A complete guide to all the temples of Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap
Siem Reap is the gateway to the Angkor Archaeological Park, in addition to being the home to several Wats and the Angkor Museum. The town is strewn with hostels, restaurants and resorts to meet the requirements of the Angkor travelers. The Pub Street, a walking street dotted with bars and pubs on both sides is the main hub of the town’s nightlife and is extremely popular with tourists. (Here is my detailed account of Siem Reap and its nightlife)
Angkor Archaeological Park:
The Angkor Archaeological Park is vast (approx. 400 sq. km) can be quite confusing. I have to summarize all the Angkor temples below, including the best shrines to view sunrise and sunsets.
The Angkor Archaeological Park temples are divided into 5 sections-
(A) Angkor Wat & Angkor Thom,
(B) Little Circuit,
(C) Big Circuit,
(E) Roluos Group
(F) Outlying Temples, and
How to Explore:
The temples can usually be covered in 3 days but you can also pick the most famous temples and skip the rest (unless time is a major constraint, I wouldn’t suggest skipping any). We’ve done the Angkor trip by hiring a tuktuk. The prices will differ depending on the temples you want to cover. To catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, you will have to pay an extra amount to the tuktuk drivers.
There is an admission fee to Angkor Park that needs to be purchased from the APSARA office (Authority for Site Protection and Management of the Angkor Region). Entry tickets are available for 1 day ($37), 3 days ($62) and 7 days ($72).
The Temple Park:
A) Angkor Wat & A. Thom
- Angkor Wat (sunrise point)
Angkor Wat is the world’s oldest and biggest religious architecture. You should enter from the West Gate after crossing the moat surrounding the temple complex. Angkor is famous for watching sunrise so arrive early to secure a good place among thousands of tourists with cameras and tripods.
Angkor Wat (“Temple City”) was constructed by King Suryavarman II in the mid 12th century. It is a Hindu temple dedicated to God Vishnu. The shrine was his state temple in the capital city of Yasodharapura (now Angkor). Gradually, Angkor Wat was converted into a Buddhist educational center towards the end of the 12th century. The temple is a representation of Mt. Meru, the home of the Gods. Intricate designs adorn the temple walls. There is a Buddha statue among the ruins that the monks still worship. The temple has an outer gallery and an inner “bakan” gallery. The bakan is a steep climb up and provides a wonderful view from the top. Sleeveless dresses, shrugs and uncovered knees are not permitted here.
- Angkor Thom – Bayon, Baphuon, Elephant Terrace, Terrace of the Leper King, Phimeanakas, Phnom Bakheng (sunset point)
A) Angkor Thom:
This was the Khmer Empire’s last capital town, established by King Jayavarman VII, on the banks of the Siem Reap River in the early 12th century. The King’s face adorns the gate. A moat surrounds the south gate on all sides. The causeway to the gate has rows of deva on the left and asura on the right side, each row holding a tug-of-war style 7-headed naga.
The Bayon is the most popular and significant of all temples in Angkor Thom, known for a cluster of smiling faces on its upper terrace. While few historians have speculated the faces to be of King Jayavarman VII, many others think it is the bodhisattva of wisdom – Avalokiteshvara.
Baphuon, a 3-tiered temple mountain, was devoted to Shiva. It also has a reclining Buddha carved on the wall, if you observe sharply.
Terrace of the Elephants:
Jayavarman VII used to watch his victorious returning army from the terrace. It has elephant carvings on its surfaces. Next to it lies the Palace of Phimeanakas, dilapidated and inaccessible to visitors.
Terrace of the Leper King:
The Leper King’s Terrace draws inspiration from the statue of the Hindu Death God – Yama, discovered there. The statue, discolored and coated with moss, gave the impression of an individual with leprosy. Thus the term “Leper” King.
B) Temples of the Little Circuit
- Ta Keo
- Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider shooting site)
- Banteay Kdei
- Sras Srang (sunset point)
Jayavarman V built Ta Keo as the state temple dedicated to Shiva. Inside the temple complex there is a sculpture of Nandi – the Bull. The temple has five towers surrounded by a moat. When we visited Ta Keo, it was under restoration.
T. Prohm, constructed by Jayavarman VII, was featured in the Hollywood film Tomb Raider. The temple was a Mahayana Buddhist convent and college. The temple . Ta Prohm is popular with visitors because of its photogenic trees growing out of the temple walls. Jayavarman VII built Rajavihara (or Ta Prohm) in honor of his family. The primary image of the temple depicted Prajnaparamita (the personification of knowledge) and depicted his mother. The trees growing out of Ta Prohm’s ruins are the primary attraction of the temple.
Ta Prohm is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Archeological Survey of India and APSARA has currently undertaken the restoration work of the temple.
