Beneath the surface of a remote hill in Tuol Pongro commune, in Banteay Meanchey’s Malai district, lie two “mysterious” ancient temples that survived the Khmer Rouge years, waiting to be discovered.
The local community and authorities are playing their roles in preserving the “treasures”.
Prasat Knong and Prasat Krao temples are buried under Prey Praseth hill. Commune chief Sim Morn said the two are believed to have been excavated during the war.
Evidence of the digging can apparently be seen on the ground. He estimated that the former’s structure has been most damaged, while the latter is still in good shape.
“It is not clear when the temples had been excavated. The hill used to be a battleground. After the war ended, people came to live around this area and found proof of excavation,” he said.
Morn alleged that there was a looting attempt for treasures and ancient artefacts at the Prasat Krao temple.
Sixty-five-year-old Neang Thoeun from nearby O’Ampil village shared similar thoughts.
“That is why the villagers and authorities are jointly protecting the area to prevent others from doing the same thing,” he said.
Prey Praseth hill is considered sacred. Many people have come to the site to pray and undertake some rituals, asking for blessings and happiness, said Pech Chantha, 53, who lives in the area.
“Villagers simply call it [the hill] Tuol Prasat Krao because the shape of the temple is visible even though it is covered by soil,” he said.
Malai district police chief Ben Sam Ath said: “Experts had inspected the site, but no archaeological study or excavation has been carried out. The history and age of the temples remain a mystery,” he said.
The temple’s grounds contain iron-rich laterite stones, according to villagers.
They also believe that there used to be many ponds around the temples but they were filled up over decades, with water spinach and grass dominating the filled-up surface nowadays.
The provincial culture and fine arts department chief Yong Tang Kouy told The Post that the Tuol Prasat Krao site has been registered in the department’s “inventory book”.
A sign with a heritage logo has been planted to mark the boundary of the protected area.