, was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status which means that Cambodia will generate more money from it. In Cambodia, temples = tourist cash and that's a very good thing.
The temple site has been disputed for years. Because of its location, both Thailand and Cambodia think its theirs (even though the UN determined it was Cambodiaƒ??s way back in 1962). Thailand ƒ?? not to get the short end of the stick – has bulldozed a huge highway right up to the temple steps making it incredibly easy to saturate the site with Thai tourists. The Cambodian side isnƒ??t so lucky. Dirt roads (as Steve has explained elsewhere) are the only way to get up the mountain and itƒ??s a freaking long journey from anywhere remotely close to civilization!
After the UNESCO announcement, Thailand got a bit jealous and protesters and the military set up shop near the entrance. Cambodia got a little annoyed back and sent in their own troops to guard the national pride. They also closed the gate to Thailand and wonƒ??t let anyone in from the Thai side. If that werenƒ??t enough, the army has strung at least ¶« a kilometre of barbed wire around the entrance and around the edges to make sure no rogue or sneaky Thai gets in.
Usually, tourists from the Cambodian side (whoƒ??ve gone through something resembling a living hell to get to the temple) have to share the experience with tourists from the Thai side whoƒ??ve driven up to the steps in air conditioned express busses.
For us, there were no Thai tourists ƒ?? one of the reasons we went at this time in the first place – but there were hundreds of army men. We got to share our experience with army medics, cooks, and soldiers, and tried to take pictures of the temples without getting a soldier bathing, army tents and other equipment in the shots.