Saturday, 22 Feb 2020

Become a real life Lara Croft! The 11 best temples in Cambodia

One thing Cambodia is famous for is its beautiful ancient temples spread around the country, which have miraculously survived to the present day despite war and decay. More recently, these temples have been drawing backpackers in for the exploration of a lifetime! Whether you’re Lara Croft in training or simply a novice explorer, there are plenty of Cambodian temples to take you back to ancient civilisation. Grab your camera and hail a tuk-tuk, it’s time for an adventure! Here’s our list of the best temples in Cambodia!

1. Koh Ker

best temples in cambodia, koh ker

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Koh Ker is surprisingly not as popular as other temples like Angkor Wat, despite having over 40 different ruins around the grounds. Around a two-and-a-half-hour car ride from Siem Reap, this site is a full day trip. Buckle your seatbelts, because it’s a slightly bumpy ride.

This isolated site was actually one of the capitals of the Angkor empire from AD928 to AD944 and was built to worship the god of happiness, Treypuvanesvara. Its most identifiable temple is Prasat Thom, a pyramid-like structure similar to Mayan temples found in South America. You can even climb to the top – it’s quite steep but definitely worth it for the views.

It’s well worth taking the time to explore the surrounding structures, just be sure to stay in the designated areas, as parts of the land have not yet been cleared of landmines. Some of these smaller ruins are so much fun to explore. When I visited in 2016, I was given free range to walk inside these ruins – some were even ancient tombs! Unlike the other popular temple sites, there are no ropes to keep you back, so be safe, respectful and get exploring! Personally, I think this one of the best temples in Cambodia considering its value, amount of structures, and low visitor rate.

Staying in a hostel in Siem Reap is the best option if you want to reach Koh Ker in a day. There are also heaps of other temples in the area to discover!

Price: US$10 for adults, children under 12 free

How to get there: it’s only accessible by car, so check if your hostel organises tours there!

2. Angkor Wat

best temples in cambodia, Angkor Wat

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If you only know a little bit about Cambodia, chances are this massive temple is the image you have in your mind. Not simply known as one of the best temples in Cambodia – but rather the best – it’s high time you see this wonder of the world. Covered on every travel guide and ad for the country, it’s a must visit for any backpacker. For good reason too! The sheer size and intricacy of the structure stops visitors in their tracks.

The temple was built during the Angkor Empire by ruler Suryavarman II and represents the Mt Meru in Hinduism and the house of the gods. Carved into the walls of the temple are dancing Apsara figures, which are a part of Cambodia’s Hindu beliefs (Apsara dancing shows are a popular thing to see in Cambodia).

Angkor Wat is so important to the identity of Cambodia that it’s even featured on their national flag. So, while it’s a popular attraction, it’s crucial to be respectful when visiting. The temple has an etiquette guide, which suggests visitors cover their upper arms and knees (you cannot visit the highest level without doing so). Although it’s hot, covering up more might actually make you feel cooler!

When I went in 2014, my family and I had lunch with some local friends in a small village inside the walls of Angkor Wat. With local cuisine (like crickets) and fascinating stories (my friend talked about how he used to play among the ruins as a child), it was one of my most memorable and authentic travel experiences. Make friends with the locals, they are an incredibly hospitable people so who knows where it might get you!

Opening hours: 5am – 5:30pm (upper level open at 7:30am)

Price: (price is for the Angkor Archaeological Park)

US$37 – one day

US$62 – three days

US$72 – one week

How to get there:

A short ride by either car or by tuk-tuk from Siem Reap. Check out our hostels in Siem Reap for a cheap place to stay while visiting Angkor Wat.

A great time to visit the temple is sunrise, as the sun creates a stunning glow over its three main pillars (it’s also a lot less hot and busy!)

3. Bayon

best temples in cambodia, bayon

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These mystical structures with giant faces are a popular photo opp for travellers and Bayon has long been considered one of the best temples in Cambodia. The Bayon Temple is located within the ancient city of Angkor Thom and features 50 pillars with around 200 faces which are said to represent divine peace. There have been disputes over time with who these faces are supposed to be, with some believing that it’s the Buddhist god of compassion Lokesvara, while many believe that it is Angkor King Jayavarman VII.

These massive faces feel puzzling to walk around, and it’s an experience that you won’t get elsewhere. Allow plenty of time to wander, as there are crowds and narrow walkways. Angkor Thom also features some other worthy sights like the ‘Terrace of Elephants.’

Opening hours: 7:30am – 5:30pm

Price: (included in the price for the Angkor Archaeological Park)

US$37 – one day

US$62 – three days

US$72 – one week

How to get there: It’s within the Angkor Thom Archaeological Park, so if you’re planning to visit Angkor Wat then this is an easy stop because it’s included in the price! Jump in a tuk-tuk or car from Siem Reap for a short ride to this site. The upper level of the temple is closed for restoration works from December 2019 and is scheduled to reopen in 2022.

Check out our hostels in Siem Reap for cheap accomodation nearby.

4. Ta Prohm

best temples in cambodia, Ta Prohm

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This breathtaking temple has over time been reclaimed by nature. Massive tree roots clutch to the ancient temple and seep through in all directions, making it an incredibly eerie setting. This alone makes it one of the best temples in Cambodia to visit. But it’s also known as the Tomb Raider Temple due to the 2001 Lara Croft film starring Angelina Jolie having been filmed there. As a result, there are lots of people wanting lots of photos. But don’t let this put you off!

This temple was built in 1186 and was a Rajavihara (Monastery of the King) where around 80,000 people were required to visit the temple. Now it’s a popular attraction for visitors from around the world, and it’s easy to walk around with many safe pathways and barriers. Allow at least a couple of hours to wander around this natural marvel.

But hurry up, you better see it before the jungle swallows it whole!

Opening hours: 7:30am – 5:30pm

Price: (price is for the Angkor Archaeological Park)

US$37 – one day

US$62 – three days

US$72 – one week

How to get there: It’s within the Angkor Thom Archaeological Park, so if you’re planning to visit Angkor Wat then this is an easy stop! Jump in a tuk-tuk or car from Siem Reap for a short ride to this site.

5. Beng Mealea

best temples in cambodia, Beng Mealea

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This ancient ruin is ideal for those trying to find their inner Indiana Jones. The ancient Buddhist and Hindu temple is overgrown by nature and basically falling apart, so visitors can walk and climb where they please (if they dare and they’re not scared of spiders like me). Only recently cleared for visitors and reachable by a main road, this temple has long been lost to the Cambodian jungle. The date of construction isn’t known but is estimated to be during the reign of King Suryavarman II.

Even to get inside involves climbing over some very large mossy stones. Consider getting a local tour guide to safely explore this wonder and understand its history! While it’s a bit busier than Koh Ker, it’s still an incredibly unique experience – which is why we think this is an unmissable temple in Cambodia!

Opening hours: 7am – 5:30pm

Price: US$5

How to get there: It’s very close to Koh Ker and is a popular day trip for people staying in Siem Reap. It takes roughly an hour and a half from Siem Reap by car.

6. Banteay Srei

best temples in cambodia, Banteay Srei

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Located in the Angkor Archaeological Park, this smaller Hindu temple complex features some incredibly intricate stone carvings. The temple was created in AD967 to honour the Hindu god Shiva. Banteay Srei (also known as “The Pink Temple”) translates to ‘Citadel of the Women,’ with suggestions that the temple was built by women due to the very fine carvings done by small hands. The temple began restoration after its discovery by the French in 1914, which lead to the restoration of many other significant Angkorian structures. I think this temple is perfect for photos, as the pink limestone and delicate design are really beautiful. It’s also a refreshing change from the large domineering structures of Bayon and Angkor Wat.

Opening hours: 7:30am – 5:30pm

Price: (price is for the Angkor Archaeological Park)

US$37 – one day

US$62 – three days

US$72 – one week

How to get there: It’s within the Angkor Thom Archaeological Park, so if you’re planning to visit Angkor Wat then this is an easy stop! Jump in a tuk-tuk or car from Siem Reap for a short ride to this site. On the way to this temple you’ll pass the Landmine Museum, which is worth a visit to understand the impact this has had on the Cambodian people.

