These hidden temples in Siem Reap and the surrounding countryside are great for temple-chasers who want to see something a bit different, and perhaps enjoy a bit of an adventure. These are the temples which have not been renovated or repaired in hundreds of years and, while they are often in a much worse state of repair, their ruins have a lot of charm and feel like the set of a Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones movie.

    While Angkor Wat and the temples of the surrounding complex are justly considered to be among the most remarkable ancient structures in the world and are certainly the star attractions of Siem Reap, a complaint often made about them is that they are too busy, with thousands of people visiting them each day. Being well off the beaten track, these Siem Reap secret temples are nothing like as crowded and when visiting them, you may find that you're the only person there.

    One of the largest of the temples outside of the Angkor Wat area, Beng Mealea covers more than 1 sq km, most of which is overgrown by vegetation. While this temple was built with the same style as Angkor Wat, it predates the larger, more famous structure. Some theories suggest that it was a test model.

    The fact that it has not been renovated means that access can be a little tricky, and you may have to scramble over ruined walls or climb through windows to explore it properly. This is one of the more popular of the ‘hidden’ temples, though, so there is a wooden walkway for those less physically active. Beng Melea is about 66 km from Siem Reap.

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    Location: Beng Mealea Village, Cambodia


    In spite of the fact that Koh Ker was once the capital of the Khmer Empire (admittedly, only for 16 years), the massive tiered pyramid and its striking grounds are now all but forgotten. This is probably partially thanks to its remoteness, being over 100 km northeast of Siem Reap.

    It is well worth the journey, though, as the overgrown ruins feature beautiful intricate details and the isolated setting makes visiting quite a moving experience. There are some other interesting sites and temples nearby, so it is worth a day trip to visit the area.

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    Location: Koh Ker, Cambodia


    While this temple is sometimes called ‘Banteay Srey’, the translation remains the same either way: ‘citadel of the women’. This relatively recent nickname was given to the 10th-century temple because of the slightly pink colour of the sandstone it is made from, in which you will find beautiful delicate carvings dedicated to the Banteay-Hindu god Shiva.

    The structure is well-preserved and shows clear signs of repair and renovation but, being well away from the Angkor Wat complex, this is still a relatively unheard-of place, attracting much smaller numbers of visitors. The temple is 41.7 km from Siem Reap.

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    Location: Siem Reap, Cambodia


    Dating from the 7th century, Sambor Prei Kuk is one of the earlier temples around Siem Reap and includes what are thought to be the first large bas-reliefs – a feature of temple design which subsequently became extremely popular in Khmer architecture.

    The most striking part of the complex is Prasat Chrey, which is a small tower completely overgrown by a tree, to the point that it just looks like a doorway directly into the trunk. Sambor Prei Kuk is 168.7 km from Siem Reap.

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    Location: Kampong Thom Province, Cambodia

    Open: Daily from 7am to 5pm

    Phone: +855 12 634 835


    Ta Nei

    Ta Nei is really close to the Angkor Wat area and is, in fact, right next to the Angkor Zipline attraction. But being about 1 km down a rough, unpaved track, it doesn’t get too many visitors as there are plenty of options nearby which are easier to get to.

    One of the many structures built in the late 12th century by King Jayavarman VII has some really beautiful carvings and bas-reliefs around the flat, Angkor-style structure. Perhaps not as stunning as the larger temples, it has the advantage of being convenient but also quiet and hidden. The temple is 10.5 km from Siem Reap.

    Location: Siem Reap, Cambodia


    photo by Writer128 (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified


    Banteay Prei

    Banteay Prei is just off a minor road, slightly north of Preah Khan Temple. While it was built at the same time and in the same style as Bayon Temple, it is a lot smaller and lacks the iconic towers of the more famous structure, making it seem a little like a miniature model.

    The temple does have nicely decorated walls and a moat around the inner buildings. Despite its name, meaning “Citadel of the Jungle”, Banteay Prei is now mostly surrounded by grazing land for cattle, meaning you don’t really get the ‘lost jungle temple’ feel as you do with others in the area. The temple is 15.5 km from Siem Reap.

    Location: Siem Reap, Cambodia


    photo by Stefan Fussan (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified


    Prasat Chrung

    Prasat Chrung is not one temple, but 4! The Khmer word “Chrung” means “corner” and, true to their name, these structures are at each of the 4 corners of the ancient city of Angkor Thom, with Bayon Temple at its heart.

    With no roads to any of the towers, the only way to see them is to take a long walk or bike ride along rough tracks. It’s worth the effort as they are nicely decorated and virtually unvisited. The south-eastern one is the best preserved, making it the one most worth the walk. The temple is 8.4 km from Siem Reap.

    Location: Siem Reap, Cambodia


    photo by Arabsalam (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified


    Phnom Bok

    Phnom Bok is one of the oldest temples in Angkor, and one of the most exciting to visit. Many tour operators and drivers don’t even know about it, let alone where it is, so it's very likely that you could have the site to yourself. The temple is 23.7 km from Siem Reap.

    Even the ones that do know about the picturesque, overgrown temple don’t tend to include it in their itineraries because the 600-step climb to the top of the 235-metre hill it stands upon is too tough for most visitors. If you’re planning to visit this unspoilt spot to enjoy the great panoramic view of Angkor and Tonle Sap, make sure to bring plenty of water with you.

    Location: Siem Reap, Cambodia


    Banteay Thom

    Banteay Thom is one of the most tranquil and beautiful temples in the Angkor area, which is largely unvisited because access is pretty tricky, requiring mountain bikes or a tough motorbike ride. Built by the first Buddhist ruler of Angkor, Jayavarman VII, the medium-sized structure follows the Bayon style of architecture, much of which has not been overgrown. In spite of its age and lack of maintenance, the buildings and bas-reliefs are in excellent condition. The temple is 14.6 km from Siem Reap.

    Location: Siem Reap, Cambodia


    Chau Srei Vibol

    Chau Srei Vibol, just outside of the Angkor Archaeological Park, is a massive temple complex, but one which has sadly suffered the ravages of time. Most of the buildings here have at least partially collapsed, some being swallowed by tree roots.

    Despite the fact that it dates back to the height of the Angkor period in the 12th century, the buildings seem to have been quite simply decorated even when they were first constructed. But if you’re looking for a peaceful place to enjoy a ‘lost temple’ kind of adventure, this is a good one to consider. The temple is 29.1 km from Siem Reap.

    Location: Siem Reap, Cambodia

    Ben Reeves | Compulsive Traveller

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