History and the Temples

Facts at a Glance

History and the Temples

Khmer for Travellers

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The Great Ancient Angkor Temples

Spread around the jungle outside the town of Siem Reap, Cambodia, you will find the ruins of the great ancient Angkor temples. They are by the National Geographic considered as one of the three most important cultural attractions in the world and are also on UNESCO's World Heritage list over cultural sites that should be preserved.

Many people who have never been to Angkor believe that it is only one monument. However, Angkor was the capital of the mighty Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 14th century. From here a dynasty of Khmer kings ruled one of the largest and most sophisticated kingdoms in the history of South-East Asia. The construction of the ancient capital lasted for more than 300 years leading to several changes in the architecture and also religious movements from Hindu towards Buddhism, which is still followed by more than 90 percent of the Cambodian population. Covering an area of 250 km2, and with more than 1000 archaeological sites, Angkor was made up of hundreds of buildings. Because of their links to the Gods, only the temples were considered good enough to be built in stone. The wooden structures have perished over the years, leaving only the Angkor temples to be seen today.



The Siamese made repeated raids on Angkor in the 14th century, and battles continued for almost another century. After a final siege in 1431, the Khmers gradually shifted their capital southward to Phnom Pehn. Angkor was more or less abandoned to the jungle, and was pretty much forgotten in the jungle until the French explorer Henri Mouhot, in 1860, brought public attention to what many people today consider to be the eight wonder of the world.
Photo: Maryellen McGrath


"Angkor Wat, in its beauty and state of preservation, is unrivalled. Its mightiness and magnificence bespeak a pomp luxury surpassing that of a Phararoh or a Shah Jahan, an impressiveness greater than that of the Pyramids, an artistic distinctiveness as fine as that of the Taj Mahal." (D. H. Dickason)

Angkor Wat is perhaps the most magnificent and undoubtedly the most famous of all the temples in the old Khmer capital. With its perfection in composition, balance, proportions, sculptures and bas-reliefs it presents itself as the jewel of the capital. Literally translated Angkor Wat means 'the city which is a temple' and it is the largest religious structure in the world. It covers an area of 500 acres, its main tower is 65 meters high and is surrounded by a defensive moat 190 meters wide. It took nearly 30 years to build in the first half of the 12th century under the kingship of Suryavarman II (1113-1152). It was originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu, but is also thought to be a mausoleum for Suryavarman II.

Photo: Thomas Holdo Hansen


Beside Angkor Wat, this is probably the most celebrated structure in Angkor. The giant smling faces of Bayon have become perhaps the most recognizable image connected to classic Khmer art and architecture.

It was the last of the great kings of the Khmer empire, Jayavarman VII (ruled 1181-1201) who oversaw the construction of Angkor Thom, which is literally translated 'Great City'. An 8-meter high and 12 kilometre long wall is built around the city and a 100 meters wide moat surrounds the wall.

Jayavarman VII used enormous resources to build temples and religious sites inside of Angkor Thom. This includes the Bayon temple where 54 towers are decorated with four Buddha heads on each tower.


Ta Prom is one of the most fascinating of all the temples. The temple has been left almost the way it was when it was discovered by explorers in the 19th century. Invaded by the roots of enormous Bantay trees, it fights its own slow battle with nature. The temple was built in 1186 by Jayavarman VII who dedicated it to his mother.


Bantaey Srei, or the Citadel of Woman, is a magnificent jewel of a temple. Even though it is small in size, the richness of details carved in the pink sandstone makes it many peoples favourite.


Remote temples such as Phnom Kulen, Kbal Spien and Baeng Maelia used to be well off the tourist trail, but improved roads makes them accessible and it is well worth the extra time to go there.

For the more adventurous, Bantey Chhmaer, Koh Ker, Preah Khan and the magnificent Preah Vihear all offer spectacular sceneries and are just awaiting to be explored.

Photo: Casey Linn

For information on tours and different day- and overnight trips please see our tour section.



CAMBODIA - LAND OF A THOUSAND SMILES........   a land of treasures - the legendary Angkor; temples still buried in the jungle; hill tribes settled in remote and yet unexplored areas; unspoiled beaches and islands surrounded by crystal clear waters; friendly and welcoming people all just awaiting to be discovered!!!

Earthwalkers Cambodia Sala Kanseng Village Sangkat No. 2 Siem Reap Kingdom of Cambodia +855 (0)12 967 901