Angkor Wat

Constructed: Early 12th Century C.E

Religion: Hinduism (dedicated to Vishnu)

King: Suryavarman II (reigned from 1113-circa 1150)

Art Style: Angkor Wat


Angkor Wat is visually, architecturally and artistically breathtaking. It is a massive three-tiered pyramid crowned by five lotus-like towers rising 65 meters from ground level. Angkor Wat is the centerpiece of any visit to the Temples of Angkor.

At the apex of Khmer political and military dominance in the region, Suryavarman II constructed Angkor Wat in the form of a massive 'temple-mountain' dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu. It served as his state temple, though the temple's uncommon westwards orientation has led some to suggest that it was constructed as Suryavarman II's funeral temple. Other Temples of the same style and period include Thomanon, Banteay Samre, Wat Atwear, and Beng Mealea, which may have served as a prototype to Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat, the largest monument of the Angkor group and one of the most intact, is an architectural masterpiece. It's perfection in composition, balance, proportions, reliefs and sculpture make it one of the finest monuments in the world. This temple is an expression of Khmer art at its highest point of development.

Some believe Angkor Wat was designed by Divakarapandita, the chief adviser and minister of the King, who was a Brahmin with divine honours. The Khmer attribute the building of Angkor Wat to the Devine architect Visvakarman. Construction probably began early in the reign of Suryavarman II and because his name appears posthumously in the bas-reliefs and inscriptions it is believed that Angkor Wat was completed after his death. The estimated time for construction of the temple is about 30 years.

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Angkor Thom

Constructed: End of 12th century to early 13th century

Religion: Mahayana Buddhism

King: Jayavarman VII (reigned 1181 - 1220)

Art Style: Bayon


Angkor Thom, the last capital, was indeed a 'Great City' as its name implies, and it served as the religious and administrative center of the vast and powerful Khmer Empire. It was grander than any city in Europe at the time and must have supported a considerable population - which may have been as high as one million. Within the city walls were the residences of the king, his family and officials, military officers and priests while the rest of the people lived outside of the enclosure. The structures were built of wood and have all perished, but remains of stone monuments let us glimpse at the past grandeur of the once great capital. You can walk amongst the Bayon, the Terrace of Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King, the Prasat Suor Prat and others, as well as the earlier monuments of the Baphuon and Phimeanakas - all within the walls of Angkor Thom. Looking at the ruins it is easy to imagine why foreigners referred to Angkor Thom as 'an oppulent city'.

Zhou Daguan, the Chinese emissary who provided the only first hand account of the Khmers, described the splendour of Angkor Thom: ' At the center of the Kingdom rises a Golden Towers [Bayon] flanked by more than twenty lesser towers and several hundred chambers. On the eastern side is a golden bridge guarded by two lions of gold. North of the golden tower rises towers of Bronze [Baphuon], higher even than the Golden Tower: a truly astonishing spectacle, with more than ten chambers at its base. A quarter of mile further north is the residence of the King. Rising above his private apartments is another tower of gold. These are the monuments which have caused merchants from overseas to speak so often 'Cambodia the rich and noble'.

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Constructed: Late 12th century to early 13th century

Religion: Buddhism

King: Jayavarman VII (reigned 1181 - 1220)

Art Style: Bayon


The Bayon vies with Angkor Wat as the favorite monument among visitors. The two temples evoke similar aesthetic responses yet are different in purpose, design, architecture and decoration. The dense jungle surrounding the temple camouflaged its position in relation to other structures at Angkor, so it was not known for sometime That the Bayon stands in the exact geographical center of the city of Angkor Thom. Even after topotraphical maps finally revealed its correct location, the Bayon was erroneously identified as a Hindu temple connected with the city of Yasovarman I, and, thus, dated to the 9th century.

A fronton found in 1925 depicting an Avalokitesvara, identified the Bayon as a Buddhist temple. This discovery moved the date of the monument ahead some 300 years to the late 12th century. Although the date is firmly supported by archaeological evidence, the Bayon remains one of the most enigmatic temples of Angkor Group. Its symbolism, original form, subsequent changes and additions have not yet been understood. These aspects leave us today with a complicated, crowded plan that challenges both archaeologists and historians.

