Off the beaten track – Khmer Times

Undeniably, Angkor Wat is the country’s main attraction and national symbol, that contributes to Siem Reap’s reputation as the hub of tourism in Cambodia.

The northwestern province, home to the 9th -15th Century Khmer or Angkorian Empire, however, has so much more to offer when it comes to ancient ruins.

In fact, while it was estimated that there are 50 Buddhist and Hindu temples dating back to the 12th century within the Angkor Archaeological Park, at least 145 temples and temple complexes of the Angkorian era have also been found in Siem Reap.

However, unlike the temples in Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, many of these temples remain unknown as they are located away from Siem Reap city and also due to a lack of marketing campaigns to promote them.

“Many travel agencies include trips to Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom because these are well-known internationally,” said Kong Ros, a tour guide in Siem Reap city.

“Tour guides like us can bring tourists to lesser-known temples, which are very both beautiful and fascinating, but they usually miss the opportunity because most of them are hard to reach and costlier.”

However, for enthusiastic travelers and Indiana Jones wannabes, some architectural gems in Siem Reap have gained popularity in recent years.

Beng Mealea Temple

One of those is Beng Mealea Temple. Covered by dense jungle, it is a destination that will awaken one’s inner Indiana Jones.

Located 65 kilometers northeast of Siem Reap, it is a gorgeous temple complex, built mostly with sandstones in similar styles to Angkor Wat its architectural elements show that it is a dedication to Hindu gods, although some carvings also depict Buddhist motifs.Its history remains unknown but experts report that the massive temple, taking up almost the same area as Angkor Wat, could have been erected in the 12th century.

Beng Mealea is said to have been built in the 12th century.

Bakong Temple

Another one is Bakong Temple, located at Ov Loek village of Prasat Bakong district. Enclosed by two moats, with the outer enclosure delimited on both sides by a laterite wall, the temple has 22 buildings and is home to a number of statues of Vishnu and Shiva.

It also has the first example of Naga bridges, which are found in later Angkorian monuments as well as well-preserved and detailed carvings of mythical creatures like nagas and makaras.

What makes Bakong even more special is that it is the first mountain temple of the Angkorian Empire. Built by King Indravarman I as his state temple, the architectural wonder features a linga called Sri Indresvara, it is dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Bakong, the first mountain temple of Angkorian Empire, was built by King Indravarman I. KT/Taing Rinith

Phnom Bok Temple

Meanwhile, Phnom Bok Temple, about 23.7 km from Siem Reap city, is probably the most exciting to visit, considering that many tourist guides know about it.

One of the province’s oldest structures, it stands on the top of a hill that can only be reached by climbing over 600 steps. While this may sound tiring, travelers will be compensated with both beautiful carving and a breathtaking panoramic view of the Tonle Sap River.

There is a long list of hidden gems like these: Koh Ker, Ta Nei, Banteay Prei, Prasat Chrung, Banyteay Thom, Chau Srei Vibol, and so on.

While the marketing activities to attract tourists to these temples have been slacking for years, The Apasara National Authority (ANA), which is responsible for protecting the Angkor Archaeological Park and other temples in Siem Reap, said it will bring real changes.

Long Kosal, spokesman of ANA, said the authorities are repairing and improving the infrastructures in the provinces so that travelers will have easier access to the less well-known temples.

“One of the biggest projects we are working on right now is building a waterway to Neak Poun Temple, which is positioned in the middle of a pond,” he said.

“We are also building a parking junction which will link Prasat Prei Rub, a temple in Angkor, with Banteay Samre, an isolated temple, and a road to Phnom Bok temple.”

Kosal added that the authorities are studying infrastructure development plans for Beng Melea and Koh Ker temples.

“We will promote these temples through media and other means of advertisement,” he said.

Chhay Sivlin, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, said travel agencies should work closely with the government, especially the Ministry of Tourism, on introducing the new trend of tourism with new destinations, as Cambodia is reviving its tourist sector, which has been struck by the Covid-19 pandemic in the past two years.

“With new destinations, tourists will never find their trips to Siem Reap monotonous,” she said. “It should be made known that Siem Reap has much more to offer than Angkor Wat.”

  • tags: Angkor Wat, Siem Reap

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