The enigmatic Angkor Civilization or Khmer Empire flourished between the 9th and 13th century AD in Cambodia. Angkor’s capital, originally named Yashodharapura (meaning Glory-Bearing City), at its peak was one of the largest cities in the world.
Over two million travellers visit the small Siem Reap city every year and most will be there for three days just to see the most famous Angkor’s big five: Angkor Wat, Bayon, Terrace of the Elephants, Ta Prohm and Banteay Srey, which are all incredible and unique.
But under the Southeast Asian sun, there are thousands more monuments and temples left by the Khmer Empire and are scattered around northwest Cambodia all the way to southern Laos that are worth visiting. Most of these neglected temples are easily accessible from Siem Reap, but less known. The unusual and forgotten temples have not been fully restored yet and some are still half claimed by the jungle.
These temples offer the best excuse to get out of the city while seeing the Cambodian rural simplicity and feel this extraordinary country and people. Here are three of our favourite temples that tourists often miss:
Neak Pean, Angkor Area
This Buddhist temple on an artificial island on the Preah Khan Baray was built during the reign King Jayavarman VII. The actual structure is surrounded by water and nature and rarely visited by tourists or groups. The best time to be here is just before sunset when the evening sun together with flooded trees reflect on the water. It’s the perfect way to end of your day at the Angkor temples.
How to get there: When you’re in the main Angkor complex, ask your tuk tuk driver to take you to the Preah Khan temple. From there, find the long wooden footbridge that will take you to Neak Pean.
Koh Ker Complex, Preah Vihear
The Koh Ker complex is barely advertised around agencies around town, but the complex contains many unique temples that has rarely been visited by tourists until recently. Koh Ker was the capital of the Khmer Empire for a brief period from 928 to 944 AD. Compared to the popular Angkor temples, visiting these temples is a much more tranquil and authentic experience. You feel like an adventurer discovering and re-living a part of Cambodia’s long history.
How to get there: You can hire a taxi that will take you on the well-paved road 130 km north of Siem Reap to the temple area and will take about two hours. The temple pass is US $10 and gives you access to the whole complex.
This is the ultimate jungle temple and the full history of the temple is still unknown to this date. It was built as a Hindu temple, but there are Buddhist motifs on the temple, which is largely overtaken by trees and thick bush. It is definitely one of the most unique areas to visit and the surrounding area is peaceful.
It was among the Khmer empire’s larger temples and the center of a town surrounded by a moat. Beng Mealea was difficult to reach for years but now there is a road that goes straight to the complex and is 77 km from Riem Reap.
How to get there: You can hire a tuk tuk or car to take you for the 77 km journey from Siem Reap to Beng Melea, which takes about 2 hours. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, you can rent a motto and take a nice drive and stop on the villages for a drink or snack on the way to the temple. The entrance fee is US $5.