7. Pre Rup

best temples in cambodia,Pre Rup at sunrise

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This Cambodian temple is another dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and is a pyramid shape with three tiers. Because of the name ‘Rup’ meaning outlining a deceased body with ashes, it is used for funeral processions in modern Cambodian culture, as many thought this was its original purpose. King Rajendravarman II used this as his state temple following the city of Angkor’s return to power in the 10th century. It was discovered in the 1930s by French conservators, where it was covered in soil.

Visiting this temple during sunrise and sunset due to the red colour of the bricks, creating a charming glow.

Opening hours: 7:30am – 5:30pm

Price: (price is for the Angkor Archaeological Park)

US$37 – one day

US$62 – three days

US$72 – one week

How to get there: It’s within the Angkor Thom Archaeological Park, so if you’re planning to visit Angkor Wat then this is an easy stop! Jump in a tuk-tuk or car from Siem Reap for a short ride to this site. It’s also nearby the popular Ta Prohm temple.

Stay nearby in a Siem Reap hostel for a cheap place to sleep!

8. Sambor Prei Kuk

best temples in cambodia, Sambor Prei Kuk temple

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Pre-dating the famous Angkorian temples, this UNESCO world heritage site was estimated to have been built around the mid-6th to early 7th centuries. This was the original capital of the Khmer Empire and is older than Angkor by around 300 years! The decorated sandstone was a popular design for pre-Angkor temples, and became known as the Sambor Prei Kuk decorative style. This is a great spot to visit for those wanting to get off the beaten track (literally) and avoid the crowds.

If you’re planning on seeing the capital city after exploring all of the temples surrounding Siem Reap, this is a fascinating pit stop! Nearby is Tonle Sap Lake, the largest fresh water lake in South Eastern Asia. Don’t miss seeing one of the oldest and best temples in Cambodia!

The temple rests between Siem Reap and the capital city Phnom Penh. Check out our hostels in Phnom Penh for a well-rounded stay. Mad Monkey Phnom Penh will refresh you from the steaming Cambodian heat. Cannonball into the swimming pool and hang by the bar with your new hostel mates.

Price: $10 (extra $6 for local guide)

How to get there:

By car it’s around 2.5 hours from Siem Reap via the highway number 6.

9. Banteay Chhmar

best temples in cambodia, Banteay Chhmar temple

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This temple is located in the Banteay Chhmar district in North West Cambodia. The 12th century Angkorian temple was mostly untouched for around 800 years, after which it’s finally being visited by travellers. The site has never been restored and is in quite a remote location, so it will feel as if you are discovering the temple for yourself! It was built in around the late 12th to early 13th century for King Jayarvarman II and was later rebuilt as a funerary temple for his sons killed in battle. The temple was once the centre of the ancient city, however no other structures remain. If you want to embrace your explorer side, this is the place for you!

Price: $5 (extra $10 for a local tour guide)

How to get there:

To get to this remote temple you first need to get to the town of Sisophon, which is around an 8-hour drive from Phnom Penh and a 2-hour drive from Siem Reap. From Sisophon you can get a taxi to the temple which is another 1-1.5 hour drive.

10. Temple of Preah Vihear

best temples in cambodia, Temple of Preah Vihear

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This isolated temple that honours the Hindu god Shiva has been called an “outstanding masterpiece of Khmer architecture” by UNESCO. Running along 800m, the intricate temple complex consists of a series of linking sanctuaries with multiple levels and staircases intended to represent Mt Meru of Hindu and Buddhist ideology. It was originally built over time by seven rulers, starting with Yasovarman I who ruled from 889-910. There has historically been conflict between Cambodia and Thailand over the ownership of the temple, even as recently as the late 2000s – early 2010s. This stopped in November 2013, when the International Court of Justice gave Cambodia sovereignty. Allow at least two hours to explore this large complex – it’s very important to the Cambodian people and they are eager for people to visit it!

Price: US$10 (transport costs and tour guides are also arranged at the welcome centre)

How to get there: The temple sits on a clifftop along the border of Thailand in the region of Preah Vihear. The temple can be accessed on a day trip if you are staying in Siem Reap via road 64, or road 62 if you are staying in Phnom Penh. When you arrive at the visitor’s centre, you’ll need your passport to buy a ticket.

