Cambodia's temples: our guide
Images of monks wondering through ruined temples is synonymous with Cambodia, but which temples should you visit and why? The Khmer empire ruled between the 9th and 15th centuries and its ruined citadels and temples pepper a huge area. The UNESCO protected Angkor Archaeological Park on its own is huge, so here’s our guide to the best temples in Cambodia and some of our ideas of how to make the most of them.
Angkor Archaeological Park
Nothing quite prepares you for the majesty of Angkor Wat, the most dramatic of all Cambodia’s temples and one of the most important sites in Southeast Asia with a vast gallery of bas reliefs and soaring towers. Some argue that it’s the largest man-made temple structure in history. It can be crowded, so avoid peak times and go early in the morning at sunrise when the light is at its best. Enter through the back entrance (Eastern Causeway) to avoid the biggest groups. Our guides are experts in getting you away from the crowds so will help you to hidden corners. Make the most of your time there and see Angkor Wat at Sunrise, explore it with expert Dr Damian Evans or get Behind the Scenes of Angkor with the German Apsara Conservation Project. Just let us know what you are interested in and we’ll match you to the right experience.
Often referred to as the ‘Blueprint for Angkor Wat’, Beng Mealea was built just a few years earlier, and forms a similar style to Angkor Wat. It is one of our favourites as it feels wild, with rampant vegetation and few visitors. It’s also relatively unexplored and combines brilliantly with a boat trip on Tonle Sap Lake. Amansara do a lovely experience to Beng Mealea and Koh Ker. Whilst in Tonle Sap, we recommend a boat trip on Ella, a beautiful wooden boat and for those feeling more energetic Kayaking on Tonle Sap is a must.
Ta Phrom is one of the most atmospheric temples at Angkor. Overwhelmed by a vast system of roots and jungle, it’s the most remarkable sight and unforgettable. It can be very crowded at peak times so timing is everything! Go early and let our guide take you through the quieter corners. Our Temples of the Forest experience is the ideal way to see this captivating temple and for those with a deeper interest, try our Small Circuit Full Day Tour.
Sitting just 25km northeast of Siem Reap, Banteay Srei is the jewel of Khmer art. Crafted out of pink sandstone allows for extremely intricate carvings (some say that pink sandstone carves like wood) which are exceptionally well preserved. It’s miniature in size when compared to other temples, but it adds to its charm. Banteay Srei combines brilliantly with Kbak Spean or Banteay Samre. We offer a lovely full day experience to Santeay Srei and Kbal Spean.
A fantastic Buddhist temple, Bayon boasts 54 gothic towers, 216 gargantuan faces and extraordinary bass reliefs. Its carvings portray life in 12th century Cambodia, telling stories of war and history. It’s the absolute centre of Angkor Thom, and therefore the entire ancient empire. It can become crowded, but as always our expert guides are there to help you escape the crowds. Try our Small Circuit Full Day Tour if you want to visit Bayon, but we can design an entire day just for you if you’d sooner combine it with something else. Just let us know.
The original capital of Angkor, Phnom Kulen is perched on a large plateau about 1.5 hours north of Siem Reap. Built in the 800s, the site wasn’t uncovered until 2013. It was also one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge. Considered a holy mountain, the linga-strewn riverbed is said to have sacred waters. The area also offers good quality hiking and biking with specialist adventure guides; waterfall and pools are also good for a refreshing swim! Our Phnom Kulen and Banteay Srei experience is a great way to see this unknown area.
Not a temple but a rectangular excavated lake that were once the royal baths of the Khmer Kings. This is great for an afternoon stroll and also our breakfast overlooking the water that we highly recommend.
Koh Ker is an impressive, almost Mayan, stepped sight with a pyramid design. It was once a satellite capital and sits 1.5 hours north of Siem Reap. It’s best combined with Beng Melea as part of a ‘remote temples’ tour with a specialist guide. We can easily arrange this for you but also we can offer this if you are staying at Amansara, as they also have a private guided experience for their guests called Beng Mealea and Koh Ker.
Dedicated to Shiva, Preah Vihear sits on the Dangkrek escarpment, directly on the border of Thailand, with fantastic and expansive views across northern Cambodia and Thailand. Highly disputed and far less visited than other temples, the temple was controlled by the Thais for hundreds of years, but ceded to Cambodia in 1907. In 2013 the International Justice Court upheld a 1962 ruling maintaining Cambodian ownership. To visit Preah Vihear we highly recommend our Remote Temples by Helicopter experience, which flies you there from Siem Reap. It’s also possible to combine it with Banteay Chhmar or Koh Ker, inclusive of a gourmet picnic lunch. An overnight trip is also possible with a stay in a local boutique hotel, Preah Vihear Boutique Hotel.
115 km to the west of Angkor and close to Thai Border, Banteay Chhmar was once an outpost for invading armies. It’s home to a remote temple with an amazing interplay between nature and stone. It’s rarely visited and receives fewer than 50 guests per week. Let us know if you are interested in seeing Banteay Chhmar, and we’ll design something specifically for you.