Banteay Kdei & Sras Srang:
Banteay Kdei or the Citadel of Monks was constructed by Jayavarman VII. Its architectural style is comparable to that of Bayon. In front of Banteay Kdei is the Srah Srang which was the royal bathing pool. Sras Srang is surrounded by large trees and brilliant turquoise blue water. It’s an ideal location to watch the sunset if you want to avoid the crowd at Phnom Bakheng.
C) Roluos Group
- Preah Ko
King Indravarman I constructed Preah Ko or Sacred Bull. The 6 towers of the Shiva temple were dedicated to the King’s family members.
King Indravarman I constructed Bakong out of sandstone. The temple served as the state temple of the town of Hariharalaya (known today as Roluos). A moat surrounds the temple complex on both sides and seven-headed nagas adorn the causeway leading upto the temple. Beautiful trees with blooming pink flowers flanks both sides of the brick red road leading to the temple complex.
Mount Meru style adorns the temple. The temple complex has many structural ruins that indicate the significance of Bakong as a state temple in that era. You will have to climb the steep stairs to the main tower guarded by lion statues. Bakong was devoted to Shiva but is now a Buddhist temple.
From Bakong we visited the temple of Lolei constructed by Indravarman I. The temple was dedicated to Shiva and members of the royal family. Lolei used to be an island temple that has dried up now. During our visit, the temple was under reconstruction.
D) Temples of the Big Circuit
- West Mebon
- Ta Som
- Neak Pean
- Preah Khan
- Pre Rup (sunset point)
Rajendravarman constructed West Mebon on an island and devoted to Lord Shiva and his parents. The stairs leading to the main temple has an elephant structure.
Ta Som was constructed by Jayavarman VII and devoted to his father Dharanindravarman II. The temple is filled with enormous fig trees growing out of the ruins. On either side of the temple there are two libraries.
Jayavarman VII constructed Prasat Neak Pean (entwined serpents). You need to cross a lake with shallow waters to reach the temple. The lengthy wooden walkway makes the 3-4 minute walk quite enjoyable. 4 smaller ponds surround the main pond of the temple. The main pond symbolises Lake Anavatapta, a mythical lake in the Himalayas, believed to heal illness.
Neak Pean served as a a hospital in those days. The four smaller ponds symbolize water, earth, fire, and wind. The stone structures of Elephant, Bull, Horse and Lion corresponding to North, East, South and West connect each of these pools to the main pool. Water used to flow through these mouth of these animals and the pilgrims would cleanse themselves with the healing water. The main pond contains a tiny temple surrounded by two nagas, giving its name to the temple island. The horse statue is that of Balaha, a form of Avalokitesvara, stands even today.
Jayavarman VII constructed Preah Khan (sacred sword) to dedicate it to his father. Preah Khan had acted as a temple city with common people living just outside the temple complex. The temple even had a wealth of gold, silver and jewels. There are carvings of the mythical bird Garuda fighting Naga snakes in the outer enclosure. The next enclosure was the “House of Fire” or dharamsala. Apsaras carvings adorned the walls of the Hall of Dancers. Two libraries were next to the hall. Preah Khan’s main temple was Buddhist where the father of the king was depicted as Avalokitesvara. The other three temples were devoted to Shiva, past rulers, and Vishnu. There are Vishnu carvings reclining on Ananta, Krishna lifting Mount Govardhan, Vishnu, Brahma and several battle scenes. Like Ta Prohm, Preah Khan also has several huge trees growing out of the ruins.
The temple was constructed by Rajendravarman and dedicated to Shiva. Pre Rup means “turning the body”. It shows that the temple also served as a crematorium where the bodies were turned in all directions while burning them. At the top there are four towers that housed the deities of Lakshmi, Uma, Vishnu and Shiva. Pre Rup is a popular sunset spot. We skipped Phnom Bakheng to see the sunset from here. It’s a steep climb to the top of the temple. Pre Rup offers a beautiful view of the setting Sun in the midst of a green landscape.
E) Outlying Temples
- Banteay Srei
- Banteay Samre
- Beng Mealea
Banteay Srei or the “city of women” was a pilgrimage site. The old name of the temple was Isvarapura” or city of Shiva”. The temple is made of red sandstone and known for intricate carvings and exquisite detailing of artwork.
F) Kulen Mountain/ Kbal Spean
- Kbal Spean
- Preah Ang Thom
Kbal Spean is located at a 1 hour distance from the city. It is a 1.5 km (40 mins) hike up to the waterfall through the Kulen mountain forests. Kbal Spean was founded in 1969 and opened to visitors in 1989. The riverbed cuts through sandstone formations carving many mythological figures on it, like Vishnu, Lakshmi, Brahma, Shiva, Rama, and Hanuman. 1000 Shiva lingas were carved in the riverbed during the reign of King Suryavarman I. The hike is comparatively difficult and leaves you breathless, although APSARA has marked the meandering route well.