Everyone has heard of Angkor Wat. If you haven’t then that’s ok, but you will have to do some other googling if you want to see what that’s all about. I wanted to go through some of the top temples in Siem Reap that aren’t Angkor Wat.
To see all of Cambodia’s temples would take you years, with still many being undiscovered and the ones which have, many are off the beaten track and very hard to get to. We always advise to take a guide with you on Siem Reap’s temple explorations. Not only are you going with an expert, but you are supporting the local economy. Our guide Narin showed us that there is more to Cambodia than Angkor Wat.
Staying centrally located in town at the Park Hyatt Siem Reap, it was the perfect hotel to explore the surrounding areas as the temples below are all achievable without having to stay overnight elsewhere. Some of the temples are on the tourist route but don’t let this turn you off, they are a must see, but a few of the others are a great way to get away from the hordes of tourists and explore off the beaten track.
Located around 35 kms from Siem Reap, Banteay Srei is one of the smaller temples within Angkor and a temple that is definitely worth seeing. The temple is amazingly carved with beautiful pink sandstone and the walls have intricate patterns of Ramayana scenes. To get to this temple, you get to see and enjoy the local life with many farmers working and the roads filled with families on bikes going about their daily life. Banteay Srei is wonderful preserved and a must see while in Siem Reap.
Angkor Thom, the ‘Great City’ is amazing and the word amazing is probably not the word to describe it. Lonely Planet describes it as “monumental” and I would have to agree with them. With the walls standing 8m high and enclosing this great Khmer city, Angkor Thom’s architecture is in my view, more beautiful than Angkor Wat. The faces on the approach to the South Gate greet you with many different expressions. Some serious, some smiling, some angry. They are fascinating and line the way to the gates where another big face looks down upon you as you enter.
One of the more famous temples, Ta Prohm is known to tourists as the Tomb Raider Temple. This is one of Angkor’s oldest temples and should not be missed on your Cambodian adventure. A unique experience, you walk through the temples imagining yourself to be Lara Croft of Indiana Jones, making your way through the towers that are filled with moss and plants and stepping over blocks that have become dislodged from the temple by the roots of the trees that climb their way through. Ta Prohm is a photographers dream.
Bayon is the central temple of the ‘Great City’, Angkor Thom and is known for it’s large faces carved into the stone. With over 11000 carved figures on the walls and over 200 carves faces on the towers, Bayon was built as a shine that is dedicated to Buddha. Climb through the three levels of this magnificent temple and make your way to the top where you will see tourists out with their cameras trying to take photos pretending to kiss the faces.
Beng Mealea is one of my favourite temples. Located around 45 kms from Siem Reap, it’s known as the jungle temple due to it being completely overgrown. The temple was only cleared of landmines in 2003, so it isn’t a temple that every tour bus goes to. Our guide Narin took us to the back entrance to the temple where he told us that land mines had been found during the clean up. Entering the temple this way was a bit nerve wrecking but he assured us that it’s safe now and the experience would be like no other.
Getting into the temple this way wasn’t the easiest. It was another Indiana Jones experience where you had to climb up massive stone rubble, to then having to climb over the temple wall. Once inside it was a labyrinth, long dark hallways, wooden walkways to get from one part of the temple to another, the roots of trees blocking the path and a mystery that was like no other.
Make sure you take a local guide for this one as there are so many areas of the temple that you would not find without one.
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