Preah Vihear Temple is an ancient Hindu temple built during the period of the Khmer Empire, that is situated atop a 525-metre (1,722 ft) cliff in the Dangrek Mountains, in the Preah Vihear province, Cambodia. In 1962, following a lengthy dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over ownership, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in Hague ruled that the temple is in Cambodia.
Affording a view for many kilometers across a plain, Prasat Preah Vihear has the most spectacular setting of all the temples built during the six-centuries-long Khmer Empire. As a key edifice of the empire's spiritual life, it was supported and modified by successive kings and so bears elements of several architectural styles. Preah Vihear is unusual among Khmer temples in being constructed along a long north-south axis, rather than having the conventional rectangular plan with orientation toward the east. The temple gives its name to Cambodia's Preah Vihear province, in which it is now located, as well as the Khao Phra Wihan National Park which borders it in Thailand's Sisaket province and through which the temple is most easily accessible. On July 7, 2008, Preah Vihear was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Prasat Preah Vihear is the compound of words Prasat, Preah and Vihear. Prasat mean "castle", sometimes "temple"; in Sanskrit. Preah mean "sacred". "Vihear" mean "shrine" (the central structure of the temple). The word Vihear could be related to the Sanskrit word Vihara which means "abode."
Prasat in Sanskrit means ("castle", sometimes "temple"; in Sanskrit, and in Khmer: "Phnom" means mountain. Cambodians occasionally refer to it as "Phnom Preah Vihear". The word "Preah" (ព្រះ) means "sacred", and the word "Vihear" (វិហារ) means "shrine" (the central structure of the temple).
Construction of the first temple on the site began in the early 9th century; both then and in the following centuries it was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva in his manifestations as the mountain gods Sikharesvara and Bhadresvara. The earliest surviving parts of the temple, however, date from the Koh Ker period in the early 10th century, when the empire's capital was at the city of that name. Today, elements of the Banteay Srey style of the late 10th century can be seen, but most of the temple was constructed during the reigns of the Khmer kings Suryavarman I (1006–1050) and SuryavarmanII (1113–1150). An inscription found at the temple provides a detailed account of Suryavarman II studying sacred rituals, celebrating religious festivals and making gifts, including white parasols, golden bowls and elephants, to his spiritual advisor, the aged Brahmin Divakarapandita. The Brahmin himself took an interest in the temple, according to the inscription, donating to it a golden statue of a dancing Shiva known as "Nataraja".In the wake of the decline of Hinduism in the region the site was converted to use by Buddhists.
The temple was built at the top of Pey Tadi, a steep cliff in the Dangrek Mountain range which are the natural border between Thailand and Cambodia.
The Temple is also listed by Cambodia as being in Svay Chrum Village, Kan Tout Commune, in Choam Khsan District of Preah Vihear province of northern Cambodia. The temple is 240 km from Siem Reap Town and about 420 km from Phnom Penh.
In 1962 the ICJ ruled that only the temple building belonged to Cambodia, while the direct way to access the temple is from Thailand