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The Medieval Kingdom | Temple Overload in Siem Reap, Cambodia

They lie in ruins, shambled by the earth’s seizures and the unforgiving wars of time. Its grand but hollow courtyards paint the picture of ancient temple dancers gracefully moving like the lotus in bloom. The stories of gods and kings intricately sculptured on its thick walls of sandstone are defaced and crumbling. There, they lie in ruins, the solid narratives of a fallen empire. There, they lie in ruins, the perpetual retelling of tales of kingdoms and wealth, spirituality and salvation.

The Angkor temple complex in Siem Reap is home to the greatest legacies of the ancient Khmer Empire, once Southeast Asia’s most powerful kingdoms that ruled over Cambodia, parts of Thailand, Laos and southern Vietnam. This empire took its earliest roots in 1stto 6th century kingdom called Funan. Until its decline in 15thcentury, 26 monarchs who built colossal monuments of their power and wealth governed the Khmer Empire.
King Jayavarman II, King Indravarman I, King Suryavarman II and King Jayavarman VII were the most popular and revered kings of ancient Cambodia. They were the master builders of medieval cities laden with complex and exquisite temples rising from placid motes, hills and mountains. There are hundreds of temples around Cambodia each telling stories of its achievements in war, art, various spiritual beliefs, mythologies and culture all immortalized on its impressive architectural techniques and aesthetic styles.
The constant battles for dominion during the Khmer Empire, the atrocities of world war, the changing beliefs in Hindu and Buddhism and the massive looting of precious relics have left these temples in severe disarray. Today, we are only left with the ruins of its glorious past.
Most of the temples that made Cambodia famous are in the northern Province of Siem Reap. From the 9thto 15th century, Angkor was the hub of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire that includes Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Angkor Thom that houses Bayon Temple. Several other temples are spread on the West Baray side, East Baray cluster and the Rolous Group in the south of Siem Reap.   
There are a lot of temples around Siem Reap and a short vacation is never enough to cover all these. Below are the temples clustered according to its geographic proximity and what can be realistically covered within a short vacation time.
The Angkor Cluster is the most visited site by tourists because it exemplifies the best of the Kingdom’s artistic, social and religious significance. It is inscribed in UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. (Suggested tour duration: 1 day)  
Angkor Wat
Among the famous monuments of the Khmer Empire, Angkor Wat is the image that created Cambodia. Built by King Suryavarman II around early 12th century and dedicated to Hindu God Vishnu. It sits on a quincunx layout where the 5 temple towers represents the mountain peaks of Mount Meru, the home of the gods.
Angkor Wat is an indisputable masterpiece of Khmer architecture.
Angkor Wat at sunrise.
Ta Prohm
Founded by King Jayavarman VII in the late 12th century as a Mahayana Buddhist temple, Ta Prohm is most famous for the huge trees growing out of its ruins. After the fall of the Khmer Empire, Ta Prohm was abandoned and was left as it was found in the early part of 21st century. Originally called Rajavihara or monastery of the king, Ta Prohm was dedicated to Jayavarman II’s family and it also served as a university.
The Jungle Temple of Ta Prohm – ethereal and surviving on a stranglehood of age-old trees.
One of the largest temple monuments in Angkor complex where roots & twigs break out from its ruins.
Bayon Temple
Built around the early part of 13thcentury, Bayon Temple was the state temple of King Jayavarman II. It towers at the heart of then Jayavarman’s capital of power called Angkor Thom. The most striking feature of Bayon is the multitude of faces carved on its stone towers. Although dedicated to Buddha, many scholars believe that these are representations of King Jayavarman II himself.
The Victory Gate of Angkor Thom where the enigmatic Bayon Temple resides.
The temple of hundred faces — symbolic, mythical & exceptionally beautiful.
Chau Say Tevoda and Thommanon
Built around the time Angkor Wat was constructed, Suryavarman II constructed the twin temples of Chau Say Tevoda and Thommanon in dedication to Hindu gods, Vishnu and Shiva. They stand 500 meters opposite to each other separated only by the narrow road that leads to Angkor Thom’s Victory Gate. Thommanon on the east side is more preserved showing intricate bas-reliefs of devata mudrasor female divine deities.
On the way to Bayon from Angkor Wat if you are taking Victory Gate.
Chau Say Tevoda Temple
Thomannon Temple
Ta Keo
Ta Keo is a prominent temple built like a pyramid with terraces to resemble Mount Meru. It had to be the state temple of King Jayavarman V but was left unfinished following his death.    
On the way to Bayon from Angkor Wat if you are taking Victory Gate.
The unfinished Ta Keo temple.
Banteay Kdei
Banteay Kdei is a smaller Buddhist temple believed to have been built in mid-12th century by Jayavarman II near the Srah Srang reservoir or the royal bathing pool. In Khmer, it means Citadel of Chambers where its structure is filled with cloisters.
On the way to Bayon from Angkor Wat if you are taking Victory Gate.
Banteay Kdei. Photo Credits:
Phnom Bakheng
Constructed in 9thcentury, about 2 centuries before Angkor Wat, Phnom Bakheng is a Hindu temple on top of a hill dedicated to Shiva. This was built during the reign of King Yasovarman. Today, Phnom Bakheng is a popular spot for sunset views overlooking the rest of the temple below it.
On the way to Angkor Wat & back to town proper via the South Gate.
Phnom Bakheng temple where spectacular Cambodian sunset happens. Photo Credits:
Preah Khan
Also known as the Temple of Sword, Preah Khan was built around 12th century for King Jayavarman VII on the site where it claimed victory over the invading Chams. Just like Ta Prohm, it has trees breaking from its ruins and the site is left untouched as it was cleared in the 1920s.
Preah Khan is located on the northeastern part of Angkor, best to include in your Day 2 temple itinerary with the rest of East Baray & Roulous Group temples.  
Built by the King to honor his father, Dharanindravaman.
The site where old Khmer empire defeated the Chams.
Baray is an artificial body of water that served as irrigation to farms aside from its symbolic representations of the oceans of creations that surround Mount Meru, the home of the gods. The water on East Baray is fed by Kulen Mountain (sacred mountain) flowing down into Siem Reap River. (Suggested tour duration: half day)
Banteay Srei
Regarded as the Jewel of Khmer Art, the temple of Banteay Srei is made of red sandstone with the most elaborate stone carvings of devatas(demi-goddess), dvarapala (guardian), and kala (symbolic toothy monster). Built in 10th century dedicated to Hindu God Shiva, Banteay Srei is unusually not commissioned by a King but a courtier named Yajnavaraha who served as counselor to King Rajendravarman II.  The temple is also called The Citadel of Women or Beauty.
Banteay Srei is the most enchanting temple in all of Cambodia, filled with intricate carvings on red sandstone.
Banteay Srei may look like a miniature temple but has the largest collection of preserved stone carvings.
Banteay Samre
Built under King Suryavarman II and Yasovarman II in the 12th century in sandstone similar to Banteay Srei. It is named after the ancient people of Indochina called Samre. This temple is dedicated to Hindu god Vishnu on the foot of Phnom Kulen (sacred mountain).
The Citadel of Samre, the ancient people of Indochina. Photo Credits: Michel Latendresse


