Go to Razzle Dazzle welcome page. Angkor, Cambodia

Angkor Temples

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October, 2004


"Go to Angkor, my friend, to its ruins and to its dreams."

— P. Jennerat de Beerski, 1924

The Angkor temples were built by the kings of the Khmer Empire over a period of about five centuries, beginning in 879 AD. The Khmer were almost constantly at war with their neighbors, the Siamese (Thailand) and the state of Champa (Viet Nam). During the period of their greatest power and prosperity, the Khmer kings built lavish temples on a grand scale. When their Empire was finally defeated, the temples and cities of Angkor were pillaged, burned, and abandoned to the jungle. The ruins were described by visiting foreigners for several centuries, but no effort was made to preserve them. They were rediscovered by French explorers in the late 1800's and restoration work began in the early 20th century. The current state of the temples varies considerably. Angkor Wat was occupied by Buddhist monks for much of its life and is in the best condition. Many temples have been rebuilt to one extent or another. Others, such as Beng Melea, are just heaps of stone in the jungle.


During our stay in Cambodia we visited 31 of the temples, but included only the best 25 here. There are others that we did not have time, or desire, to see. Cambodia has only recently emerged from a very long period of civil war and the Angkor temples have been re-opened to tourists for just a few years. (Beng Melea was finally cleared of land mines just last year. We were told that two people had been killed by a mine within a few feet of the path we followed around that temple.) Most of the roads to the temples have been paved in recent years and are in generally good condition.

Tourists who wish to visit the temples must purchase a ticket for 1 day ($20), 3 days ($40), or 7 days ($60). We chose the 7 day ticket, and spent every day tramping through the temples, climbing the pyramids, and generally working very hard in the hot tropical sun. The Angkor temples are more interesting than the temples we visited in Bagan, Burma. For one thing, the Angkor temples were mostly built with stone, and the intricate carvings are still visible. Nearly all of the Burmese temples were built of brick and decorated with plaster or stucco. Today, mostly just the brick remains. Also, the temples of Angkor are more varied than those of Bagan. Each one is different in some way from the others, often dramatically different. Most were built as Hindu temples; some during the 12th and 13th centuries were Buddhist.

The stone carvings are in various states of repair. As religious fashions changed, the Buddhist temples were vandalized by later Hindu zealots who chiseled away all of the Buddha images. There must have been tens of thousands of them. Only a few images escaped destruction. Most of the stone lions that guarded temple entrances were vandalized, and weathering has softened the edges of the carvings, in some cases making the orignal design difficult to see. The Cambodian Cultural Village has modern replicas of some of the statues to allow us to see how they appeared when they were new.

The temple names can be confusing, and many of the parts of the temples have names you may not know. For this reason, we have provided a glossary of terms, with pictures when appropriate, to make it easier to understand our descriptions of the temples. Below the glossary is a chronological list of the temples we visited with information about their style and the king that had them built. The dates come from inscriptions at the temples, when available. For each temple, we have included a rating from a local visitors' guide which combines estimates of the temple's historical importance, interest to visitors, and accessability. Angkor Wat and Bayon are at the top of the list, of course.



anastylosis — a method of restoring a ruined temple by dismantling it and rebuilding it to its original condition. The temples of Thammanon and Banteay Samre were restored in this way.

angkor — city or capital. The city of Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire from 802 to 1432 AD.

apsara — a female divinity, heavenly dancer or celestial nymph. Semi-nude dancing apsara are common carvings on walls, columns, and lintels throughout the temples.

baluster — a short post or pillar used to support a balustrade or to fill a window space. The ends of balusters and columns were carved into a tenon which fits into a matching mortise. This helps to keep the baluster in place, and is identical to the techniques used to construct balusters with wood.

banteay — a fortress or citadel. Many of the temples are surrounded by imposing walls. They were called fortresses by modern observers, though the walls never had any military purpose.

baray — an ancient water reservoir.

bas-relief — a sculpture in low relief.

causeway — a raised road across a body of water. Many of the moats that once surrounded the temples are now dry.

corbel — a kind of vaulting. It is made of overlapping stones, each of which extends 1/3 beyond the one below. It is not as strong as a true arch of fitted stones with a keystone at the top.

EFEO — the Ecole Francaise d'Etreme Orient. The EFEO was formed in 1898 to study the history and archaeology of Cambodia, and to protect its ancient sites.

false doors — sandstone blocks (or stucco covered bricks) in a doorway carved to look like a wooden door.

garuda — a mythical creature with a human body and bird-like wings feathers, and legs.

gopura — an elaborate gateway through the walls of a temple.

Khmer — the dominant ethnic group in Cambodia, and their language.

laterite — a kind of aerated mudstone that is common in Cambodia. It is damp, and soft, when cut from the earth but hardens when exposed to sun and air. It has a porous texture and a red-brown color, and was much used in the construction of the Angkor temples.

nul. nul.

linga — a phallic symbol which represents the Hindu god Shiva.

lintel — a sandstone crossbeam above a door or window. It supports the pediment over an entry door and is often heavily decorated.

moat — many of the temples are surrounded by moats that add to the visual appeal of the temples.

monastic complex — a temple complex that is built on one fairly flat level, e.g. Ta Phrom, Preah Khan, & Banteay Kdei.

naga — a serpent that figures prominently in Hindu and Buddist mythology. At Angkor, it usually has five or seven heads.

pediment — (or fronton) a triangular embellishment above the entry doors of Angkor temples. The pediments are heavy sandstone blocks supported by relatively weak posts and lintels. They have commonly collapsed with time and the settling of the temple foundations. Pediments are also found above false doors.

phnom — a hill or mountain.

preah — sacred, holy.

prasat — a tower.

spean — a bridge, e.g. Spaen Thma.

srah — a pond, e.g. Srah Srang.

srei — a woman.

stele — an inscribed stone tablet.

ta — ancestor

temple mountain — a high temple, usually a pyramid, that emulates Mt. Meru, a mythical mountain at the center of the universe, e.g. Preah Rup, Ta Keo, Bakong

thom — large or great, e.g. Angkor Thom, the great city.

Tonlé Sap — a very large freshwater lake that discharges into the Mekong river.

- varman — protected by. A suffix attached to the names of the Khmer kings.

wat — a temple.


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Cambodia panorama.
A panoramic view inside the temple of Banteay Kdei


Angkor Temple Chronology
Century Temple Date Rating Style King
9th Preah Ko 879 Preah Ko Indravarman I
Bakong 881 ••
Lo Lei 893 Yasovarman I
10th Phnom Bakheng ••• Bakheng Yasovarman I
Prasat Kravan 921 Hashavarman I
Baksei Chamkrong 947 Koh Ker
East Mebon 952 •• Preah Rup Rajendravarman II
Preah Rup 961 ••
Phimeanakas •• Banteay Srei Jayarvarman V
Banteay Srei 967 •••
Ta Keo
11th Baphuon 1060 •• Baphoun Udayadityavarman II
Beng Melea Angkor Wat Suryavarman II
12th Angkor Wat 1150 •••• Angkor Wat Suryavarman II
Chau Say Tevoda
Thommanon ••
Banteay Samre
Ta Prohm 1186 ••• Bayon Jayarvarman VII
Banteay Kdei ••
Neak Pean ••
Preah Kahn •••
Ta Som ••
13th Angkor Thom ••• Bayon Jayarvarman VII
Bayon ••••
Terraces ••

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Created 10/2004. All text & photos are © 2004 Jim Richter.