A lot of travelers to South-east Asia use the terms “Angkor” and “Angkor Wat” interchangeably, but the two are not actually the same. “Angkor” is the Khmer word for “city,” so the term “Angkor” refers to the whole capital city of the Khmer Empire, which contains a large land mass and hundreds of different temples. As discussed in the previous post, Angkor Wat is the main temple, and Bayon and Ta Prohm are the next most visited.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t make an actual list of the temples I wanted to see when I visited Siem Reap, I just went along the trail my guide took me (with the exception of Banteay Srei and Banteay Samre). But if you want to make a list, these are my personal top five.
1. Banteay Srei
This was the most far-out temple that I visited (it’s about a 30 minute drive from Siem Reap) but totally worth it. This small temple is made with red sandstone so it really stands out from the rest. The carvings are very intricate and absolutely beautiful. Despite it’s remoteness, it’s actually very popular, so it might be better to get there early. There were busloads of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese tourists when I was there, and given the small size of the temple it seemed even more crowded than Angkor Wat.
Aside from the temple itself, the tuk-tuk ride here was also pleasant, through some very pretty villages and countryside. The Landmine museum is also on the way here and it’s worth a visit. Many Cambodians have been injured or killed by the thousands of landmines in the country planted during the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge. It was established by a former child soldier turned de-miner. Just ask the tuk-tuk driver to stop there. From my memory the tuk-tuk ride costs about $25.
2. Preah Khan
Preah Khan is like a less crowded and quieter Ta Prohm, but equally impressive.
3. Phnom Bakheng
This temple takes the third spot for me because of the views of Angkor Wat from the top. The climb up to the mountain temple isn’t terribly difficult but it was quite strenuous for me in the heat.
4. Neak Pean
This isn’t anything close to the biggest or grandest of Angkor’s surrounding temples, but I really liked this one because of it’s setting within a pond. To reach it, cross a thin wooden bridge.
5. East Mebon
Built in the same style as the Pre Rup temple, the two are pretty much interchangeable, but I’m mentioning East Mebon because it’s the one I visited. It’s set on a mountain with nice views, and while fairly small it’s very symmetrical.
There are plenty of other temples in the complex alongside these five, and other temples even farther from the main area (such as Beng Mealea). These were just the favorites out of the ones I saw. A lot of people tend to get “templed out” after having seen so many temples in Angkor, and I would agree that they do get somewhat repetitive after awhile, but at the same time the reliefs and styles are often pretty unique and worth taking time to explore.
In the next post, I’ll discuss activities to do in Siem Reap city, aside from the temples.