The Bayon was built nearly 100 years after Angkor Wat. While its basic structure and earlier part of the temple are unknown, it is clear that the Bayon was built on the top of an earlier monument, that the temple was not built at one time, and that it underwent a series of changes. the middle portion of the temple was extended during the second phase of building. The Bayon of today with its huge central mass dates to the 13th century and belongs to the third and last phase of the art style Jayavarman VII's goal was to rebuilt the capital and to bring to the kingdom a new vibrancy, signifying a bright future for the Khmers. To accomplish this, he erected the Bayon and created a structure somewhat like temple-mountain in its grandiose plan and scale.

The architectural composition of the Bayon exudes grandness in every aspect. Its elements juxtapose each other to create balance and harmony. Over 200 large faces carved on the 54 towers give this temple its majestic character. 'The faces with slightly curving lips, eyes placed in shadow by the lowered lids utter not a word and yet force you to guess much', wrote P Jennerat de Beerski in the 1920s. It is these faces that have such appeal to visitors and reflect the famous 'smile of Angkor'.

The iconography of the four faces has been widely debated by scholars and, although some think they represent the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, in keeping with the Buddhist character of the temple, it is generally accepted that the four faces on each of the towers are images of king Jayavarman VII and signify the omnipresence of the king. Besides the architecture and the smiling faces, the highlight of Bayon is undoubtedly the bas-reliefs presented in both the inner and outer galleries. the scences in the outer gallery are unique as they depict many scences from daily life.

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Ta Prohm

Constructed: Mid-12th century to early 13th century (1186)

Religion: Buddhism (dedicated to the mother of the king)

King: Jayavarman VII (reigned 1181-1220)

Art Style: Bayon


Ta Prohm was left untouched by archaeologists, except for the clearing of a path for visitors and structural strengthening to stave off further deterioration. Because of its natural state, it is possible to experience at this temple some of the wonder of the early explorers, when they came upon these monuments in the middle of 19th century. Shrouded in jungle, the temple of Ta Prohm is ethereal in aspect and conjures up a romantic aura. Trunks of trees twist amongst stone pillars. Fig, banyan and kapok trees spread their gigantic roots over, under and in between the stones, probing walls and terraces apart, as their branches and leaves intertwine to form a roof above the structures.

'Everywhere around you, you see nature in its dual role of destroyers and consoler, strangling on the one hand, and healing on the other, no sooner splitting the carved stones asunder than she dresses their wounds with cool, velvety mosses and binds them with her most delicate tendrils, a conflict of moods so contraditory and femenine as to prove once more - if proof were needed - how well 'Dame' nature merits her femenine title. 

The monastic complex of Ta Prohm is one of the largest sites at Angkor. A Sanskrit inscription on stone, now removed to the Conservation D'Angkor, tells us something about its size and function. Ta Prohm owned 3,140 villages. It took 79,365 people to maintain the temple, including 18 high priests, 2,740 officials, 2,202 assistants and 615 dancers. Among the property belonging to temple was a set of golden dishes weighing more than 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) 35 diamonds, 40,620 pearls, 4,540 precious stones, 876 veils from China, 512 silk beds  and 523 parasols. Even considering that these numbers were probably exaggerated to glorify the king, Ta Prohm must have been an important and impressive monument.

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Banteay Srei

Constructed: Second half of the 10th century (967)

Religion: Hindu (dedicated to Shiva)

King: Rajendravarman II (reigned 944-968) and Jayavarman V (reigned 968-1001)

Art Style: Banteay Srei


The enchanting temple of Banteay Srei is nearly everyone's favorite site. The special charm of this temple lies in its remarkable state of preservation, small size and excellence of decoration. The unanimous opinion amongst French archaeologists who worked at Angkor is that Banteay Srei is a 'precious gem' and a 'jewel' of Khmer Art. Banteay Srei, as it is known by locals, was originally called Isvarapura, according to inscriptions. It was built by Brahmin of royal descent who was spiritual teacher to Jayavarman V. Some describe it as being closer in architecture and decoration to Indian Models than any other temple at Angkor. A special feature of the exquisite decoration was the use of the hard pink sandstone (quartz arenite) which enabled the technique of sandalwood carving with even an Indian scent to it.

Architectural and decorative features of Banteay Srei are unique and exceptionally fine. A tapestry-like background of foliage covers the walls of the structures in the central group as if a deliberate attempt had been made to leave no space undecorated. The architecture is distinguished by triple superimposed frontons with relief narrative scents carved in the tympanums, terminal motifs on the frams of the arches, and standing figures in the niches. Panels are decorated with scents inspired by Indian epics, especially the Ramayana and its execution has liveliness not seen in the more formal decoration of earlier temples.

