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Ancient Cambodia

David Pettitt

Retaining a quiet charm and independent Khmer culture, Cambodia stands unique from its near neighbours. For many the town of Siem Reap in Cambodia’s north-west is synonymous with the country and its proximity to the spectacular temples of Angkor Wat – one of the ancient wonders of the world – draws visitors from across the globe. Yet there is another side to Cambodia, where little-visited ancient ruins remain hidden in dense jungle and pre-Angkorian cities stand alongside striking Brahmanic temples. These are our five key lesser known sights of ancient Cambodia.

1. Koh Ker

Like those at Preah Vihear, the impressive temples of Koh Ker are some of the finest Angkorian remains in Cambodia. Over 1,000 years old, the magical Koh Ker complex was once the capital of the Angkorian Empire and, until recently, was enveloped by thick jungle. Still hard to reach, there are 42 major structures here and Prasat Thom – a 40 metre high pyramid – is the must-see highlight.

View of the tiered architecture of the ancient Koh Ker temple in Cambodia

Photo credit: Arian Zwegers

2. Banteay Srei

To the north of Ta Prohm, further from Angkor’s main sites, Banteay Srei is a 10th century temple complex. Not a royal site, Banteay Srei was devised and financed by two prominent local inhabitants and was dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu. The temples here are known for their use of vibrant pink sandstone and there are elaborate carvings of floral reliefs and Ramayana scenes.

Path leading up to the Banteay Srei temple surrounded by jungle in Cambodia

3. Angkor Borei and Phnom Da

Located south of capital Phnom Penh, Angkor Borei is a pre-Angkorian city close to 1,500 years old and a gateway to the sanctuary of Phnom Da. Originally known as Vyadhapura, the city was heavily influenced by subcontinent religions brought to the region by travelling merchants and traders. Similarly, spectacular Phnom Da housed for centuries numerous Buddhist and Hindu shrines.

Close up view of the intricately carved facade of a temple in Cambodia

4. Ta Prohm

Forming part of the larger Angkor site, the temple complex at Ta Prohm remains much as it was discovered in the 19th century – surrounded by thick jungle and enveloped by creepers, twisting vines and heavy undergrowth. Exceptionally atmospheric, Ta Prohm was completed at the end of the 12th century, was dedicated to the mother of Jayavarman VII and latterly became a monastery.

Interior courtyard of Ta Prohm temple with tree roots and creepers, Cambodia

5. Phnom Chisor

Site of an 11th century Khmer Brahmanic temple, Phnom Chisor sits high on a hilltop in the southern province of Takeo. The king and his religious advisers would have once climbed over 400 steps to the hilltop complex and following in their footsteps certainly takes dedication. The views from the summit over the countryside justify the climb and the surrounding villages are also well worth a visit.

Archaeological remains of the Phnom Chisor temple in Cambodia

Photo credit: Christina Andrada

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