Now a UNESCO world heritage site, the Angkor complex was built between 9th and 15th centuries and comprises hundreds of temples, within approximately 400 sq km.
Today, 30 main temples are accessible, the most famous being Angkor Wat, said to be the largest religious building in the world and one of mankind's most astonishing architectural achievements.
Take our iPod audio walking tour of Angkor Wat (on the iPod in each of our hotel rooms) or let us book you a tour-guide in your language to show you the wonders of Angkor and its temples.
Temple & Wat Narratives
Each temple and wat has its own characteristics and personality:
Built for King Suryavarman II in the 12th century, as his state temple, Angkor Wat was originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. Under King Jayavarman VII, the empire allowed Theravada Buddhism and Hinduism to coexist and later Angkor Wat became a Buddhist temple.
It has five lotus towers, the centre rising to 65 meters to crown the top of the "temple-mountain".
Unlike most other temples, Angkor Wat’s orientation is westward - giving rise to the speculation it may have been built as Suryavarman II’s funerary temple.
It covers 1sq km and is surrounded by a dramatic moat and an exterior wall.
Today, it remains a place for Buddhist offerings and ceremonies.
Jayavarman VII built Ta Prohm as a Buddhist royal monastery in the 12th century and dedicated it to his mother.
It was extremely wealthy in its day -supported by 3,000 villages, and had vast stores of jewels and gold.
Unlike ‘towered’ temples, Ta Prohm is made up of a lower set of buildings, which have been preserved much as they were found in 1860 by French explorers - ethereal, overgrown and reclaimed by the roots of the massive fig and silk cotton trees of the jungle
Preah Khan, meaning sacred sword was built in the 12th century, in a similar style to Ta Prohm. This vast monastic city was one of Jayavarman VII’s largest projects, where he lived temporarily, and dedicated it to his father.
Home to over 1,000 monks, it was believed to have housed a Buddhist monastery and university as well as temples. Many of its Buddha carvings were vandalized during the Hindu resurgence.
Preah Khan is situated on a monumental artificial lake, (called a baray), named the Jayatataka, and a moat surrounds the temple.
Banteay Srey is commonly referred to as "Citadel (or Temple) of Women" and is situated 25 kms north-east of the main temple complex.
This 10th century temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, is famous for the beauty of its delicate sculpture and its miniature scale compared with the other vast temples.
Every surface of the pink sandstone walls is intricately carved, with some of the finest examples of Khmer art.
Banteay Srey was one of the later temples to be rediscovered by French archaeologists in 1914.
loosely translates as "The Great Capital", and was founded by Jayavarman VII in the 12th century.
There are five towered gates into the city, each complete with four faces, which look out to the cardinal points, including the Victory Gate that leads to the Royal Palace area.
Stone carved elephants flank the main gates, which lead to the impressive Avenues of Gods and Demons with its "deva" and "asuras" lining the bridges across the moat.
Within Angkor Thom
The Bayon (state temple) is world renowned for its mass of stone carved faces, which ascend like a stone mountain. Thirty-seven of the original towers remain, most of which are carved with four faces.
The bas-reliefs depicting intricate scenes of everyday life are an incredible feat of carving. The southern wall bas-reliefs contain scenes from every-day life and battles between the Khmer and the Cham.
The 350m long Elephant Terrace is at the heart of Angkor Thom and was a viewing platform from which Jayavarman could survey his returning army. It was the entrance point to the Royal Palace and also the focal point for royal receptions. The carved elephants with their mahouts, gives this its modern name.
Just to the north of the Elephant Terrace is the intricately carved Terrace of the Leper King, in the north-west corner of the Royal Square. Its modern name derives from a sculpture discovered at the site of the Hindu god Yama, the god of Death. He was known as the Leper King because the original statue was reminiscent of a person with leprosy, and there is also a Cambodian legend of an Angkorian king who had leprosy.
In the late ninth century when the capital of the Khmer empire moved from Roluos to Angkor, this temple was constructed as the state temple in Angkor’s first capital city.
Three prominent hills in the surrounding area, Phnom Bakheng, Phnom Krom and Phnom Bok were all crowned with temples in the same period.
The views from the top are magnificent, especially at sunset, looking out and down over Angkor Wat to the south-east.
The Roluos Group
Dating from the late ninth century, these three temples (Bakong, Lolei and Preah Ko) are the oldest of the temples open to visitors.
They are on the site of the ancient centre of Khmer civilization known as Hariharalaya. Seventy years after Jayavarman II established his capital on Mount Kulen in 802, the king moved the capital to Hariharalaya; it is generally believed that his successors remained there until the capital was moved to Bakheng in 905.
The history of the temple is unknown but it can be dated by its architectural style, identical to Angkor Wat.
Scholars therefore assume it was built during the reign of King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century.
It was built as a Hindu temple, but there are some carvings depicting Buddhist motifs.
Its primary material is sandstone and it is largely un-restored, with trees and thick brush thriving amidst its towers and courtyards and many of its stones still lie where they fell.
For years it was difficult to reach, but a road was built to the temple complex of Koh Ker which passes Beng Mealea, so more visitors now come to the site, which is 77kms from Siem Reap.
