Siem Reap is the most popular tourist destination in Cambodia, and the temples of Angkor Archaeological Park attract millions of visitors every year. Most people will have heard of the legendary Angkor Wat, but there are many temples located in Siem Reap and surrounding provinces which are also worth visiting
by: William Lake (Drift Magazine, December 2016)
The temples in Cambodia were built by kings during the Khmer Empire, or what is known as the Angkor Period. The Angkor kings built up a vast empire which covered Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. During this time, they built huge reservoirs, canals, large cities, and the largest religious monument the world has ever seen.
ANGKOR WAT TEMPLE
The magnificent Angkor Wat is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is the largest religious monument in the world. It was built in the early part of the 12th century by King Suryavarman II and was dedicated to Vishnu, a Hindu god. However, by the end of the 12th century, it had been converted into a Buddhist temple.
Angkor Wat was built to represent Mount Meru, the home of the Hindu Gods. The five towers represent the five peaks of the mountain, the walls symbolize the surrounding mountain range, and the moat represents the ocean.
Angkor Wat is famous for its extensive carvings which mainly depict stories from Hindu epics. On the east gallery, you can see the famous “Churning of the Sea of Milk” scene with carvings of 88 devas and 92 asuras churning the sea under the guidance of the great Vishnu.
KOH KER TEMPLE
Located around 120km away from Siem Reap, Koh Ker is far less crowded than the temples near Siem Reap town. The peaceful surroundings and Koh Ker’s unique place in Khmer history makes Koh Ker one of the most fascinating temples in Siem Reap province.
Located deep inside the jungle in a sparsely populated area, Koh Ker was once the capital of the Khmer Empire. Much of the temple is closed to visitors as the area is completely surrounded by jungle. However, more than 20 monuments can still be explored by visitors.
The most fascinating aspect of Koh Ker is the unique pyramid design. The seven tiers of the pyramid are unique for temples built during the Khmer Empire and many people note the striking similarities between Koh Ker and some of the ancient Inca ruins built in South America. This has led to some historians to believe that this wasn’t a coincidence and is proof that temples all over the world were built by aliens.
BANTEAY SREI TEMPLE
Banteay Srei is an early example of Khmer architecture and was built in the 10th century. This Hindu temple is unique because it was the only temple not to have been built by a king. Instead it was built by two of the king’s courtiers.
The name translates into English as the “Citadel of the Women” which historians believe is related to the intricate carvings on the red sandstone walls. Local legend says that the carvings are so beautiful that they could only have been carved by the delicate hands of a woman.
This unique temple is a very popular choice for visitors and is located about half an hour away from Angkor Wat.
The Bayon is another beautiful and extremely popular temple. It was built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries by King Jayavarman VII. The temple sits in the center of Angkor Thom which was once the capital city of the Angkor empire. This Buddhist temple was later changed to a Hindu temple before being changed back again. This means that you’ll see a mix of Hindu and Buddhist carvings on the bas reliefs and walls.
This unique temple features 49 towers, 37 of which remain today. Probably the most famous aspect of Bayon temple are the carved faces which are said to represent the face of King Jaravarman VII.
More than 200 faces were carved into the temple.
Although Bayon temple has undergone some restoration work, it is still largely unrestored, which only adds to the charm of the temple.
TA PROHM TEMPLE
Ta Prohm temple was made famous as it was used as a backdrop for the first Tomb Raider movie starring Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft. Due to its unique appearance, Ta Prohm is one of the most beautiful temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park. After the fall of the Angkor Empire, Ta Prohm was left to the mercy of the jungle and the trees are literally growing through the middle of the temple giving it a very unique appearance.
Ta Prohm was built in the same style at Bayon temple. It’s located just outside Angkor Thom and was built by King Jayavarman VII in the early 13th century to be used as a Buddhist monastery. At that time, it was home to more than 12,000 people with nearly 800,000 people living in the surrounding villages providing supplies and services for the people living in the temple.
There are hundreds of temples located around Cambodia and the most popular temples are located around Siem Reap town. Angkor Wat is the main reason why people go to visit Siem Reap, but many of the smaller temples are also worth visiting. Take your time to explore Angkor Wat and the other fascinating temples built during the Khmer Empire.