Culture

5 Jaw-Dropping Cambodian Sites That Aren’t Angkor Wat

You might even have them to yourself.

There’s a reason visitors cluster in Cambodia’s Angkor Archaeological Park: 400 square kilometres of ruins spanning six centuries of the Khmer Empire in its reaches, with the oldest dating as far back as the 9th century.

As impressive as the still-inhabited ancient area is, there are plenty of incredible in Cambodia that you won’t have to share with the tourist hoards. In fact, you might just have some to yourself.

#1 Sambor Prei Kuk

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The third and most recent addition to Cambodia’s list of UNESCO World Heritage inclusions, the 1400-year-old “temple of richness in the forest” may only cover 25 square kilometres, but it boasts an impressive 140 monument-strong array of ancient beauty in lush, atmospheric surrounds.

Only achieving its UNESCO status in June this year means you might have a chance at avoiding crowds, but its wild, mystical beauty ensures it won’t stay a secret for much longer. Entry costs around $3 per person.

Location: 30km north of Kampong Thom, Cambodia


#2 Phnom Chisor

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On a crest in Takeo Province about 55km south of capital Phnom Penh, Hindu temple complex Phnom Chisor predates Angkor by around 100 years. From its elevated position, the site has a pretty stunning view of the rice fields below, especially as you ascend the 412 stairs of the main temple.

The 11th century monuments may have that crumbling character that Cambodian sites are famous for, but there’s plenty of intricate brickwork intact and ready for your admiration. Entry costs $2 per person.

Location: 65km south of Phnom Penh, Cambodia


#3 Beng Mealea

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Just 40km east of the Angkor complex, Beng Mealea is certainly worth the short detour. Once completely concealed by jungle, the moat-encircled site is the kind of place where exploration is so tempting and lucky for visitors, it’s somewhat encouraged. While caretakers will happily point you to places where stone scrambling is allowed, we suggest you look with your eyes, not your hands (or feet).

And those magical scenes of ramshackle ruins clutched by centuries of twisted, hungry tree roots? There are more of those at Beng Mealea than you can count. Entry costs $5 per person.

Location: 60km east of Siem Reap, Cambodia


#4 Prasat Preah Vihear

The border-straddling Prasat Preah Vinear is a site of some contention, with both Cambodian and Thai authorities claiming the 11th-century temple as their own. (In 2015, the UN ruled the site is Cambodian.)

But you’ll want to visit for reasons other than the fact that a fearful few might still be kept away – Prasat Preah Vinhear is perched atop a 525m-high cliff in the Dângrêk Mountains, making the backdrop just as impressive as the outpost itself.

Entry costs $10 per person.

Location: 210km north of Siem Reap, Cambodia


#5 Preah Khan – Kompong Svay

Also known as Prasat Bakan to locals (probably to avoid confusion with Preah Khan temple of the Angkor complex), Preah Khan – Kompong Svay has particular religious significance to both Hindus and Buddhists and includes some structures that date back to the 9th century.

Like so many ancient Cambodian cities, the city is half-swallowed by trees and vines and its location on the edge of Boeng Peae Wildlife Sanctuary means it has a lot of nature to contend with. For that reason, the site is so rarely visited by crowds, it’s not unusual for you to be the only caller.

No matter how tempting the nature might be however, don’t stray from the path – although the area is clear of land mines, it’s not wise to tempt fate. Entry costs $5 per person.

Location: 70km north of Kompong Thom, Cambodia

(Lead image: JJ Ying)