11. Ta Som

best temples in cambodia, Ta Som temple

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This small tower temple is a great alternative to the busy Ta Prohm, as tree branches similarly clutch to the ancient place of Buddhist worship. The huge tree looming over the Eastern entrance point (Gopura) is a perfect photo opportunity with hardly any people around to photobomb. Here you can find detailed carvings of Khmer culture and Buddhist mythology, like the Apsara figure. Like the other temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park, it was built around the late 12th century by ruler Jayavarman VIII. If you’re looking for a quiet and contemplative place to enjoy the beauty of these ancient temples, this is the pick.

Opening hours: 7:30am – 5:30pm

Price: (price is for the Angkor Archaeological Park)

US$37 – one day

US$62 – three days

US$72 – one week

How to get there: It’s within the Angkor Thom Archaeological Park, so if you’re planning to visit Angkor Wat then this is an easy stop! You can access this temple from the eastern entrance of the park.

Tips for exploring the best temples in Cambodia:

  • Always have a bottle of water with you. Around March to June, the heat can be nearly unbearable, and you want to see the most of these incredible temples – so stay hydrated!
  • Even though it’s heart-breaking to see, don’t give money to child beggars. As the temples are tourist attractions there are children everywhere that will try and sell you souvenirs. Most work for gangs and giving them money only keeps them on the streets. Giving them food and drink is a better alternative.
  • Consider seeing the temples with a tour guide. There are lots of alternative tours like bike and Segway. Look into tours that go straight to the local economy – you’ll learn a lot more!
  • Insect repellent is a handy thing to bring as not only are the bugs annoying, in some areas there is a malaria risk. If you’re thinking about visiting some of the remote temples, check with your doctor about taking malaria medication.
  • Be aware that these are historic and religious sites more than they are attractions. Be respectful as there are monks using these sites for worship.
  • Watch out for the monkeys and don’t approach them for selfies, they’re known to snatch visitors’ belongings!
  • The Angkor Archaeological Park is experiencing over tourism and the country is currently battling to make this sustainable for the future. When visiting it’s really important to take any rubbish with you, stay within the barriers and don’t touch, lean or climb any of the structures unless signs say otherwise. These temples have lasted hundreds of years, let’s get them through a few more!
  • If you want to understand more about the history of the Angkor Empire, the Angkor National Museum in Siem Reap is definitely worth a visit.
  • It’s usually best to visit the temples in the morning or evening when it’s cooler and less busy. Plus, beautiful sunrises and sunsets abound!

What to wear when visiting the temples in Cambodia:

  • Sometimes less isn’t best. Cambodia’s heat can make you feel sweaty, so wearing loose, cotton clothing can relieve some of the humidity. Head to the Old Market in Siem Reap that sells clothing perfect for temple exploring. Don’t forget to haggle!
  • If you’re going to some temples that are remote and deep in the jungle, its crucial to wear long sleeves and trousers as malaria can be a risk.
  • Wear strong, closed shoes – you might be climbing up very steep and old stairs, where it’s easy to fall.

Where to stay for visiting temples in Cambodia:

best temples in cambodia, unity hostel dorm rooms

Unity Hostel 

Most of the best temples in Cambodia are close to Siem Reap (rightly so, this is why the city is so popular!) Because of the density of temples near Siem Reap, backpackers are abundant in the city, meaning there are some really awesome hostels in Siem Reap! For the explorers who don’t mind a bit of fun when the sun sets, Funky Flashpacker Siem Reap is ideal, with nightly parties, a massive swimming pool and a 24-hour sky bar. For the quieter types, Unity Hostel is a chilled oasis, with queen sized capsule beds waiting for you after a long day of adventuring around the temples.

Compare all hostels in Siem Reap

 

With the best temples in Cambodia noted down, you’re now all set to venture out into the Cambodian wilderness. Have you been to any of these temples? What was your favourite? Any you think we’ve left of the list?

Keep reading:

? It’s not all about temples! The 15 best things to do in Siem Reap for every type of backpacker

? The ultimate backpacking Cambodia guide

? The best hostels in Siem Reap for every trip

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