The Temples of Angkor: Legacy of the Khmer Empire

For over 600 years — from the early 9th century through the mid-15th century — the Khmer Empire was the ruling power of much of the region that we now know of today as Southeast Asia.  And although artistic, religious, and cultural remnants of this period — known as the Angkorian Era — can still be glimpsed in everyday life here in Cambodia, the most significant and long-lasting legacy left behind is that of Angkor Wat.  Dubbed the 8th Wonder of the World, the temple is meant to be a smaller representation of the spatial universe and is surrounded by a massive rectangular moat that measures 1.5km by 1.3km.  Besides being the spiritual and cultural center for the Khmer people and the world’s largest single religious monument, however, Angkor Wat is also one of the most recognizable — not to mention visited — sites on the planet, as it alone practically drives the tourism industry in Cambodia.

The view upon entered the front gate, oriented to face West

The surrounding moat

The view looking back out over the Empire

Although Angkor Wat certainly receives the most attention, it represents only a fraction of what the ancient city of Angkor (which, by some accounts, was the largest pre-industrial city in the world) has to offer.  Encompassed within the radius of a few miles around Angkor Wat, there are roughly another 1,000 temples, ranging in shape, size, and degree of preservation.  If you’re in a hurry, you can see the most significant temples in a single day, but spreading it out over the course of 3-4 days (a week would be even better) will allow you to fully experience what the Khmer Empire must have been like in its heyday.

The usual second destination for visitors — which lies only a few hundred meters away from Angkor Wat — is the fortified city known as Angkor Thom, which encompasses several of the other more popular temples and structures, such as strange faces of Bayon, the recently reconstructed Baphuon, and the Terrace of the Elephants:

Bayon upon approach

The stone faces of Bayon

A Buddha Image near Bayon

The path leading to the temple of Baphuon (my personal favorite)

The view from the top of Baphuon

One of the most famous and visually striking sights in the area is that of the Buddhist Temple of Ta Prohm — which is now, sadly, more famous for being the filming location for the Laura Croft: Tombraider movies than its original Buddhist heritage.  Regardless, whereas Angkor Wat and Bayon have largely been tended and taken care of throughout their history, Ta Prohm shows us just how powerful and swift the forces of nature can be when reclaiming the structures built by the hands of man:

Located another 20 kilometers Northeast of Angkor Wat lies the architectural masterpiece of Banteay Srea.  This Hindu temple, built in honor of Shiva, is most famous for the reddish-pink hue that results from a different type of stone being used than the rest of the temples of Angkor:

Banteay Srea from across the water

As mentioned above, there are over 1,000 temples within a relatively small area, so to keep this post from being unbearably long, I’ll dispense with the commentary on each specific one and move on to my favorites scenes from the remainder.  Enjoy:

East Mebon Temple

Sticks of Incense at the Pre Rup Temple

The temple of Preah Khan

Inside the Preah Khan Temple

If you don’t mind a 40-minute hike through the jungle…

…you’ll come to the river engravings of Kbal Spean…

…as well as a lovely waterfall

Takeo Temple

More cairns…I’m still on the right path…

Monks outside of the Ta Som Temple

And finally, one more funky face to leave you off with (this one is from Ta Som Temple)

Throughout this post, I’m managed to completely neglect the town of Siem Reap itself, which is the staging area and jumping off point for any visitor to Angkor Wat.  That isn’t to say that it isn’t without its own charms, however; it has more than earned its stripes — on its own merits, nonetheless — as a stop along the traveler trail through Southeast Asia.    So before moving on to the capital of Phnom Penh, I’ve got another post in the works looking specifically at Siem Reap.  Until then, Chul Muy from Angkor!

About andrewamiet

I'm a 29 (now 31) year-old former desk jockey who is now making my way around the world, experiencing all of the sights, sounds, tastes, people, and culture that the world has to offer.

11 Responses to “The Temples of Angkor: Legacy of the Khmer Empire”

  1. Beautiful post – thanks for sharing – love the pics!

  2. During my trip to Cambodia last summer I missed Banteay Srey and Kbal Spaen. They both look fascinating! I hope I can visit them one day. Great photos of the temples! (I love ancient ruins!).

    • Oh yeah, I’m the same way. Everyone told me that I’d get “Templed Out” after a while, but I still seem to have an insatiable desire to see the next set of ancient ruins. At least this is a great part of the world to explore them at!

      • If I’m not mistaken you told me a few weeks back that you’re also visiting Indonesia. Since you also love ancient ruins, you have to come to Yogyakarta where you can see Borobudur Temple. It’s built in the 8th century and it’s massive (the world’s largest Buddhist shrine), well, I leave the rest for you to witness yourself 🙂 Btw, there are direct flights to Yogyakarta from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, in case you’re interested (Somehow I’m pretty sure you will be). Have a great trip!

        • I’m definitely planning on hitting up Indonesia still (though I’ve got to make my way through Laos and Vietnam on my way there), so thanks for the recommendation. And it sounds like Yogyakarta just got bumped up to my first stop in the country! Thanks again!

  3. I love these pictures!! It’s also good to hear that I’m not the only one unable to get “templed out” 🙂

  4. Going to hit up Cambodia in three weeks!

  5. Hi Andrew, we met in Xian (Russell & Sarah) and we are now in the last few weeks of our travels. Off to Cambodia and Vietnam next so have really enjoyed reading your blog on these areas..lots of inspiration! Hope you are safe and well, happy travels. Sarah

    • I’m glad to hear that you guys are still on the road and still doing great. I’m back home on another break at the moment, but I think I’m going to be hitting the travel trail again myself in the near future. Enjoy the hell out of Cambodia and Vietnam, and I hope our paths will cross again someday!


  1. A Plain Full of Pagodas and a Temple in the Clouds | Temporarily Lost - September 6, 2013

    […] of Bagan, it is tempting to liken it to other similar and more-famous temple complexes, such as Angkor Wat in Cambodia or Sukhothai and Ayuthaya in Thailand, but whereas all three of these nearby cities each have their […]

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