Many travellers arrive in Siem Reap knowing that they must see Angkor.. But from among the hundreds of scattered temples in the greater area, it can be overwhelming! Luckily, we at Absolute Asia Tours have you covered. Here are our recommendations for the top 10 temples in Cambodia that no one should miss!
The Khmer Empire was one of the most grandiose civilizations of the medieval period. With incredible ingenuity and innovation they created marvels of architecture and engineering. With such a wide girth of works it can be a bit daunting to pick which temples to visit when arriving in Cambodia. Here’s Absolute Asia Tours’ top 10 temples that are a must.
1. Angkor Wat
The largest and most beautiful temple in the Angkor complex, Angkor Wat is iconic. Located in the large area of nearly 200 hectares, surrounded by a moat, the arrangement of this temple is symbolic of traditional Khmer architecture. Built during the reign of King Suryavarman II in 12th century, its an engineering marvel covered in ornate carvings. At the end of 13th century, Angkor Wat gradually changed from a Hindu to a Buddhist temple. Unlike other temples in the Angkor complex, after being abandoned by the collapse of Khmer empire in 15th century, Angkor Wat remained in use and still is today.
2. Beng Mealea
An hour drive from Siem Reap stands Beng Mealea, isolated although built during the Angkor period. While it’s been engulfed by the jungle, the temple remains an impressive structure. One of the few temples left almost untouched, Beng Mealea fulfills your wildest adventure dreams! Travellers become true explorers climbing over, through and under the massive masonry covered in vines, moss and the occasional banyan tree. While not as famous as many other temples of the region, its openness and wild surroundings make it one of the most impressive temples of Cambodia.
3. Ta Keo
Built by King Jayavarman V when he was only 17 as a refuge for Shiva, Ta Keo is unfinished. Built at the turn of the 9th-Century, some believed the temple was cursed and construction ceased. According to legend, it was struck by lightning when it was being built–a bad omen. Ta Keo is the only unfinished temple in Angkor Thom but it was the first to be built entirely with green sandstone, completely different from brown or grey color of other temples in Angkor.
4. Angkor Thom
Known as “the Great City”, Angkor Thom was the last capital of the Khmer empire, built by King Jayavarman VII in the end of 12th century. Spreading over 9 kilometers of land and built in an almost perfect square, Angkor Thom consists of many temples from the final days of the Khmer Empire. At its height, Angkor Thom may have governed over a population of over a million people. In the middle of this complex lies the smiling faces of Bayon temple and the complex is surrounded by five momentous gates.
5. Bayon Temple
Bayon Temple was built in 12th century by King Jayavarman VII as a part of the expansion of Angkor Thom. Standing at the exact centre of the complex, Bayon’s magnificent is unquestionable. Representing the intersection of heaven and earth, it is a Buddhist temple with hints of Hindu cosmology. Bayon is easily one of the most iconic temples of the Khmer Empire, due to its religious importance and smiling stone pillars.
6. Preah Khan
Preah Khan or “Sacred Sword” is one of the largest temple complexes in Angkor. King Jayavarman VII built Preah Khan as his temporary residence during the construction of his permanent home at Angkor Thom. Built as a Buddhist monastery and school it could house a thousand monks. This complex is easy to restore and features elaborate carvings and many passageways, perfect for photos!
7. Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm is most famously known as the “Tomb Raider” temple, however its more impressive for the atmosphere. Swallowed partially by the jungle, tree roots have overtaken portions of the structure creating an thrilling explorer atmosphere. Built during the 12th Century, Ta Prohm is a Buddhist temple dedicated to the mother of King Jayavarman VII. Precious items were once housed here, but after the fall of the Khmer empire in 15th century, it was abandoned, ransacked and enveloped in the clutches of the tropical forests.
8. Banteay Srei
Although it’s a bit out of the way, one of the most impressive temples worth a stop is Banteay Srei. Meaning “Citadel of Women” its well preserved carvings draw visitors from all over the world. Adorned with delicate carvings and works, Banteay Srei is also mostly built from red sandstone creating a distinctive hue. It is easily one of the prettiest temples of Cambodia!
9. Phnom Bakheng
Phnom Bakheng was the first major temple to be built in the area, marking the establishment of the capital in Angkor. Carved from existing rock, it’s perch on the mountain makes it the perfect location to watch sunset. with a view of Angkor Wat in the distance.
10. Pre Rup
With three towers in the center, Pre Rup looks like a mini Angkor Wat! The the second temple built after the capital was moved from Koh Ker to Angkor, it is one of the oldest temples in the area. Pre Rup was built from grey sandstone and is less durable than other temples in Angkor. Being abandoned for centuries, the complicated carvings have been damaged because of heavy rain. However, its still worth a gander as you discover the temples of Cambodia!
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