Ten best temples to visit in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Temples in Siem Reap
Siem Reap in the northwest region is probably the utmost visited town in Cambodia. It has gained prominence as gateway to plentiful remnants of ancient stone carved Hindu temples constructed between 9th to 15th century by Khmer rulers. The city has also redevised itself as an epicenter drawing hefty visitors every year.
The below temples are special on their own and have marvelous structural specifics. We visited these temples as they are perfectly aligned to cover in a day trip.
Originally, we planned to visit three temples in a day since we had no idea about distance and time required to explore each temple. But when we started our trip with the driver, he recommended few more temples on the way and we could visit more in the below sequence.
Pre Rup Temple
Pre Rup Temple
The gorgeous warm toned Pre Rup temple is located approx. 500m along south end of East Baray. It is 9 km from the famous Angkor wat. We visited it on our way to Bantey Srei Temple. There was no crowd at all when we reached around 8 am, actually most of the crowd is at Angkor wat to catch sunrise. The temple has immaculate proportions of bricks and laterite, the warm tones of these materials are best are seen early in the morning or around sunset.
There are two views from the top terrace: Phnom Bok and the mountain chain of Phnom Kulen in the east and towers of Angkor Wat in the west are notable on the far horizon. You will need around half an hour here.
Bantey Srei Temple
The well preserved 10th century temple dedicated to Lord Shiv lies near the hill of Phnom Dei, 30 km from Angkor Wat. The unique fact about this temple is its remarkable finest three-dimensional carvings on pink hued stone, best seen early morning or late afternoon around 4 pm. It is also one of a kind found anywhere on earth making it considered a jewel in Angkorian art.
If you know Hindu culture, look closely to see sculptures and scenes from epic Ramanyan, we could relate the statues with stories we grew up listening to. This made us rethink the so-called mythologies must have been actually real and Cambodian temples are a proof of some important historical events. The premises are small so about 40 mins time is ample to slowly see everything.
We couldn’t have found this rare unfinished 10th century vista if our driver didn’t take us here on the way. Pram Temple isn’t precisely famed, neither it is on google maps nor it had any crowd so far. Take this from us, this one is totally worth the visit as it has a great spectacle of giant overgrown roots clutching ancient sanctuary towers so well, it is hardly seen in other sites. The natural colour synchronization at this place is an overwhelming treat to senses. Loved it!!
Kbal Spean- River of Thousand Linga (Sahastraling)
Thousand Linga at Kbal Spean
Ever imagined a possibility of a long trail of carved riverbed? How is that even possible to carve such precise images under flowing water? Well you must visit Kbal Spean then. A dramatically engraved riverbed, Kbal Spean is set hidden in the jungle to north east of Angkor. Drive further 12 km beyond Bantey Srei to reach here. To see the riverbed of thousand lingas, there is an extra 1.5 km uneven walk from the carpark. The path is muddy, lumpy with rocks and spider webs on the way.
It will be good to wear sport shoes for the walk; medium fitness level is required too as it gets steep along few points. Do carry enough water with you as there is none available after parking.
There is a circuit to see the waterfall then you need to climb upstairs for the riverbed, you can go otherwise too, we didn’t see any signposts here to guide our way, but there were few local guides who showed us where to look.
The shiv-ling carvings are rare and hold deep historical importance, to us it seemed like a mark of ultimate religious penance. Totally left us curious of how these must have been crafted with such a precision? How long it really took? Was it a single or group effort? We took our own time to roam around and see various Hindu deity imageries on black rocks.
Allow yourself at least 2 hours including the walk. There isn’t any extra ticket to visit this place, the road is good too. Last entry is at 3:30 pm. Also, there are few local food stalls and shops nearby.
Koh Ker Temple
Koh Ker or Thom Temple
It is also known as Prasat Thom or Thom Temple. Koh Ker is most remote, abandoned and the only pyramid structure found amongst Cambodian Temples which used to be the capital of Angkor empire during 9th century. There are eateries and local shops at its entrance and after walking through gracefully carved lintels and doorposts, is seen the principal Mayan style monument, ‘Prasat Thom’.
Wooden stairs are fixed on the edges of pyramid to climb its top, no regrets hiking as it offers amazing views of the surrounding forests and mountains from there.
