I spent a week exploring the Siem Reap temples on my 7 day pass of Angkor Archaeological Park. Some classics including Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm made it to the top of my list, but also there were some fabulous further out temples that I absolutely loved including Banteay Samre and the Roluous group temples. Here are my top 10 Siem Reap temples…
My Top 10 Siem Reap Temples
#1 Angkor Wat
No surprise that the biggest and best temple – Angkor Wat – makes the top spot! I saved Angkor Wat until last and wondered if it would be an anti-climax considering all of the other amazing temples I’d visited in the last week. But to be Frank, Angkor Wat is so magnificent that it will blow everything else out of the water!
Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, built over 162.6 hectares. It was originally a Hindu temple built in the early 12th Century and dedicated to Vishnu, the God of balance and stability in the universe. Towards the end of the 12th Century, it became a Buddhist temple.
Angkor Wat is made from stone that was quarried from Kulen Mountain some 50km away.
Top Tip – Visit Angkor Wat late afternoon around 3pm when the sun is not so strong and the majority of the crowds have gone. Spend at least 2 hours exploring!
Why I love it! The Scale of it, the beautifully preserved 5 prongs, the approach to Angkor Wat along the water, the stunning carvings….the list is endless!
Link: The Ultimate Angkor Wat Guide
#2 Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm, AKA ‘Tomb Raider’ is a phenomenal temple to explore due to the way that the Bayan trees have engulfed the temple, wrapping their roots around the bricks. It’s extensively renovated and the structure has been supported in many places, it’s not bad for a late 12th or early 13th Century temple.
Tomb Raider scenes were filmed at Ta Prohm which resulted in a massive increase in this temples popularity with the tourists. Regardless of Tomb Raider, it’s a ‘not to be missed’ in my book!
Top Tip – Visit Ta Prohm first thing in the morning by doing the large loop backwards. Most people do the big circuit in a clockwise direction starting with Angkor Wat.
Why I love it! The way that the Bayan trees wrap their roots around the temple bricks, the eerie atmosphere and the crumbling towers.
Not to be confused with Bakheng, ‘Bakhong’ is a temple built in a similar style to Angkor Wat in the Rolous Group, located some 11km to the Southeast of Siem Reap. This was the FIRST temple that I visited in the Angkor Archaeological Park and it left a lasting impression.
Top Tip – Bakhong is a steep temple to climb without any shade and so it is important to avoid the heat of the day. Go by Tuk-tuk and your driver can drop you off at one side and pick you up on the other so that you get to walk up and over it, going all the way through.
Why I love it! Massive temple steps to climb, reminiscent of Angkor Wat but quieter, special to me as it was my first Angkor temple!
#4 Preah Ko (Oldest of the Siem Reap Temples)
Another Roluos group temple, Preah Ko is earlier than most other temples in the Angkor Wat Archaeological park. It predates Angkor Wat as it is a 9th Century temple and is not as packed. It was the first temple to be built in the ancient and now defunct city of Hariharalaya.
Preah Ko was a Monastery built by Indravarman I in 879 A.D. It is known as the ‘Sacred Bull’ and is dedicated to Shiva, the Hindu God of death and destruction. It’s structure is six sanctuary towers (laid out in two rows of three) on a square platform. The detail on the lintels above the doorways is immense!
Top Tip – Don’t Miss Preah Ko as it’s the Oldest Temple in Angkor!
Why I love it! Oldest and best preserved, beautiful structure (6 prangs or towers in rows of 3), immense carvings on the lintels above doorways.
Link – Roluous Group Temples
#5 Preah Khan
Preah Khan (The Royal Sword) is another exciting maze where you will be able to find your inner Tomb Raider! It’s a 12th Century temple that was built by King Jayavarman VII to honor his father. Make sure that you go all the way to the left where you will find the Bayan tree root growing through the temple, Ta Prohm style!
Although Preah Khan hasn’t undergone a great deal of renovation, many of the corridors, irrigation channels and pedestals (platform for statues of Gods or Buddha) are still intact, although some of the statues were later placed by Buddhist worshippers and were not with the original temple structure. Preah Khan is MASSIVE – in it’s peak it was maintained by approximately 100,000 servants and staff and then later became a Buddhist university. This gives you an idea of the scale of it.