The first capital of the Khmer Empire, also called Hariharalaya, Rolous is a small town 13 kilometers east of Siem Reap dotted with temples marking the classical age of Khmer civilization in the 9th century. (Suggested tour duration: half day)
Preah Ko
The oldest temple built in the defunct city of Hariharalaya in the 9th century. Preah Ko or the sacred bull is Hindu god Shiva’s mount. The temple was commissioned by King Indravarman I to honor the King’s family.
The oldest temple in the first capital of the Khmer Empire, Hariharalaya.
Bakong Temple
The first temple mountain in the kingdom constructed by King Indravarman I as his official state temple in Hariharalaya. Built in the late 9th century, it has a central temple pyramid surrounded by smaller towers at the bottom.
Bakong, the first pyramid temple in Hariharalaya to mimic Mt. Meru, the home of gods.
Lolei Temple
The last of the three 9th-century temples in the Rolous Group, Lolei was built by King Yasovarman I in honor of Hindu god Shiva. It originally sat on an island surrounded by now the dry river of Indratataka. There are 4 temples on a terrace dedicated to the king’s parents and grandparents.
Lo Lei used to stand in an island but as the river has dried up, it can now be accessed overland.
In our modern world where sleek and state-of-the-art buildings dominate the skyline, a beautiful universe of medieval temples stand still in a quiet Kingdom. These are not only monastic sanctuaries and monarchial seats but also an ancient civilization that gave birth to a glorious Indochina.


