Top 12 Ancient Temples In Cambodia
Published on: January 22nd, 2024
Last modified: January 22nd, 2024
The Southeast Asian nation of Cambodia is positively packed with ancient temples. Each one reflects a different aspect of its rich cultural heritage, religious history and architectural traditions, offering a glimpse into the past of this captivating country.
Although Angkor Wat may be the most famous, there’s an incredibly diverse array of temples to visit across Cambodia – about 4,000 of them, in fact. One of the best things to do beyond Angkor Wat is to explore the country’s lesser-known but equally enthralling temples.
We’ve rounded up 12 of the best ancient temples in Cambodia, both within and beyond the Angkor temple complex. Our top picks can be found in the area around Siem Reap and the capital of Phnom Penh to off-the-beaten-track spots where you can experience Cambodia like a local.
1. Angkor Wat
The absolutely massive temple of Angkor Wat is what attracts most visitors to Cambodia in the first place. Built in the early 12th century by a Khmer king to honour the god Vishnu, it’s the world’s largest religious structure and is full of intricate stone carvings depicting Hindu epics.
Temple Tip:Angkor Wat is Cambodia’s most famous temple and tourist destination; to avoid the crowds, join an expert local guide for a sunrise tour of the site.
2. Bayon Temple
Located within the Angkor Thom temple complex, Bayon is known mainly for the enormous smiling faces carved into its stone towers. They represent Buddha, but were probably inspired by the likeness of King Jayavarman VII, who built the temple and dedicated it to Buddhism.
Temple Tip: Visit Bayon with a private guide who will help you understand the site’s significance and history. We also highly suggest sunset drinks on the moat of Angkor Thom.
3. Ta Prohm Temple
This picturesque structure is sometimes called ‘the Tomb Raider temple’ thanks to its appearance in the 2001 film. It boasts a breathtaking blend of architecture and natural beauty, with huge gnarled tree roots twisting through its windows and tumbling down its walls.
Temple Tip: Like many famous temples in Cambodia, Ta Prohm is best enjoyed in the cooler and quieter hours of the early morning.
4. Banteay Srei
Banteay Srei is unique for its relatively small size and distinctive rose-coloured sandstone, which features beautiful carvings of floral motifs and scenes from the Ramayana. It’s dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, and was built in the 10th century by two advisers to the Khmer king.
Temple Tip: Keep in mind that Banteay Srei, along with Bayon and the other Angkor temples, opens at 7.30am – two and a half hours later than Angkor Wat and Bakheng Temple.
5. Koh Ker
Located outside of Angkor in northern Cambodia, Koh Ker was at one point the capital of the Khmer Empire. This temple complex includes the towering pyramid of Prasat Thom and the red brick structure of Prasat Krahom, among others.
Temple Tip: Although Koh Ker is just two and a half hours from Siem Reap by car, we recommend staying overnight in the area so you have enough time to fully explore it.
6. Beng Mealea
Hidden deep in the jungle between Siem Reap and Koh Ker, Beng Mealea is a truly thrilling destination. The temple is unrestored and overrun with vines and plants, which makes visiting it feel like a genuine adventure.
Temple Tip: You can easily do a day trip from Siem Reap to Beng Mealea, or make it a stop on your journey to or from Koh Ker.
7. Preah Vihear
This remote cliff-top temple promises spectacular views of the surrounding plains and mountains. It dates back to the 9th century and boasts several impressive structures and carvings to complement its scenic location – right on the border with Thailand.
Temple Tip: We can organise a local guide and transport to make your visit to Preah Vihear as smooth and pleasant as possible.
8. Preah Khan
This 12th-century Buddhist temple complex was built by King Jayavarman VII to honour his father, and became a place for religious learning and celebration. It’s full of winding passageways, fascinating carvings and lush foliage.
Temple Tip: Combine Preah Khan with a visit to Neak Pean, an ancient hospital situated on an artificial island amidst pools believed to possess healing powers.
9. Wat Phnom
Cambodia’s lively capital of Phnom Penh is where you’ll find Wat Phnom: a towering pagoda built in the 14th century on the city’s only hill. This Cambodian landmark is known for its beautiful murals and eclectic design elements, and people often visit it to pray for good fortune.
Temple Tip: Expect to encounter a somewhat chaotic scene at the base of the hill, with local vendors hawking their wares to the Phnom Penh temple’s many visitors.
10. Banteay Kdei
Although it’s one of the Angkor temple, Banteay Kdei is often overlooked in favour of more famous ruins. But that just makes this labyrinthine Buddhist temple and monastery even more alluring, as you’re less likely to encounter large crowds.
Temple Tip: Don’t miss the Hall of Dancers, with its exquisite carvings of apsaras (shape-shifting female spirits).
11. Banteay Samré
This lesser-known Cambodian temple was originally made of the same red sandstone as Banteay Srei, and has an overall style similar to that of Angkor Wat. However, Banteay Samré stands out for its stone lions, serpentine balustrades and two ancient libraries.
Temple Tip: We often suggest visiting Banteay Samré and Banteay Srei on the same day, as they’re about a 30-minute drive apart.
12. Sambor Prei Kuk
The ruins of Sambor Prei Kuk are among the oldest in Cambodia, dating all the way back to the 7th century. The site consists of three temple complexes and 186 individual structures, many of which are entangled by tree roots and camouflaged within the forest.
Temple Tip: You can discover Sambor Prei Kuk on a scenic bicycle tour that also passes through rural villages and rice paddies.