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Updated by Joanna James on Aug 13, 2018
Headline for 5 Temples to Explore in Cambodia - The Best of Cambodia's Sacred Sites
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Joanna James Joanna James
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5 Temples to Explore in Cambodia - The Best of Cambodia's Sacred Sites

There are so many temples in Cambodia that it's hard to decide what to see first. The Angkor region was the seat of the Khmer Empire, and it's here where you'll find the top 5 temples in Cambodia.

1

Bayon

One of Angkor's most sacred temple complexes, Bayon is actually a mesmerizing, walled city, best known for its towers of faces. Dating back to the 12th century, the temple was built by the Khmer king, Jayavarman VII - and while it is undeniably beautiful work of art, it also captures the vanity of Cambodia's most revered king. The 54 towers located on the upper terraces in Bayon feature massive rock carvings on their facades of benevolent smiling faces that bear a striking resemblance to the king, as well as over 11,000 figures representing spiritual beings. Each structure here features an intricately carved story depicting scenes of daily life, war and mythological events. Following the death of the king, the empire converted to Hinduism and many of the Buddhist imagery found in the temple was simply worked over with Hindu symbols.

2

Ta Prohm

The setting of the 12th century temple is straight out of a movie - located amid the lush Cambodian jungles, the temple is held within the tight grasp of various roots and vines of trees that have grown over it. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the temple is the most popular site among tourists today. The Khmer king constructed the royal monastery, then known as Rajavihara, to his mother and the goddess Prajnaparamita, the goddess of wisdom. Ta Prohm features many towers, courtyards and narrow corridors; many of which are now blocked by stone blocks that have been toppled over time by the trees.

3

Preah Khan

One of the largest temple complexes at Angkor, the Preah Khan temple was built by the king in honour of his father. A maze of corridors, moss covered stonework, and carvings, makes up most of the temple. Several important statues that once existed at the temple have been removed for preservation, but there's still plenty to see here. Not only was Preah Khan a temple, but t also functioned as a university, and thus, contains two libraries that you can still walk through today. Much like Bayon, Preah Khan is a fusion temple that displays both Buddhist and Hindu imagery.

4

Angkor Wat

Built by King Suryavaram II in honour of the Hindu deity, Vishnu; the enormous temple is the most well-preserved temple in the Angkor complex, and unlike the other temples, has been in continuous use since its beginning. Surrounded by a moat, the towering structure is even more imposing close up - the bas-reliefs which run around the central temple are covered with intricately details depictions which cover historical events and mythological tales. The temple is best known for its enchanting stone carvings of asparas, celestial nymphs, over 3000 of which carved into the walls. Because of its great size, visitors need at least a good 3 to 4 hours to really explore this temple. Most visitors to the temple stay at a boutique hotel in Siem Reap, which are usually about 7km from Angkor, and head to the temple early morning to catch sunrise. Many of the hotels have temple exploration packages on offer, so do check on properties such as Anantara Angkor Resort, for any information on tour packages.

5

Banteay Srei

Built during the 10th century by a wealthy courtier to the king, and dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva, Banteay Srei temple is a work of art. While the scale of the temple is much smaller in comparison to other temples, it more than makes up for its size with its beauty. Intricate depictions of great Hindu mythological events cover the red sandstone walls and passageways. Carvings include doe-eyed women holding lotus blooms, and scenes from the epic Ramayana.