Stroll through the modern working wats in Siem Reap.
The monks live, sleep, eat, work and pray at their temples and early in the morning they can often be heard chanting prayers.
It is respectful to wear something covering your shoulders and to remove your shoes on entering a temple.
Wat Bo is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Siem Reap province.
It was founded in the 18th century and is held in high regard by local Khmers.
The most significant feature of Wat Bo is the 19th century paintings depicting every-day life scenes from the famous Cambodian epic story the Reamker (the Ramayana).
Wat Damnak is the principle Buddhist temple in town, and was built during the reign of King Sisowath (1875-1941).
Damnak is Khmer for "resting-house". It is believed to have been built in 1919 and today is home to the Center for Khmer Studies, the LHA and Hôtel de la Paix Sewing School and the Life & Hope Association.
Wat Preah Prohm Rath
Wat Preah Prohm Rath (Jewelled Lord Brahma Wat) is a vast colourful Buddhist temple situated on the river in Siem Reap.
It features a large range of traditional paintings and a collection of kitsch, brightly coloured concrete statues.
The wat was founded in 1915, on the legend surrounding the life of Preah Ang Chong Han Hoy, a revered monk who, the signs say, lived from 1358 to 1456
Wat Keseraram (Temple of the Cornflower Petals) has one of the largest collections of Buddha paintings in the region, in particular on the interior of the vihear (prayer hall).
It’s an important meditation centre and is said to have been constructed in the early 1970s. It houses bones from the Khmer Rouge era.
Said to have been built as a prototype for Angkor Wat, the ancient ruins of Wat Athvea lie 7 kms south of Siem Reap, just off the road to the Tonle Sap Lake, within the grounds of a working temple that holds regular blessing ceremonies.
It is believed that the spirits of the past and present are working here together in harmony.
Chinese New Year January/February
Due to cultural influence of China and the large Chinese population in Cambodia, Chinese New Year is widely celebrated, especially in Phnom Penh.
Siem Reap Giant Puppet Parade February
A colourful, fun procession where over 500 children parade handmade giant puppets through the Old Market area of Siem Reap.
The Giant Puppet Project is a local children's community arts project, the largest of its kind in Siem Reap.
It provides a creative platform for disadvantaged children to foster and promote expression and self-confidence through art.
Khmer New Year Mid-April
Celebrating the turn of the year (according to ancient Khmer calendar) and the end of the harvest season, this three day festival is one of the main events of the year.
All over the country the decorated Wats (temples) are extremely busy and the streets are filled withhappy people singing, dancing and playing traditional games.
Royal Ploughing Day May
Celebrated at the beginning of the rainy season, Royal Ploughing Day marks the beginning of the planting of rice.
A ceremonial furrow is ploughed in the park in front of the Phnom Penh National Museum and the sacred cows are offered selected foods to eat. The fortune tellers then predict the outcome of the following year based on the appetite of the cows. At this festival, both men and women wear brightly colored traditional Khmer costumes.
Visak Bochea May
Celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death to Nirvarna of Lord Buddha.
King Sihamoni's Birthday May 13 - 15
During King Norodom Sihamoni's Birthday, the Royal Palace is open to the public. In the evening, crowds gather at the riverside to witness a grand fireworks display.
Pchum Ben September
Cambodians believe that the souls of living creatures are reincarnated when they die. However, some souls will be trapped in the spirit world due to bad karma in their life.
Pchum Ben or the Festival of the Dead is a period of fifteen days when souls are released so that they can search for their living relatives. The living offer these souls food, meditation and prayer, in order to reduce their bad karma and to enable them to be reincarnated.
Water Festival October/November
From the last full moon of October/early November, the population of Phnom Penh is doubled.
People all over the country come to the capital to celebrate the three day Water Festival. This festival marks the change of the flow of the Tonle Sap river. During this time the Tonle Sap begins to flow back towards the sea. This event is celebrated with a boat race on the river and with impressive fireworks.
Independence Day November 9
On the 9th of November 1953 Cambodia gained independence from France.
Celebrations include a parade in front of the Royal Palace.
Angkor Photo Festival November 20 - 27
Established in 2005, the Angkor Photo Festival is the first such event to be organized in South-East Asia.
The festival's 2010 programme will present works from around the world at various exhibitions and outdoor slideshows throughout Siem Reap.
Over the course of a week, the festival showcases emerging South-East Asian photographers and has strong educational goals which sets it apart from other photography events.
Internationally renowned photographers tutor free workshops for emerging Asian photographers and photo workshops for local children's projects.
Half Marathon December 5
Now in its 14th year, the marathon is managed by Hearts of Gold, an organisation established to support landmine survivors and fund their prosthetic limbs.
A percentage of each entry fee goes towards the charity. The races include a 10 km road race for those with artificial limbs, a 21km wheelchair race and 3/5 km fun runs for family and kids
- Queen Norodom Monineath's Birthday June 18
- Constitution Day Sept 24
- Recoronation of King Norodom Sihanouk Sept 24
- King Sihanouk's Birthday October 31
Every two months, a new art exhibition is launched in the Arts Lounge with a cocktail party. A highlight of Siem Reap's social calendar for guests and locals alike, check for dates of the Arts Lounge launches here.