Cambodian temple-hunting in Siem Reap

There are hundreds of temples of all sizes within the 400 km² Angkor Archaeological Park, and hundreds more in Siem Reap Province. If the thought of scouring the jungles in search of small, remote temples is something that excites you, there are unlimited possibilities.

Cambodian temple hunting

There’s no better time to visit some of Cambodia’s lesser-known temples!

If you have been to Angkor Wat in the past five months you know the effect the pandemic has had on visitor numbers. Ticket sales that used to run between ten and fifteen thousand a day have dwindled at times to ten to fifteen total. The temples are never crowded and there are times when you can have them all to yourself. But what do you do when you have explored all of the empty, echoing passages of the well known temples within the Angkor Archaeological Park and you are itching for something more?

There are approximately 4000 ancient temples that can be found throughout Cambodia in varying sizes and states of ruination, and the vast majority can be seen without the cost of the Angkor admission ticket. Some locations will have nothing more than a few stones and artifacts strewn about the foliage, while others are surprisingly intact.

Banteay Staong Temple

Visiting Banteay Staong — going by moto or bicycle is preferable.

Many of these temples are best visited by bicycle or moto as the paths you need to follow may be only as wide as a cow path. Cars and tuk tuks can get you close enough for a hike through the rice fields and jungle if you prefer to travel that way.

A good way to start exploring for the locations of remote temples is by looking at Google Maps. There are many temples already marked on the map by previous visitors. These can keep you occupied for days depending on how far you are willing to travel.

Google Maps

Satellite view of the temple area on Google Maps.

Looking at the satellite view on Google Maps you might notice little horseshoe shapes like the image below by zooming and scrolling. This is frequently a sign of the remnants of a temple. The original U-shaped moat is now often used for growing rice and the small land bridge may or may not be present.

Riding out in the countryside you may see a small cluster of tall trees that stand out higher than the surrounding foliage. Within these tall trees, many times temples can be found. Over hundreds of years people at some sites have appropriated the stones for their own uses leaving some former temple sites lacking any structure or remnants.

lost Cambodian temple in the jungle

There are many temples in the jungle with unrecorded names, like this one north of Angkor Thum.

Just because you can see these trees in the distance doesn’t always mean you can get there from where you are. This is Cambodia and everything isn’t always as easy as it seems. In Cambodia one always has to be cognizant of the possibility of land mines and walking randomly through the jungle isn’t recommended. When I find an area that I am sure contains a temple I don’t fully explore unless I find a clear path through the jungle to follow.

Sometimes when conversing with a local at a small shop when I stop for water I wave my hand towards the empty fields or jungle and say “prasat?” which means temple in Khmer.

Very often I find myself being guided out to a temple by a knowledgeable local who has lived in the area their whole life.

Totung Thngai Temple

Only the doorways are left at Totung Thngai temple, giving a Stonehenge-type effect.

During the rainy season the jungles close in with a thick green canopy and the rice fields blanket the landscape in a soft green cover — but the increase in rain may make for muddy travels and impassable roads. You can check these small inconveniences off the list of adventurous activities you engage in while searching for remote temples or you can wait for dryer months.

During the dry season the small trails are usually passable and the jungle is less thick and easier to make your way through. This also means there is less green, including moss on the stones and carvings. Pick your poison. Both seasons have their advantages but my preference is the rainy season.

At last count I have been to about 450 temples/ruins/ancient bridges in Cambodia. I know there are so many more out there which leaves me with unlimited possibilities. If the pandemic keeps me here for two more years I don’t think I will have enough time to see them all.

Cambodia jungle temple

Ta Prohm gets all the attention, but there are many little-known temples enveloped by banyon trees.

Leave a comment if you have been able to find a special remote temple in your travels around the countryside.

Angkor Archaeological Park prices:

  • 1-day pass – $37
  • 3-day pass – $62
  • 7-day pass – $72

Foreigners with long-term visas (non-tourist) can buy long-term tickets to Angkor Archaeological Park for 1, 3, or 6 months, for $100, $150, and $200 respectively.

7 Responses to Cambodian temple-hunting in Siem Reap

    Hi, great post.

    Are the approx 450 temples on a spreadsheet with coordinates? My not-up-to-date list is at https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1JFi4GZk4z557pS8dMaAYimlYXbrWkd16p117O06Fx0Y/edit?usp=sharing

    I need to update with some of the border temples, like Ta Krabei, and special note on the Preah Vihear east stairs.

    ron trollfjarden says:

    I have done this with great pleasure.
    However , please be forewarned. When exploring NEVER leave the well worn trails .Many LANDMINES remain unexploded.
    This is no joke . A serious issue considering how many deaths and injuries occur yearly in Cambodia.

    Gaye meyer says:

    Great article! Such CRAZY times a real bittersweet of being able to see the temples by yourself however that comes such hardship for the locals who rely on the money from tourists. I Definitely continue to enjoy you posts.

      Scott Sharick says:

      Yes, the overall hardships effect so many in a town that relies so heavily on tourism. Cambodia has been fortunate in that they have not been hit hard by the virus itself, but it will take many years to recover from the economic effects.

    Amanda Coffin says:

    What a super article, Scott. Thank you!

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