Top 5 temples to visit in Cambodia

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedintumblrmail

When it comes to temples, Cambodia has more than enough to be discovered. In just the Angkor region alone, there are over 100 stone shrines serving as evidence of the Khmer Empire’s Buddhist and Hindu beliefs. Come and join us on a Cambodia tour, as we venture into the jungles in search of revered architectural masterpieces.

Temple etiquette in Cambodia

  • Dress modestly – cover your arms, shoulders and legs.
  • Do not touch or sit on the ancient structures.
  • Pay attention to restricted areas.
  • Be respectful of monks.

Angkor Wat

A trip to Cambodia is not complete without a visit to this magnificent temple complex – one of the largest religious monuments in the world. This 7th Wonder of the World is sure to astound on our Cambodia tours with its classic style of Khmer architecture. Originally constructed as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu, this shrine was then transformed into a Buddhist temple at the end of the 12th century.

This UNESCO World Heritage Centre is one of Cambodia’s most iconic temples. Unlike many other Angkor monuments, this temple has never been abandoned and it has remained in use. The structure of the temple faces to the west, which is thought to be the direction of death. Many scholars believe that the temple was used as a tomb.

One of the temple’s main features is the 3,000 heavenly nymphs that are carved into its walls. On our Cambodia tours, you will notice how each nymph is unique and there are 37 different hairstyles. Surrounding the temple is a 190m-wide moat and visitors can access the temple via a sandstone causeway.

You will also see a towering statue of Vishnu, carved from a single block of sandstone. The statue’s eight arms hold a spear, a conch, a disk and a mace. It is not unusual for locks of hair to be lying around the statue as these are offering from young people preparing to get married as well as from pilgrims giving thanks. Past the main entrance, there are two libraries and two pools. The northern pool is a popular place to watch the sunrise. To truly explore this temple complex, you will need around three hours. The best time of day to visit is sunrise when the weather is cooler and it is less crowded.

Bayon

Situated in the centre of Angkor Thom, this 12th-century temple is a must-see on our Cambodia tours. Also known as Jayavarman’s Temple or the ‘face temple’, this shrine was built in honour of the Khmer king. Around 50 Gothic towers enclose the main temple and each tower features a smiling face. With serene smiles and closed eyes, the faces represent the all-knowing state of inner peace.

Given the temple’s eastward orientation, many visitors explore the temple in the morning. When you walk around the complex on our Cambodia tours, many of the heads are visible at any one time, creating an eerie atmosphere. Even today, there are still many unanswered questions when it comes to this temple, including its symbolism and function. In comparison to Angkor Wat, it does not look very impressive from a far distance. Only when you walk in through the main area, are you blown away by the design.

Three levels make up the temple’s structure and carvings on the wall show scenes from life in the 12th century. Boasting a Baroque style, the temple features elaborate decoration. There is no moat or walls surrounding this Buddhist shrine and the arrangement of the building appears crowded. Hidden in a dense jungle, this temple was built nearly 100 years after Angkor Wat.

Upon entering Bayon, you will be escorted by our guides through the labyrinth of maze-like passages, galleries and steps leading to different levels and nooks with low ceilings. The square gallery on the ground floor is scattered with eight entry towers, which are each constructed in the shape of a cross. The towers are beautifully decorated with intricate carvings of dancers, flowers and leaves. As there is no roof, you can get excellent photographs of these towers in the light.

Ta Prohm

In comparison to many other Angkorian temples, this shrine has not been reconstructed since it was discovered. Appropriately named the ‘Tomb Raider Temple’, this building’s crumbling towers with tropical trees protruding out of the walls was used as a location in the film Tomb Raider. You can’t help but feel like the ultimate explorer when meandering around the complex on our Cambodia tours.

Having been built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries, the temple was originally called Rajavihara and was founded by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is one of the most visited temples in the Angkor region.

According to the temple’s stele records, the site was home to more than 12,500 people (including 615 dancers and 18 priests). A vast collection of silks, pearls and gold were also housed in the temple. In the 15th century, the temple was abandoned for centuries. In 2013, wooden walkways and roped railings were put into place so tourists could visit, but not damage the monument.

Your guide on our Cambodia tour will point out that this temple’s layout is typical of a traditional Khmer temple and the design is based on one level. Five rectangular walls surround the central shrine and the main building faces the east, like most Khmer temples. Back when it was originally built, the temple was enclosed by two moats.

Several buildings can be found on the site, and it was believed that these included libraries and a hall. The trees growing out of the ruins are the most famous features, with silk-cotton trees and strangler fig trees being the most predominant species. One of the trees is also called the ‘Tomb Raider tree’ as it is the famous spot where Angelina Jolie’s character picked a jasmine flower. Visitors used to be able to climb some of the trees, but this is now prohibited.

Banteay Srei

Dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, this 10th-century temple can be found in Angkor. It is seen as a work of Angkorian art due to its pinkish hue and complex stone carvings. Despite being one of the smallest sites in Angkor, it is extremely impressive and has remained well preserved. When you visit the temple on our Cambodia tours, you will notice how some of the famous carvings are three-dimensional.

The name of the temple translates to ‘Citadel of the Women’, and it is believed to have been built by women, as the carvings are too intricate to have been created by men. The temple is also one of many shrines not have been built by a monarch, but rather by a counsellor to the king.

In 1914, the temple was rediscovered and restored. A drainage system was installed between 2000 and 2003 to prevent the site from water damage. Some of the statues were stolen and vandalised throughout the years and have been replaced by concrete replicas. If you check out the National Museum in Phnom Penh on our Cambodia tours, you can see that statue of Shiva from the original site. Most of the temple was built from hard red sandstone that can be easily carved. Brick was used for the walls and some structural elements. If you look above you when entering a doorway, you will see mythological scenes engraved into the pediment.

Across the main site, there are three rectangular enclosures. In the inner enclosure, there is an entrance chamber, a sanctuary, three towers and two buildings, which are believed to have been libraries. If you are looking for more information after your tour, a state-of-the-art exhibition provides detailed facts on the temple and its restoration. A small reservoir lies beyond the temple and you can enjoy a local boat trip through a lotus pond.

Phnom Bakheng

If you are looking for one of the best sunset spots in Cambodia, this hillside temple is the place. Overlooking Angkor Thom, the temple only accepts 300 visitors at any one time. To guarantee a spot, you need to arrive around 4pm. Also dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, this temple was built by King Yasovarman at the end of the 9th century. The word ‘phnom’ translates to ‘hill’ or ‘mountain’ in English. Given its hillside setting and spectacular sunset views, this temple is one of the most threatened temples in Angkor.

To reach this temple on a Cambodia tour, you will need to follow a path snaking up the hill. At the end of this path, there are some steep steps, which will take you to the entrance of the temple. Take care on these steps, as they can get quite crowded around sunset.

The structure of the temple consists of five tiers with seven levels. Each of the five tiers had 12 towers. The summit of the temple has four towers, which represent the cardinal points of a compass. The seven levels signify the seven Hindu heavens, and the number of towers correlates to the lunar calendar. Phnom Bakheng is said to have been home to the first of the temple-mountains built in Angkor.

The temple’s stepped pyramid design was constructed as a representation of Mount Meru, home of the Hindu gods. Across the five terraces, you will see shrines and lions embellishing the structure. These decrease in size towards the top of the temple.

Response to this post

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *