Cambodia’s history dating back to the 1st to the 6th century shows traces of Indian Civilisation. It is noted as the oldest regional Hindu culture, which suggests prolonged socio-economic interaction with maritime trading partners of the Indosphere in the west.
The rock-cut temples are architectural marvels. The lush green forests of Cambodia serve as the perfect tropical setting for the worn yet beautiful temple complexes.
Below is the list of 15 Temples every Architect must visit in Cambodia:
1. Angkor Wat
The list needs to be started with this Temple Complex. With an area spanning 400 square miles, Angkor Wat is the largest temple complex in the world. The silhouette of this temple appears on the National Flag. The structure was originally built as a Hindu temple but later converted into a Buddhist monastery. The outer gallery has sculptures depicting scenes from the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Angkor Wat boasts an artificial system of canals and reservoirs which harnessed river and rainwater for around 750,000 residents for the world’s largest pre-industrial city. The reason for the abandonment of this site still remains a mystery.
2. Banteay Srei
A Hindu temple that is slightly smaller in size but is known as the art gallery of Cambodia for its artistry. The ruins are ornate with motifs, figures of God, and some very precise carvings making the structure beyond perfect.
This temple dates back to the 10th Century and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. This was among the first temples to be restored. It is the only temple in Angkor which was commissioned by a Brahmin and not a ruler.
Bayon is also located in the complex of Angkor and is known for the massive stone faces carved into the side. The temple is compact and has narrow passages which make it more intimate and give more depth. The most unique thing about this temple is that it sits amongst the trees without any outer walls or city gates.
4. Neak Pean
Neak Poan is a small temple that sits in the middle of a tiny artificial lake. “Neak Pean” translates to ‘entwined serpents’ and many historians believe that the structure and its surrounding represent Anavatapta—a mythical lake that is said to have medicinal values. This temple can not be actually visited but it makes up to be a beautiful site.
5. Angkor Thom
Angkor Thom is one of the most visited temples of the Angkor complex as this was the last great capital of the Khmer empire. It has an old fortified city spread out in many areas and has five different entrance gates. It houses the Bayon temple.
One of the highlights—“Terrace of Elephants” is an impressive 350-meter long depiction of a famous battle in Khmer history.
6. Preah Khan
Preah Khan was built in the 12th Century and served as a shrine for both Hindu and Buddhist followers. This is one of the largest complexes at Angkor built by Jayavarman VII in honor of his father, marking the defeat of the Chams. It is surrounded by a moat and has trees and shrubbery growing amongst the ruins that combine the beautiful carvings, stonework, and crumbling ruins.
This complex is largely unpreserved—which has led the plants to grow through the buildings giving it a very old-time charm. We can imagine the pride the king took in the event and the creation of the building, as the name Preah Khan literally translates to the Holy Sword.
7. Pre Rup
Built in 961, Pre Rup served as the King’s state temple. This temple too is located inside the Angkor complex. This temple has been built entirely in brick and sandstone—the Sun rays make it glow during the sunrise and the sunset. The towers had some very detailed carving but they have been eroded over time due to rains.
8. Banteay Kdei
Banteay Kdei will mesmerize you with its ornate garudas. Built in the 12th Century, this temple is also called the Citadel of Chambers. This temple was beautified with sculptures of women. Today, as it lies in ruins, it is usually less crowded. The time spent here in turn is very tranquil.
9. Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm is one of the most photographed temples of Cambodia. It largely dates back to the 12th century. It is recognized by its labyrinth pattern of roots that cover the structures. According to a Sanskrit stone sculpture, the details of its authorities were once portrayed in the walls of the temples.
10. Phnom Krom
This temple is located roughly 12 kilometers from Siem Reap and sits on top of a hill shrouded by a local legend. This temple dates back to the 9th century and is dedicated to the Hindu Gods—Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The climb is steep yet rewarding with beautiful views of nearby villages.
11. Beng Mealea
Beng Mealea, considered one of the most interesting temples, is accessed from Siem Reap and is popular with adventure travelers. The complex is very unpreserved, lying in ruins and overrun by the jungle, and visitors will scramble over the rubble to explore the place.
12. Koh Ker
For some peace and quiet, go to Koh Ker’s temple. Koh Ker is one of the most remote complexes in the area, accessed on a day trip from Siem Reap and is almost covered in heavy foliage and consumed by nature.
Visitors can still see about two dozen landmarks, while the rest are concealed in the forest, and chances are you will find yourself alone when you explore the remaining temples of the city.
13. Phnom Bakheng
Phnom Bakheng, a temple about two centuries older than Angkor Wat, was an architectural landmark of Yasodharapura, the first capital of the Khmer Empire. The temples’ five-tiered shikhara catches the eye, and so do the four towers set up on the summit. The temple is mostly visited by many visitors during the late afternoons as it serves as a beautiful viewing point for sunset views.
14. Sambor Prei Kuk
This UNESCO world heritage site was estimated to have been built around the mid-6th to early 7th centuries, prior to the famous Angkorian temples. This was the Khmer empire’s initial capital and is about 300 years older than Angkor! A common design for pre-Angkor temples, the decorated sandstone became known as the decorative style of Sambor Prei Kuk.
For anyone looking to get off the beaten track (literally) and escape the crowds, this is a perfect place to explore. This is an interesting pit stop if you’re planning to see the capital city after visiting all the temples surrounding Siem Reap! Nearby is Tonle Sap Lake, South-Eastern Asia’s largest freshwater lake.
15. Banteay Chhmar
In northwest Cambodia, this temple is located in the Banteay Chhmar district. The Angkorian temple of the 12th century was largely unchanged for around 800 years, after which travelers eventually visited it. The site has never been restored and is situated in a very remote area, so it will feel like you are exploring the temple for yourself!
It was built for King Jayavarman II in the late 12th to early 13th centuries and was later reconstructed as a funeral temple for his battle-killed sons. The temple was once the center of the ancient city, but there are no other buildings remaining. This is the spot for you if you want to embrace your side of the explorer!