Off-the-beaten-track sites, Cambodia

Banteay Srei at dawn, Angkor, Cambodia

Banteay Srei at dawn. Photo by Anandajoti.

Banteay Srei

This 10th century Hindu temple complex is constructed out of deep pink sandstone with delicate and detailed carvings. The name, meaning ‘city of women’, is related to its carvings, many of which are divine nymphs, dancers and guardians. It is worth the trip despite its location 37km north of Siem Reap.

Kbal Spean

Kbal Spean river and carvings, Angkor, Cambodia

Kbal Spean, known as the ‘Valley of a thousand Lingas’ or ‘the River of a thousand Lingas’. Photo by Prerit.

An ancient site on the slopes of the Kulen Hills in and beside the Kbal Spean River, Kbal Spean is northeast of Siem Reap. A series of stone carvings of lingas (lingams, male genitals), the symbol of the Hindu god Shiva, can be seen in the river bed and banks. Kbal Spean is a short car trip 25 km from Siem Reap, followed by a pleasant 3km forest hike.

Koh Ker – Prasat Thom

Prasat Thom, a Mayan pyramid look-alike temple at Koh Ker, Cambodia

Prasat Thom, a Mayan pyramid look-alike temple at Koh Ker. Photo by Arian Zwegers.

This collection of 42 ruins 100 km northeast of Angkor was briefly the capital of Khmer empire under control of King Jayavarman IV and Hasavarnman II between 928 and 944. It was entirely swallowed by jungle until discovered quite recently. Regardless of the remote location, Koh Ker deserves a visit, it is as impressive as many other Angkor sites but the quiet and less trampled atmosphere makes it more rewarding.

Koh Ker, Angkor, Cambodia

The entrance to Prasat Thom, Koh Ker. Photo by BluesyPete.

Thanks to recent de-mining and a new highway this once remote, unreachable temple compound northeast of Angkor, is now a popular day excursion from Siem Reap, taking about 2-3 hours by road.

Beng Mealea

Beng Mealea Temple, Angkor, Cambodia

Beng Mealea. Writer128.

Another lost and forgotten temple overcome by trees and roots has the same drama as Ta Prohm and is Angkor’s latest ‘best kept secret’! It’s situated 70 km northwest of Siem Reap.

Prasat Preah Vihear

Prasat Preah Vihear, Cambodia

Prasat Preah Vihear. Photo by William Brehm.

This temple enjoys perhaps Angkor’s most spectacular panoramic settingon the cliff top of the Dangkrek Mountains at the northern end of the country, on the border with Thailand. This Hindu temple built by the Khmer empire has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008. It’s a great spot for both sunrise and sunset as well as picnics.

A two day trip via Koh Ker and Beng Mealea from Siem Reap makes a great route.

Battambang

Wat Kor in Battambang, Cambodia

Wat Kor in Battambang. Photo by Milei Vencel.

Cambodia’s second largest city, used to be an unspoilt, hidden gem not long ago. But it’s not hidden any more and now booming among backpackers. This laid-back city will never be a mega tourist destination since it lacks big sights, but it’s a pleasant place to stay about 170 kms (104 miles) from Siem Reap, a cheap 3 hour bus ride.

The city is settled across the banks of the Sangker River, among rice fields southwest of Tonle Sap. Apart from some lovely French colonial villas the main attractions are the Khmer ruins of Wat Ek Phnom and Phnom Banan (Wat Banan) with its superb views, though they can’t be compared to Angkor.
Take a boat cruise on the Sangker River or even travel to/from Siem Reap by ferry, 4-8 hours depending on the water level (the wet season July – November is best).

Other Rural Area sights

Kampong Kleng village, Cambodia

Kampong Kleng. Photo by Chris Schoenbohm.

A smart new home in Kratie, Cambodia

A smart new home in Kratie.

The view from a train over a typical rural Cambodian landscape.

The view from a train over a typical rural Cambodian landscape.

A smiling woman tending the rice fields in Kratie, Cambodia

Tending the rice fields in Kratie. Photo by Oliver Spalt.