Cambodia’s Top 10 Temples

A crumbling wall made of large squared stones leaves a natural keyhole window standing.

A crumbling wall in Beng Melea Temple. Photo by nonuou licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

The god-kings of the Khmer Empire built a huge number of temples across Cambodia as well as in today’s southern Laos and parts of Thailand. The most famous, Angkor Wat, now attracts up to 6,000 visitors per day. Others, almost as spectacular but more remote, attract but a handful of visitors. Any list of favorites is subjective, of course, but these 10 buildings will not disappoint.

Angkor Wat: The largest religious building in the world. Awesome, stupendous; don’t miss it.

The Bayon: The enigmatic smiles of the bodhisattva follow visitors around this mysterious temple complex in the heart of Angkor Thom.

Beng Melea: Subsumed and enveloped by forest, this off-the-beaten-path complex has a special dark atmosphere, especially just after rain.

Ta Prohm: Sprawling temple compound, preserved as the French explorers of the 19th century Angkor saw it.

Banteay Srei: Marvel at the Khmer Empire’s finest carvings at this small temple just off the Angkor circuit but within easy distance of Siem Reap.

Koh Ker: Remote, forest-bound former Khmer capital and temple complex with a fascinating pyramid as its main monument. More than 100 structures deep in the forest make the journey worthwhile.

Preah Vihear: Politically controversial cliff-top temple on the Cambodian-Thai border with stupendous views over the Cambodian plains.

Banteay Chhmar: Rarely visited temple complex between Siem Reap and the Thai border, looted, overgrown, and remote enough to invoke illusions of being on an Indiana Jones–style mission.

Sambor Prei Kuk: A pre-Angkorian temple city near Kompong Thom shows the way of things that would come later.

Neak Pean: A minor ruin on the Grand Circuit, this small temple, constructed in a pond, comes into its own during and after the rainy season. A small romantic gem of a building, it’s a personal favorite.

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