  • Get a 2-day pass for $40 USD and enjoy an extra 1 day for free.
  • If you are pressed against time, take the 1-day pass & just visit the Angkor Complex.
  • As early as 4am, ticket booths start to get a long queue.
  • Angkor Wat is best witnessed during sunrise and come back at around 4 or 5pm when the light is soft.
  • Catch the sunset at Phnom Bakheng.
  • To see the temples that matter, 2 to 3 days are needed. Take the Angkor Cluster on Day 1, East Baray and Rolous Group on Day 2. Spend your extra 1-day temple pass to see West Baray or go bike around the Angkor Complex. You may also enjoy an elephant ride inside Angkor Thom (Bayon Temple grounds).
  • If you come in summer, the sun can so be unforgiving. Wear proper sun protection & always hydrate.
  • Souvenir vendors can be very aggressive in these touristy areas. Be firm to say no if you really don’t want it.
  • Tour guides are available anywhere in Siem Reap. You may have a guide but not really necessary.
  • If you do not have a camera, photographers are available in the temple areas. They will save your photos on a USB and bring it to your hotel. This costs about $10-$20.
  • Taxis, private vehicles, tuktuk (rickshaws) are conveniently available. You may also rent a bike to see nearby temples (Angkor Complex).
  • If you are planning to sufficiently cover the best temples around Siem Reap, hire a taxi. A day tour costs $30 inclusive of gasoline.
  • While taxis may be more expensive than tuktuk, it will save you so much time in getting to your destinations and covering as many temples as you can, in your own pace.
  • Tuktuk costs about $12-$15 per day to reach the Angkor Complex but they normally charge you extra $3-$7 if you finish late or more for areas outsides the Angkor Complex (West & East Baray, Rolous Group).
  • Most of the time, deals with Tuktuk can be very tricky and they can be very aggressive.
  • Highly recommended taxi driver is Mr. Vin Vuth. He is trustworthy & respectful. He also doubles as a tour guide. He is punctual but not conscious if you take a little more time to finish as long you enjoy. He serves free water during the trip & really goes out of his way to deliver your requests. Contact him at or thru
  • Various flyers from Tourism Cambodia
  • Wikipedia

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    Comments ( 4 )

  • […] There’s more to life in Siem Reap than the usual temple run. From the smallest trinket and the lightest silk scarf to the biggest ceramic jar and the heaviest […]

  • […] Cambodia is no exception to these gastronomic surprises. In fact, the Khmer cuisine is one of the most distinctive flavors in this part of the region. Most diners believe that Khmer food only shadows the curry of India, the chili of Thailand and the pho of Vietnam. But be it remembered that Thailand and Vietnam were once part of the larger ancient and advanced Khmer empire. Could it be that both its closest neighbors developed its own cuisine from the Khmers? Could it also be the effects of trade, technology and media that just brought the Thais & Vietnamese food more popular? Could it be Cambodia’s war-torn history and long-time resentment to strangers that drowned its cuisine into anonymity?   […]

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