Go beyond Angkor Wat to discover the most beautiful, interesting temples at Angkor Archeological Park near Siem Reap, Cambodia—one of the top Asian holiday destinations.
Discover 4 lesser-known temples of Angkor
At 400 sq km, Angkor Archeological Park is home to more than 100 temple sites and ruins. Angkor Wat itself is the most famous temple run and the largest religious monument in the world. Built in the first half of the 12th century as a Hindu temple for the Khmer Empire, its name means ‘Temple City’ in Khmer, and it’s truly breathtaking. Although no holiday to Siem Reap would be complete without a visit to Angkor Wat, many of the lesser-known sites are just as stunning and just as interesting… but far less crowded. Here are four favourites:
Built by the creative but egomaniacal king Jayavarman VII, Bayon is known for the 216 coolly enigmatic faces that smile down from 54 gothic towers. The faces officially represent the deity Avalokiteshvara, but reportedly bear a striking resemblance to the king himself—broadcasting both power and a sliver of humanity to his vast empire. It stands in exact centre of Angkor Thom, the second most popular site at Angkor Archeological Park, and is easily visited on the small temple circuit.
2. Preah Khan
Dating to the 9th century, Preah Khan was a second city to Angkor, housing both Suryavarman II and Jayavarman VII at points during their reigns, as well as being home to a Buddhist university. Largely unrestored, stones are in piles and vegetation runs roughshod, but it gives the site—one of the largest at Angkor and located on the big circuit—an aura of mystery. Pay attention and you’ll notice that doors become smaller as you walk towards the temple centre, requiring guests to bow with respect.
3. Beng Mealea
Located 52 km east of Siem Reap at what was once the centre of an ancient road connecting Angkor Thom and Preah Khan, Beng Mealea is a spectacular, mysterious temple that shares the same floorplan as Angkor Wat. Surrounded by an enormous—largely dried-up—moat, measuring 1.2 km by 900 m, the jungle has encroached on this 12th site, which adds to its charms. The only remaining trace of the road between Angkor Thom and Beng Mealea is a small bridge west of Chau Srei Vibol, but more than 10 bridges between Beng Mealea and Preah Khan remain, abandoned in the forest.
4. Banteay Srei
Festooned with some of the finest stone carvings on the planet, Banteay Srei’s red sandstone structure and intricate bas reliefs make it a pinnacle of Angkorian art. It was erected as a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva—inscriptions date it to the 10th century, although it may have been destroyed and rebuilt—and one of few Angkor temples commissioned by a Brahman rather than a king. Located 32 km from Siem Reap and not part of a temple circuit, it’s one of the smallest sites of Angkor, but it is unique and well maintained.
5. What about Ta Prohm?
Made famous by the 2001 film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie, Tah Prohm is no longer “lesser-known”, and crowds overflow at this once-isolated temple. Although it was selected for the film because it had “best merged with the jungle”, restoration began in 2013, albeit with the intention of maintaining its “neglected” look, and the iconic tree still grows out of the temple roof.
Perfectly positioned to take see these legendary temples, Anantara Vacation Club Escape at Anantara Angkor Resort & Spa also offers easy access to Siem Reap.