The temple discovered by the French in 1914, but the was not cleared until 1924. The theft of several important pieces of sculptures and lintels by European expedition, meticuously planned by the young Frenchman, Malraux, caused a great public scandal in 1923, but hastened the archaeological work. The thieves were held under house arrest in Phnom Penh and only released after the return of the stolen pieces.

Banteay Srei is the first temple at Angkor to have been completely restored by the process of anastylosis, after the EFEO studied this method at borobudur on the island of Java in Indonesia.  Compared to the rest of Angkor this temple is in miniature. The doors of the central towers are narrow and barely one and a half meters (five feets) in hight. The quality of architecture and decoration make up for any shortcoming in size. As M Glaize wrote, Banteay Srei is a sort of caprice where the detail, of an abundance and incomparable prettiness, sweeps away the mass. The inscription relating to the foundation of Banteay Srei was discovered in 1936 and the easternmost Gopura of the outer enclosure wall.

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Preah Vihear

Constructed: Late 9th Century - Early 12th Century

Religion: Hindu (dedicated to Shiva)

King: Yasovarman I (889-910), Suryavarman I (1002-1049), Suryavarman II (1113-1150)

Art Style: Preah Vihear


Preah Vihear Temple located in Preah Vihear Province, Cambodia and built at the most spectacular location of any Khmer site at the near Thailand border. It is 225 kilometers northeast of Siem Reap. It was a large temple which was built on the top of Chuor Phnom Dangrek which divides the Khorat Plateau from the lowland Cambodia plain below. It is about 550 meters from the ground level of Cambodia side. Preah Vihear temple, which took over 300 years to complete the construction by a few famous Khmer king, was firstly built from 893 by the king Yasovarman I who ruled the country from 889 to probably 910. The majority of temple edifice was established by king Suryavarman I (1002 - 1049) and finally the temple was completed during the reign of great king Suryavarman II (1113 – 1150), the well-known king who was the founder of magnificent temple of Angkor Wat at Siem Reap province (Rooney 2006). King Suryavarman II known as a great Khmer king who dominated the Khorat Plateau, Lopburi and even further north in Thailand and he extended the Khmer Empire to the border of Pagan in Myanmar; and south into the northern part of the Malay Peninsula (Coe D. 2004). The main purpose of the temple is the mountain temple which is the symbol of sacred mountain “Meru” where is the abode of all the gods of Hindu. The temple was mainly dedicated to the supreme god “Shiva” (Rooney 2006). Preah Vihear temple is the reason of arguments between Cambodia and Thailand. On the 23rd March 1907, after the border treaty between France protectorate (1863 – 1953) and Thailand, land and temple was returned to Cambodian sovereignty. In 1954, Thai took control Preah Vihear by arm force again and removed many pieces of stones from the temple. It was the reason of Prime Minister Sihanouk during that time took the argument to the International court on 6th October 1959. The justice court awarded Preah Vihear temple on 15th June 1962 to Cambodia. Moreover the court judged that Thai Authority has to compulsorily remove their arm force and restore the temple by bring back the piece of stone which were removed under Thai occupation to Preah Vihear (International Court of Justice Data Base).

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Koh Ker

Constructed: Early 10th century

Religion: Hindu (dedicated to Shiva)

King: Jayavarman IV (928-944)

Art Style: Koh Ker


Koh Ker was once an ancient capital of Cambodia, located in Srayong Cheung village, Srayong commune, Kulen district, about 49 kilometers west of the provincial town. The Koh Ker complex is on the Chhork Koki highland. It was built by King Jayavaraman IV (AD 928-942). Koh Ker temple is 35 meters high, and its design resembles a seven-stepped stupa. The temple faces west toward Angkor city. It was built to worship Treypuvanesvara, the god of happiness.

