The mysteries of ancient Angkor Wat and its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site make the temple complex one of the top destinations in the world. But there’s a whole lot more to the collection of ancient temples than just Angkor Wat.
Heading to some of these alternatives lets you get a little off the beaten path—at least, as off the beaten path as you want to get in landmine-plagued Cambodia. I loved all of these for different reasons—some for the solitude, some for the shade, some for the beauty of the architecture and the carvings. All of them deserve to be seen in person (especially since most of my photos are humidity-muffled and out of focus).
5. Ta Som
I don’t remember what the temple proper looked like (if you see enough temples, they blend together after a while). But I vividly recall one of the gates on the far side of the main entrance.
We had wandered around a bit, getting tired and hungry and ready for lunch. The main temple structure is pretty small compared to others in the complex, so there wasn’t as much surface to wander over. We came to an opening in the temple wall and began to head through, when we saw that there was a hoard of vendors lying in wait on the other side. At this point, I had finely-honed my “turn and flee” response to unwanted sellers, so I was about to make a break for it in the other direction when one of the women spotted us. She gestured us in, smiling, saying something I couldn’t understand. So we stepped tentatively through the door.
She was saying, “tree.” By way of thanks to our new friend, we fled without buying anything.
4. Banteay Srei
Banteay Srei is known as the women’s temple. The temple is a scaled-down version of the ones we had spent the previous three days touring. Intricate carvings covered every surface, but the thing I loved so much was how fun it felt. “Fun” is not a word that describes ancient temples. It’s a word that describes weekend plans or a 10-year-old’s birthday party. But there was something about the small scale that made me feel huge, like a toy castle or a carnival attraction.
The surrounding park was beautiful as well,
3. Ta Prohm
This is the famous (infamous?) Tomb Raider temple. It’s ironic that I would say this, as I have never actually watched Tomb Raider. However, everyone we talked to about it casually referred to it this way in conversation, so now I feel paranoid not adding that little “tomb raider” asterisk.
The jungle has reached up to swallow Ta Prohm, stretching tentacles in and over the walls and putting down roots firmly through and around and into the stones. My only regrets are that I didn’t stay longer or take more photos or sit and stare. Spots in the deepest shade at midday feel less hot than the surrounding air (big selling point, I know. If you want to learn how to stay coolish at Angkor, check out my post here). These are popular ruins so there are legions of people tramping through, but you can still find quiet spots here and there.
2. Preah Khan
If Ta Prohm finds itself overtaken by jungle tentacles, nature’s attack on Preah Khan is much more subtle. But the effect is even more dramatic. Moss and lichen have crept in and enclosed the temple, walls have crumbled and heaps of mammoth stones hang around, tossed into the shafts of blocked-off tunnels. Deep shadows suck up the little light left that hasn’t been diluted by the jungle canopy, meaning the oppressive heat lifts, if only an iota.
This was the first temple I stepped into on the trip. It made an impression.
1. Banteay Samre
This was my favorite temple, hands down. If I learned one thing I learned from wandering the Angkor Wat complex in Cambodia, it’s that if you’re searching for solitude in the temples, you should probably go to Myanmar. But on the final day at the final temple, I found the seclusion I’d been seeking. In modern terms, I was able to take a 20-minute time lapse without anyone walking into it.
Banteay Samre is so off the main temple track that I don’t know how many people who visit Angkor even reach it. A tour bus rolled up as we left, but individual visitors were thin on the ground.
Hi! This is part five in my month of March daily blogging. Click here to see yesterday’s post, a guide to keep from melting in the heat at Angkor Wat. To join the betting pool on how long it will take me to miss a day of posting this month click here! Just kidding. That’s my Instagram account, which you should absolutely follow if you enjoy travel porn.