It was further 114 km from Kbal Spean and took us approx. 1 hour 40 mins of drive.
Entry ticket is USD 10 each.
The 12th century temple was dedicated to lord Vishnu and was built Angkor wat style with carved lintels, slender pillars and window artworks. Beng Mealea is located 40 km east of Angkor temples.
The premises are mostly debris scattered around with overgrown creepers, didn’t seem well preserved and you can definitely give it a skip.
We paid USD 5 each for entry.
Sunrise and Sunset at Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat evening shot
Angkor consists of numerous exquisite temples, hydraulic marvels (basins, dykes, reservoirs, canals) as well as communication routes. For several centuries Angkor, was the center of Khmer Kingdom. It apprehends enormous land area which requires a lot of walking to explore. You need 2-3 hours here.
The largest (402 acres) religious monument in the world is also renowned for its spectacular sunrise. Angkor Wat gets the most watched and most crowded sunrise than any other sight in Siem Reap. It is not possible to escape groups here early morning, yet it is totally worth it.
In order to avoid huge crowds, we left the premises after watching sunrise, visited other temples like Bayon and Ta Prohm and returned later around 4 pm until sunset.
Angkor Wat sunset shot
Tips for better experience at Angkor:
- Buy your passes in advance so you don’t miss sunrise because there are long queues at ticketing booth (they move fast though) and an 8km distance between to reach its entrance gate.
- Sunset is worth watching too as it shines golden that time and its aura in water looks incredible from the lake outside its premises.
- Don’t miss demon gallery where “Churning of the Sea” is impressed on walls.
Angkor Wat Demon Gallery
- It is important what time you visit these temples to catch glimpse of real beauty of stones when they actually shine golden and pinkish due to sunlight.
You may explore the below links for more information on Angkor map and visiting guidelines.
The magnificent temple with enigmatic smiling faces dates back to late 12th century. Bayon Temple is located on exact center of Angkor Thom, housing 37 stone towers in the ruins. There are many theories suggesting the meaning of these extraordinary faces, some say it is King Jayavarman’s face while some relate it to Buddha, it is still debated.
We visited Bayon just after witnessing surise at Angkor wat, the temple opens at 7:30 am. Being here early morning allowed us ample time to see around before it was full with tourists who start arriving around 8 am.
People are allowed to roam inside the temple with the help of wooden stairs. It was astonishing to see numerous thick stone walls all around us the top of which has faces on all four sides. Some parts are congested and dark, still manage to maintain great ventilation in every corner.
Terrace of the Leper King
Once entered Bayon, we came out on the other gate from where we took walk on a straight road exploring other ruins on the way like, Baphuon, Terrace of Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King, Tep Pranam and many more until the carpark. There are small shops and eateries next to carpark to relax and refill after such long walks. It takes around 3 hours if you include all sites.
Ta Prohm Temple
Ta Prohm Temple
Ta Prohm was built in Bayon style during late 12th century originally called as ‘Rajvihar’. The spectacular silk-cotton and fig tree roots strangling loose stones and its appearance in ‘Tomb Raider’ has soared the popularity of this temple over years.
Ta Prohm gets a lot of tourists and it is hard to find a place that is bare.
We somehow were able to avoid crowd by visiting around 12 after noon when only few people were there for some time, it full with tourists later. The guides move their groups very fast, so we had to be patient until they leave and we explored the place in peace later.
Ta Keo Temple
Ta Keo Temple
It is one of the tallest monuments of Angkor built by Jayavarman V, at east of Angkor Thom. The pyramid shaped Ta Keo was built to represent Mount Meru, the mountain that is center of the world in Hindu mythology. This massive sandstone monument was left unfinished due to a lightning strike which was then considered a sign of bad luck. It was also the first temple to feature surrounding circular galleries, later this feature was copied in other Angkor temples.
Two days is ample time to visit all these temples especially if you start early morning when the weather is pleasant. We returned to our hotel for afternoon naps when it was hot, then started again around 4 pm onwards to witness magnificent sunsets. This way really helped us avoid physical fatigue during the day. Hope you enjoyed reading this post. You may drop us a line or comment, we are happy to answer any questions related.
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