So far, 96 temples have been found in Koh Ker: Dav, Rumlum Bey, Beung Veng, Trapiang Prey, Dey Chhnang, Srok Srolao, Lingam, Kuk Srakum, Trapiang Ta, Sophy, Krahom, Andoung, Ang Khna, Teuk Krahom, Damrei Sar, Krarab, Banteay Pichoan, Kuk, Kmao, Thneung, Thorn Balang, Rohal, Chamneh, Sampich, Trapiang Svay, Neang Kmao, Pram, Bat, Khnar Chen, Klum, Chrab, Dangtung, Prang, Kampiang.... These temples were not constructed near each other. Today, many of them are no longer standing, and some are buried in the ground. The followings are locations and descriptions of some of the Koh Ker temples:

Neang Khmao Temple
The Koh Ker complex is along a trail that is about 3 kilometers long. The first temple, Neang Khmao sits atop a small hill on the east side of the trail. The temple, which faces west toward Angkor city, is made of sandstone. It is 20 meters high and resembles a stupa. The temple terrace is 2 meters high and divided into three decks. The temple is surrounded by a laterite rampart, 44 meters square and 2 meters high. The rampart has only two openings; one on the east side, and the other on the west. The temple once housed lingam and yoni, but only yoni remains. The lintel sculpture has been damaged, but otherwise, most of the temple is in good condition, while nearly three-quarters of the rampart is good condition.

Pram Temple
About 700 to 800 meters north of Neang Khmao temple is another temple called Pram temple. Constructed of laterite and sandstone, it sits on a small hill surrounded by bushes that block the lingam and the lintel. The main body of the temple is in good condition.

Chen Temple
Farther down the trail is a three-peak temple made of laterite and sandstone. It faces east and is called Chen temple. Inside the temple there is a piece of lingam and remnants of a statue of King Jayavarman IV. A sculpture of garuda's head on the south lintel is missing. The temple is overgrown by forest.

Preng Well
About 800 to 900 meters farther, there is the Preng well, which is similar to a pond. Surrounded by stone, it is 20 meters square. The terrace is about 8 centimeters high. The water in the pond is clear, and a nearby tree provides shade for weary visitors looking for a place to relax.

Rampart of Koh Ker Temple
Another kilometer down the trail is the rampart of Koh Ker temple. 1 kilometer long and 2 kilometers high, it is made of laterite. Koh Ker temple is the middle of a rampart, surrounded by 20 more temples. Some of the temples are:

Kuk Temple or Gopura
Kuk temple or Gopura is made of sandstone and has a sculpture of lotus petals on the temple fronton. Although the door frame is damaged, most of the temple is in good condition. A Shiva lingam that once was housed inside has been looted. . Prang Temple
Prang temple is constructed of sandstone and bricks. There are five separate parts of this temple. About 70 percent of the temple is still standing.

Krahom Temple
About 10 meters farther is Kramhom temple (The red temple). Constructed of brick and shaped like a seven-level pyramid, the temple is decorated with a 20-meter-tall sculpture of lotus petals. Inside the temple, there is a 3-meter-tall statue of Shiva with eight arms and four heads. The statue is supported by a l-square-meter base. The statue is seriously damaged, only some parts remain.

Khmao Temple
Farther down is Khmao temple. On the wall and door frame of the temple, there is a partially damaged inscription. Near the temple is a rampart gateway to Kampiang temple. The gateway is a 2-meter staircase. Some sculptures of lotus petals, seven-headed nagas and garudas remain.

Koh Ker Temple
About 300 meters farther to the west is Kampiang or Koh Ker temple. From a distance, the temple looks like a small hill, because it is covered by forest. Up close, however, it is actually a 35-meter-high stupa made of sandstone. It has seven levels, each level about 5 meters above the other. Each deck has a 2-meter-wide terrace, and there is a 55- step staircase to the top. At the top of the temple, there are large statues of garudas supporting Shiva lingam Treypuvanesvara. Nearby, there is a 4-meter square well, now completely covered by grass. According to local villagers, if a coconut is dropped into this well, it will appear in the pond near Neang Khmao temple. There is vegetation growing on top of the temple, and from there visitors have an excellent view of the surrounding landscape, in particular, Phnom Dangrek, Phnom Tbeng, and Kulen district.To the north of Koh Ker temple is another temple, Damrei Sar temple, but it is heavily damaged. To the northeast, is Iingam temple. This temple once housed three Shiva lingams, but some are now damaged.

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Sambo Prei kuk

Constructed: Early 7th Century

Religion: Hindu

King: Isanavarman I

Art Style: Sambo Prei Kuk


Sambor Prei kuk is a cultural and historical site located in Sambor village, Sambor commune, Prasat Sambor district, about 25 kilometers northeast of Kampong Thom provincial town. The site was once an old capital named Isanapura and a religious center for the worship of Shiva Brahmanism.

