Get in Preah Vihear
Thai and Cambodian troops exchanged heavy gunfire at and around the temple in 2008 and 2011 in connection with a dispute about ownership of surrounding land. As of November 2014, both sides continued to maintain heavily armed paramilitary police facing each other near the temple. For reasons of security, some travel specialists have recommended against tourist visits to Preah Vihear. However, the site has been peaceful since 2011 and many thousands of visitors have gone without trouble. If you go, it is advisable to confirm that the situation has remained calm.
The easiest way to reach Preah Vihear is from the town of Sra’em, 30km south. Four hotels exist 1 km west of the town center (by the roundabout), on route 2625. Prices range from $7 to $12.
Buses run directly from Phnom Penh via Kompong Thom to Sra’em, leaving in the morning and arriving in the evening. (Be careful not to book a bus to Preah Vihear since these may actually go to the town of Krong Preah Vihear and not Sra’em). They drop you off at the Sra’em central roundabout. Minibusses, once daily, $8 and shared taxis, $10, run from Sra’em to Siem Reap via Anlong Veng
Moto taxis can take you to Preah Vihear Temple from Sra’em for $15 per person, or $10 per person for groups of two or more. They refuse to rent motorbikes for self-drive. There is no public transit from Sra’em to Preah Vihear, so motor taxis or hitching a ride are the only two options.
The road from Siem Reap to the base of Prasat Preah Vihear via Anlong Veng, a distance of about 210 km, is fully paved. A 4×4 or moto will be required to scale the steep road going up the hill, which you can arrange at the ticket office near the base of the hill; a 4×4 costs $25 roundtrip and a moto $5 roundtrip.
There is no public bus from Anlong Veng to Preah Vihear (public transit to Sra’em does exist.) A private car needs to be negotiated for about $50 although the starting price may be over $100 so bargain hard.
Dancing Roads regularly arranges multi-day bike trips from Phnom Penh to Preah Vihear.
You can also reach the place on a three-day motorbike trip from Kompong Thom. The highway between is completely sealed and in great condition.
Cambodian soldiers have established defensive positions near Preah Vihear, though they welcome tourists. Soldiers no longer expect gifts and are quite hospitable when you are on the ancient staircase (eastern) side. You need to stop by the ticket office at the base of the hill and get a ticket ($10); passports may be asked for at the ticket office and at the checkpoint leading up the mountain. The ticket office also arranges transport by pickup truck ($25 roundtrip) and moto ($5 roundtrip). A new road for the first 3 kilometers has reasonable grades, but the last 2 kilometers are on the old road and have extremely steep sections.
The “Ancient Pathway” on the east side of the temple is now open to visitors; it’s a pleasant descent with more than 2,000 steps through the forest; a modern wooden staircase parallels the largely ruined stone staircase, though two sections of the old path are used. The base of the staircase (which is more preserved) can also be accessed via a well signposted graded dirt road to the east of the ticket office.
Note: citizens of Thailand were being denied access to the temple from Cambodia, with no exceptions. Some Khmer-speaking Thais have been known to sneak in with a group of Khmer visitors.
There is a crossing to the temple from Thailand, but in 2008, in response to demonstrations by Thai nationalists near the temple, the Cambodian government closed it. As of November 2014, the crossing remained closed. On the Thai side, visitors can go to Khao Phra Wiharn National Park, from which they can view parts of the temple from a distance of about half a kilometer. The park also offers stunning flora, sandstone cliffs, and views over the Cambodian plains
The nearest significant Thai town is Ubon Ratchathani. The park is at the end of Route 221, but public transport options are limited and the easiest option is to charter a car for the day (1000 baht and up, plus gas). The roads are surprisingly good and, depending on how hard your driver hits the gas pedal and/or how many water buffaloes decide to cross the road along the way, you can get there from Ubon in an hour and a half.
If this is out of your budget, the nearest town of any size is Kantharalak, which can be accessed by frequent public buses in 2 hours or so from the nearby towns of Ubon Ratchathani and Si Saket. For the last leg of the trip (34 km), however, you will have to hitchhike or charter a songthaew/tuk-tuk/moto-taxi.
How to get there: From Bangkok, use Hwy 1 (Pahol Yothin Rd) turn right at Saraburi into Hwy 2 (Mitraphap Rd). At Amphoe Si Khew, turn right into Hwy 24, and travel via Amphoe Pak Thongchai, Sangka, and Ku Khan. Turn right into Hwy 221, and head to Amphoe Kantaralak, and keep going to the park.
From Ubon Ratchathani, use Hwy 2178 and 221 via Amphoe Varin Chamrap, Samrong, Benjalak, and Kantaralak to the park.