Top Tip – Walk right through to the left hand side to see where the Giant Bayan tree root is growing through Preah Khan
Why I love it! Corridors to explore like Lara Croft, Pedestals, lingums and a Bayan tree growing through the left side of the temple.
#6 Banteay Srei
Banteay Srei is quite a way out from the main loops of Angkor Archaeological park – around 1 hour on a tuk-tuk (it’s over 30km from Siem Reap). Yet it is well worth the journey due to the elaborate carvings and fantastically preserved Hanuman statues.
It is a 10th Century temple dedicated to Shiva and one of the most beautifully carved Siem Reap temples. In the wet season, it will be beautifully surrounded with water and you can take stunning pictures of Banteay Srei across the water.It’s known as the ‘Citadel of Women’ or ‘Citadel of Beauty’ due to it’s beautiful pink colour and the number of devotes (female deities) found in the walls.
Top Tip – Combine Banteay Srei with a stop off at the Landmine Museum and a trip to Banteay Samre
Why I love it! The Hanuman statues, pink sheen, female deities, curly lintels and reflection of Banteay Srei in the water.
#7 Banteay Samre
Banteay Samre was a real treat as I almost had the place to myself! It’s slightly off the usual large and small temple circuits and so you will need to take a Taxi or Tuk-Tuk. But because it is such a quiet and well preserved temple, it makes a great place for photography. Built during the reign of Suryavarman II and Yasovarman II in the early 12th century, it is a Hindu temple built in the Angkor Wat style – a great Angkor Wat alternative if you are looking to avoid the crowds!
Why I love it! Quiet, great place for photography, look for the Sarcophagus.
#8 Banteay Kdei
Banteay Kdei is one of the final temples on the large temple circuit, that is often missed out, but should not be! This temple really is a cool jungle ruin to explore.
It’s also the only temple where I properly saw bats hanging from the ceiling of the towers!
Top Tip – When you see the bat droppings on the pedestals at Banteay Kdei, look up where the bats will be hanging!
Why I love it! The complete jungle setting, The Bats hanging from the temple, the rustic ancient ‘falling down’ feel.
#9 Terrace of the Leper King
One of the most amazing things about my visit to Angkor Wat was my visit to the Terrace of the Leper King. Within the walls of the ancient city of Angkor Thom, just a little further than the popular Elephant Terrace is the Terrace of the Leper King – an amazing alleyway full of unexpected 12th Century carvings. Follow the sign that says ‘Way of visit’ and make sure that you go down the side through the tiny walkway and you will have one of the best surprises of your life!
Why I love it! Totally unexpected high quality 12th Century carvings in an ancient corridor.
#10 East Mebon
East Mebon is a stunning 10th Century temple at Angkor that was built during the reign of King Rajendravarman. The structure of this early temple is beautiful as it is built on a square platform with one Elephant statue in each corner at Lions at the entrances. East Mebon was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva – God of Death and Destructive forces of the universe and honors the parents of the king. It’s built in a similar style to Pre Rup (pyramid style temple with high central prangs) and so it requires a bit of a climb. There are beautiful views from the top.
Top Tip – East Mebon is a great place to observe the Sunset. Get there early to grab a spot sitting on the edge of the top deck – but be careful, don’t fall off!
Why I love it! Elephant statues in the corners of the platform, guardian Lions on the entrances, dedicated to Shiva, beautiful views.
Siem Reap Temples – Further Reading
If you are up for exploring the Siem Reap temples, the ultimate Angkor Wat Guide is a great place to start. You might also be interested in reading in more detail about some of the best temples of Angkor Wat including Banteay Samre and the Roluos Group temples.
What to Pack for Cambodia
Take light cotton tops, long comfortable trousers and maxi dresses that cover your shoulders. Thailand is a conservative Buddhist county and you are likely to be refused entry to top sites like the Phnom Penh Royal Palace and Angkor Wat with shoulders showing and shorts or short skirts. You can pack shorts and vest tops for hanging around your hotel or the pool.
Pack a water bottle because many guest houses are eco friendly and have a refill and reuse policy to cut down on plastic waste. The drinking water is fine and many hotels supply cold purified drinking water.
Bugs bite particularly in the evenings in Cambodia and so a bug repellant is essential. Also the sun can get hot – this Christmas and New Year temperatures were exceeding 32 degrees and so sun screen is another essential.