We have listed the sites below that we visited. A brief description or things of interest have been noted, along with a few pictures. Check out the Siem Reap album in our photo gallery for many more pictures of the temples. There are many more sites further out from the frequently viewed circuit. Some of them are well worth a visit if you have the extra time. The ones listed below along with Angkor Wat took up 4 full days of our viewing time. We probably take a bit longer due to our obsession with photography, but that being said, none of the sites deserve to be rushed through.
Ta Prohm has been left intentionally in an unrestored state. This gives you an idea of what a lot of the ruins looked like when they were re-discovered. A great deal of work has been done to prevent further collapsing. It is a fascinating place to wander through and explore. Trees with gigantic roots are growing over top of buildings as if they are giant claws about to lift them away. It makes for some great photography.
This temple area used to be an entire city of it’s own. The existing temple only occupies one of the total 60 hectares that it once encompassed. The unrestored state of this site along with it’s size and complexity of the layout can make it difficult to get around. It’s best to get a map or guide book that tells you how to navigate it.
One of our favorite areas was called Angkor Thom. It was one of the largest Khmer cities. It was built in the late 12th century and probably remained the capital until the 17th century. The city walls are surrounded by a moat which enclose a square approximately 3km on each side. There are 5 gates into the city. Each is massive in height and has a huge face at the top looking down at you as you enter. The opening at the bottom is still used today to get into the area. Its quite nerve racking to see a large bus try to squeeze through.
One of the temples inside the city is called the Bayon. We loved this place. It has many narrow chambers and corridors giving it maze like qualities. The many faces on the towers make for a fascinating experience. For those of you that have seen the movie Tomb Raider with Anjolina Jolie, you will recognize the pictures. The heads of the Bayon were used in the movie. There is a restaurant in town where Anjolina and the rest of the film crew hung out in their spare time. It has drinks and food named after her and the movie.
Within the Angkor Thom area are the Elephant Terrace and the Leper King Terrace. The Elephant Terrace was an area used for Royal reception. It’s name comes from the many elephants carved along the walls. The Terrace of the Leper King had hundreds of relief carvings, some of them in very narrow hidden passage ways. These terraces form an edge of the Royal square that was the site of the Royal Palace and the Phimeanakas pyramid.
This is a giant temple carved entirely out of sandstone. This monument has got to have the steepest set of stairs out of any of the ones we climbed. The steps are extremely narrow and it seems as if the pitch just goes straight up. We managed to get up to the top okay, but it seemed a lot more difficult to try and go back down. Once you reach the top of the temple, climb any one of the staircases of the central tower to get a rewarding view over the forest. It is particularly nice to do near sunset.
The Banteay Kdei site is a long narrow area that you can explore from front to back. There is a hall library building and a hall of dancers set in the middle section. The area is a pleasant setting to walk around, we found it to be one of the better temples to visit in the heat of the day. The many trees provide some relief from the hot sun. We met a pair of monks at this site. They could speak some English and were both eager to practice their language skills with us.
This is a smaller site and doesn’t have the grandeur of some of the others, but we felt it was interesting enough to warrant a visit if you have time. You can have some of these less popular temples all to yourself. The “package tour groups” don’t have time to put them on their list. This temple is constructed of brick giving it a different look than others we had viewed. Inside are very fine brick bas-reliefs, the only known examples of their type in Khmer art.
Like many other temples, Pre Rup was once the center of a city. Nothing is left of the other dwellings or it’s boundaries. It would have occupied a one square kilometer area. This is a tall temple that rises up steeply to a square platform. It has a cistern that you can look into. There is a stone cistern and two tall brick libraries. We climbed to the highest level of the temple and went to the opposite side from where we had entered, where we sat and watched the sunset.
Preah Khan was much more than a temple. It had over 1000 teachers, it appeared to be a Buddhist university, and a large city. The main entrance to the temple is over a causeway lined with large statues. There are many interesting features on this site, including a unique round columned two story building. It’s full of nooks and crannies to explore, everywhere you look are different figures and carvings to look at.
This is a very small monument, we didn’t find it very interesting. I’m sure it would be better visually to see in December or January when the pond in front of it is supposed to have water in it. Otherwise I would not recommend going out of your way to get to it.