One of the biggest tourism draws to Cambodia is the spectacular temples of Angkor, bastions of an ancient empire centred around modern-day Siem Reap. Often the focal points of any visit to Cambodia, the Angkor Temples are usually a must-see destination for any first-time visitor – but many stop short of exploring all of Cambodia’s temple complexes. Those that commit time and energy to exploring temples either in greater Siem Reap or in other parts of the country are rewarded for their efforts. Smaller crowds coupled with fascinating back-stories make Cambodia’s temples a mesmerising glimpse into the ancient history of the country and its people.
No visit to Cambodia would be complete without a thorough exploration of Siem Reap’s Angkor Temple Complex, one of the largest temple complexes in the world. While you’re here, make sure to visit its gems: Angkor Wat, Bayon, Elephant Terrace, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm Temple, considered its highlight temples. With a bit more time, head further out to Pre Rup – a great temple to catch sunset – and Banteay Srei, a pink sandstone temple located about 30 kilometres north of Angkor.
Just outside of Phnom Penh, Phnom Chisor Temple is far enough outside of the city that most won’t make the trek to see it – but those that do are happy they did. Built in the Angkorian era, the temple is reminiscent of the Angkor temples in Siem Reap. Tonle Bati, set near a lake about 30 kilometres south of Phnom Penh, is a popular weekend getaway for locals and makes for a great escape from the city.
In Battambang, make sure to put the temple ruins at Phnom Banan on your list, along with Ek Phnom, an 11th Century Angkorian ruin.
Exploring Cambodia’s temples can be taxing, as many require a significant amount of steps to ascend. Consequently, exploring any of Cambodia’s temples isn’t recommended for the middle of the day during dry season, when temperatures are at their highest. Most will set off early in the morning to explore a set of temples, before taking a long break in the afternoon for lunch and heading out again in the late afternoon to catch sunset.
Don’t show up to Cambodia’s temples in shorts and a tank top and expect to get in. Cambodia is a devoutly Buddhist country that takes their temple ruins seriously, so most require that both your knees and shoulders are covered. Plenty of the temples don’t allow you to simply cover up with a scarf, so bring along a light button up shirt to throw over a cooler top, and skip the shorts for some light-weight longer pants or skirt. Keep an eye on your footwear as well – some temples with steps won’t allow you to ascend if your shoes do not have a strap around your heel, so ditch the flip flops.