Just about all the tours in Cambodia feature the famous Angkor Wat and a visit there is definitely a must. However, there are many lesser known temple complexes that are impressive to explore and don’t have the crowds associated with the major sites. If you are looking for a little adventure or want to see more of the Angkor or Bayon legacy then read on for some of the hidden highlights of the temples of Cambodia.
Koh Ker – Cambodia
Koh Ker is a two hour drive from Siem Reap but worth the journey. Although it is a set of ruins today, Koh Ker was once the capital of Angkor. Well off the major tourist trail, quite often you will be the only person walking around the mysterious shaped red bricked towers at Prasat Bram. Mostly enveloped by giant fig trees, the eerie shapes created by the roots are a magical sight.
Another part of the Koh Ker complex is at Prasat Krahom or the Red Temple which is atmospheric to explore. As you enter the main complex, you will be greeted by the seven tiered pyramid at Prasat Thom. This temple is completely different from the other Angkoran temples but still serene and majestic with panoramic views of the countryside from the summit.
Banteay Chhmar – Cambodia
Located near the Thai border in North West Cambodia, Banteay Chhmar was once a massive monastery that has now fallen into ruins. It is possible to camp or use a local farm stay which is part of a co-operative. The real excitement comes from exploring the ruins which feels and looks like a scene from Indiana Jones. You’ll need strong boots to clamber over the rocks and will need to be vigilant for snakes, scorpions, and spiders. Remember, this about having a little adventure! It is also vital to stay on the main paths. Cambodia was one of the most heavily mined countries in the world and even today there is ordnance in some areas.
At Banteay Chhmar there are the dramatic four faced Avalokiteshvaras staring out with enigmatic smiles, a sign of Bayon architecture, and stone warriors on a bridge. The most iconic feature here is the massive bas relief on the eastern wall depicting battles and daily life. While much of Banteay Chhmar has been looted there is a very special atmosphere here in this rarely visited complex. Nearby the smaller temple at Banteay Top stands out among the rice paddies and is another very beautiful place to visit in this area.
Banteay Srei – Cambodia
Known as the Ladies’ Temple, Banteay Srei is an easy tuk tuk or taxie ride from Siem Reap and is exquisite. The reflections of the temple in the moat are beautiful but the carved apsara dancers are the real feature. This is a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva and the artisanship is among the finest in Asia. This is one of the few temples around Siem Reap that was not commissioned by a king. A tutor to Jayavarman V was believed to have commissioned the temple which was started in AD 967.
Cambodia has many famous temples. Most can be seen on an Angkor ticket so plan your journey carefully to take in the lesser known temples of Cambodia as well as the more popular sites.