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The temples of Angkor
The temples of Angkor, just a few miles north of Siem Reap, are without doubt the most famous, most enormous, most impressive and most important attraction not only in Cambodia but possibly in the whole of Southeast Asia. It is not until you actually get amongst the ruins themselves that you really appreciate the scale of the entire temple complex that includes the iconic Angkor Wat. The temples were built between the 9th and 14th centuries by a succession of god-kings and consist of 100 or so religious monuments that formed the heart of the ancient Khmer civilisation. The heights of sophistication reached by the Khmers can only be guessed at but there is no doubt that the temples of Angkor are the legacy of a highly developed society. From the 15th century the temples were abandoned, forgotten by the world until their rediscovery in 1861 by French naturalist Henri Mouhot.
The scale and beauty of Angkor Wat is bound to amaze the first time visitor and the 200 smiling faces at the Bayon will leave a lasting impression on all that are lucky enough to see them. As well as the major temple complex, in and around Angkor Wat, there are smaller, but no less dramatic, temples that were ‘lost’ to the jungle and still have huge banyan trees growing through the middle of their former royal buildings.
Angkor is undoubtedly one of the finest archaeological sites in the world and as such attracts a large number of visitors each year. However we can plan your itinerary so that you avoid the crowds wherever possible and make the most of this unmissable attraction.
How long you stay in Siem Reap depends on how much you wish to see at Angkor. Ideally you should stay at least 3 nights in the region to see the most important temples which are Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, The Bayon, Preah Khan and Ta Phrom. You may also wish to see some of the smaller outlying temples which receive less visitors.
For more detailed historical information about the temples surrounding Siem Reap please click below.
The Angkorian period was established in the 9th century by King Jayavarman II who proclaimed Cambodia's independence from Java and established his state in Roluos. Subsequent centuries saw the Kingdom develop and grow in stature, perhaps reaching its peak in the first half of the 12th century with the reign of Suryavarman II, who was responsible for building Angkor Wat. Unfortunately he was also responsible for starting a war with the Chams of Vietnam which resulted in the sacking of Angkor in 1177.
Cometh the hour cometh the man and after the disastrous sacking of Angkor, Jayavarman VII restored Khmer pride by defeating the Chams and claiming the crown in 1181. As king he set out on an incredible building programme, completely rebuilding Angkor Thom and building new temples at Preah Khan, Ta Prohm and Banteay Kdei. After the death of this last great king, at the beginning of the 13th century, the Khmer kingdom started to fall apart and in the 15th century Angkor was abandoned and the kings of Cambodia established a new capital on the banks of the lower Mekong.
9th Century Temples
- Roluos Group (Hariharalaya) - Hindu temple
The monuments of the Roluos Group are located 10 miles east of Siem Reap. Originally called Hariharalaya this group of monuments served as the capital of King Jayavarman II and his son Jayavarman III. The surrounding temples of Bakhong, Preah Kho and Lolei were built during the reigns of the succeeding king Indravarman I and his son. They represent the start of Khmer classical art.
9th to 10th Century Temples
- Phnom Bakheng
Phnom Bakheng is the first mountain temple built in the vicinity of Angkor. Yacovarman I, son of Indravarman I, built his capital Yacodharapura at this site.
- Prasat Kravan (921) - Hindu (Vishnu) temple
The Prasat is composed of 5 bricks towers and was built by Hashavarman I. Two of these towers are decorated with bas-reliefs representing Vishnu and Lakshmi.
- Eastern Baray & Eastern Mebon (952) - Hindu (Shiva) temple
The massive Eastern Baray reservoir was built under Yasovarman I. It measures 1800 by 7000 metres and was filled by the Siem Reap River. Later, Rajendravarman II erected the Eastern Mebon on an islet in the reservoir.
- Pre Rup (961) - Hindu (Shiva) temple
This temple is similar to the Eastern Mebon and was also built by Rajendravarman II.
- Phimeanakas - Hindu (Shiva) temple
This small pyramid shaped temple, located in the middle of the Royal Enclosure, was built during the Rajendravarman II period. Its name means \"Celestial Palace\".
- Banteay Srei (967) - Hindu (Shiva) temple
Extraordinarily well preserved and considered by many to be the jewel in the crown of classical Khmer art, this small temple was built during the reign of Jayavarman V. Made of rose-coloured sandstone, its walls are exquisitely carved and its bas-reliefs are among the most accomplished of Angkor.
11th Century Temples
- Takeo - Hindu (Shiva) temple
This mountain temple, built under Jayavarman V, is an imposing pyramid and one of the first Angkorian monuments built entirely in sandstone. Its decoration was never completed.
- Baphuon - Hindu (Shiva) temple
Built by Udayadityavarman II this was the main Khmer city prior to the construction of Angkor Thom. The wall on the second level of the west side was fashioned into a 40m long reclining Buddha. The temple cannot be visited at the moment due to reconstruction.
- Beng Melea - Buddhist temple
Nestled in the jungle, the temple is largely overrun by vegetation. Constructed in a distinctly Angkor Wat style, the temple was built early in the early 11th century and may have served as a prototype for Angkor Wat.
12th Century Temples
- Angkor Wat - Hindu (Vishnu) temple
The most famous temple of Angkor, built by Suryavarman II, has an unusual West facing orientation due to its dedication to Vishnu. Its design replicates the spatial universe in miniature, composed of the Mount Meru, surrounded by the continents and the oceans. Its 800 metre long series of bas-reliefs depict epic events of Khmer history and myths.
- Banteay Samre - Hindu (Vishnu) temple
Built by Suryavarman II, its well preserved reliefs depict scenes from Vishnu and Krishna legends.
- Ta Prohm (1186) - Buddhist temple
Found in the 19th century by Henri Mouhot, Ta Prohm still has the huge banyan trees that swarm over its ruins and looks today, pretty much, as it would have done when the French explorer first saw it. Jayavarman VII dedicated this temple to his mother. It is a temple of towers, courtyards and narrow corridors, which are often impassable because of the vegetation and large trees that give the temple its unique character.
- Banteay Kdei - Buddhist temple
Also built by Jayavarman VII the structure is surrounded by 4 concentric walls. Garudas decorate its 4 entrances. The inside of the central tower was never finished.
- Srah Srang
This artificial lake was used for ritual bathing by the royal family.
- Preah Khan (1191) -Buddhist temple
The \"Sacred Sword,\" was built by Jayavarman VII for his father and covers a very large area (700m by 800m). Its elaborate lintels and panels are richly decorated with bas-reliefs depicting Buddhist motifs and Hindu epics. The temple falls under the protection of the World Monument Fund.
- Neak Pean
Built by Jayavarman VII and used for ritual purification. Four smaller square pools arranged on each axis surround this square pool. In the centre of the main one is a circular island encircled by 2 nagas.
- Bayon - Buddhist temple
Located in the exact centre of the city of Angkor Thom, the Bayon was built by Jayavarman VII. Its 54 towers are decorated with over 200 smiling faces of Avalokiteshvara and give the temple its unique character. Its very well preserved bas-reliefs represent everyday life in the 12th century.
- Elephants Terrace - Buddhist influence
Built by Jayavarman VII, it was a viewing platform from which kings and their courtiers watched military displays of pomp and pageantry. It measures 350m long and is decorated with carvings, including elephants in hunting scenes, garudas and lions.
- Terrace of the Leper King - Buddhist temple
Built by Jayavarman VII, this 7m high platform hosts a statue of what was thought to be the Leper King. In fact, it is a representation of Yama, the god and judge of the dead. Stunning carvings adorn the walls of the walkway.