Many temples were built in Sambor Prei kuk during the reign of King Isanavarman I (AD 616- 635) in the 7th century. The temples of Sambor Prei kuk constructed of solid brick, laterite and sandstone and decorated by bas-reliefs. The lintel, pillars and the door frames are all made of sandstone. So far, 140 temples have been discovered in the forest.

Sambor Prei Kuk, located near Kompong Thom, 150km south-east of Siem Reap, lies off the main road towards Cambodia?s capital Phnom Penh. 
Kompong Thom is a sleepy little town. The only hive of activity was the market place next to the Stung Sen River where we bought some brown palm sugar and Cambodian fragrant rice. The local ?taxi? was actually an open-air wooden cart pulled by an antiquated motorbike. Its owner was an elderly man wearing spectacles with thick lenses. 
The journey to Sambor Prei Kuk was interesting in itself. We saw no other vehicles other than a lone villager cycling into town, his bicycle laden with hand-made straw baskets. Our van kicked up thick red dust as we sped on the laterite road. A woman scrubbing her clothes nearby was oblivious to the dust that swept over her.

Lest you entertain images of grand temple ruins akin to the grandeur of the awesome Angkor Wat, you?d be disappointed. Sambor Prei Kuk is a group of ancient temple ruins scattered within a shady forest. Originally called Isanapura, it pre-dates Angkor Wat and was the capital city during the reign of King Isana Varman 1, the son of King Citrasena. 
Few tourists know of it. The only ?horde? here was a group of Cambodian kids who rushed to our bus, hawking brightly-coloured homespun scarves at US$1(RM3.50) each. Built at the end of the 6th century, the ruins are touted to be some of the oldest structures in the country, covering an area of 5sq km. 
About 100 small temples are scattered throughout the forest. Left in the open and not maintained, some of the structures are just mere remnants of their original building ? perhaps a broken wall here, a vine-choked edifice there. There are 52 temples in recognisable condition, and another 52 sites where the original structures are now buried in the ground, visible only as small hills.

All is not lost. The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts together with the Waseda University, supported by The Foundation for Cultural Heritage and the Sumitomo Fund have started the Sambor Prei Kuk Conservation Project to restore these ruins.

The main temple group known as Prasat Sambor is dedicated to Gambhireshvara, one of Shiva?s many forms. Some of the towers still retain their carvings. Many are mere ruins now covered by vegetation. 
As we walked further, enjoying the cool serenity of the shady trees, the small group of child peddlers had grown to 20. The original band selling scarves had been joined by older children hawking bracelets and trinkets. They were very persistent, dropping their prices to almost a quarter of the original as we neared the end of our visit. Sambor Prei Kuk does not match the splendour of Angkor Wat. Yet its serene forests and solitude make a much welcome change from the human masses of its famous cousin.

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Banteay Chmar

Constructed: Late 12th century

Religion: Buddhism

King: Jayavarman VII

Art Style: Bayon Style


This enormous complex, which was a temple city, is one of the most intriguing in the Khmer empire, both for it's scale and it's remote location. Never excavated, Banteay Chhmar fits the picture of a lost Khmer city with its ruined face-towers, carvings, forest surroundings and bird life flying through the temple.  It has a romantic and discovery feel to it.

Banteay Chhmar dates from the late 12th to the early 13thcentury and it means Narrow Fortress. It is thought to have been built by Jayarvarman II. It was later rebuilt by Jayarvarman VII as a funerary temple for his sons and four generals who had been killed in a battle repelling a Cham invasion in 1177.
Like Preah Khan, Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, Banteay Chhmar originally enclosed a city with the temple at the heart. No traces of the city that surrounded the temple remain.
The temple area covers 2km by 2 and a half km. It contains the main temple complex and a number of other religious structures and a baray to its east. A mote filled with water and a huge wall inside of that encloses the center of the temple. This mote is still used to present day by locals for fishing and daily chores. A bustling small market and village bounds the east and south east and perhaps there has been continuous habitation there since the founding of the temple.
Inside the mote, a stone rest house and chapel can be seen. The highlight of Banteay Chhmar is the bas-reliefs, which are comparable with the Bayon. They depict battle against the Chams, religious scenes and a host of daily activities. In parts, the outer wall has collapsed. On the west side a spectacular multi-armed Lekesvara can be seen. The temples central complex is a jumble of towers, galleries, vegetation and fallen stones. Beautiful carvings can be seen throughout.

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