Siem Reap temples to visit for free
What we say:
If even after Angkor, you think you might have room for one or two temples more but don’t quite have the cash to cover it, despair not. Within reasonably short distances of Siem Reap it’s still possible to find temples that are easy to access and not subject to a charge for entry.
The nearest is Prasat Preah Enkosei, which can be found within the pagoda grounds of Wat Preah Enkosei on the north riverside. Only two stone sanctuaries set on a single base remain, though it is likely there were meant to be three. The larger, central one has a lintel with carvings of Indra (who is broken off) on an elephant with a representation of the Churning of the Sea of Milk above. The inscriptions here include eulogies of the god Shiva, who appears on his sacred mount Nandi in the carving, and of Rajendravarman II, during whose reign this temple was built by a high ranking official. It was dedicated in 968.
To the south of Siem Reap, Wat Athwear (pronounced ah-twee-ah) can be found down a bumpy red dirt road set within the grounds of a contemporary Buddhist monastery. The sandstone temple has been restored and is worth a gentle exploration on an otherwise quiet afternoon. It used to be free, but it is possible that you may be asked to pay a small entry fee. It was built during the reign of Suryavarman II, the chap who built Angkor Wat, and there are reflections of the grander temple in the style of this smaller satellite. The structure to the west of the temple is an unfinished gate of a second enclosure that was never completed. Non-completion is a feature of many of the Angkorian temples.
The best way to visit Wat Athwear though is to book a ride with Happy Ranch and it features on their three-hour trek. Everything looks amazing from horseback, and temples are not immune.
To the northeast, the best of the lot can be found on Phnom Bok, but you have to work to get to it. A 40-minute tuk tuk drive away, it’s a good idea to head out in the morning as you’ll not want to climb the 600 steps under the glare of a midday sun, or have to run down them again with that sun setting to the west. There is a theory that the odd little hills that dot the otherwise flat basin of central Cambodia are “splashes” of molten rock from an asteroid strike glancing off the planet many moons ago. Whether it’s the case or not, the view from the top of these blots is fabulous for being uninterrupted, except for the Phnom Khulen range further northeast.
Those views were no doubt much appreciated by the Khmer Rouge too, who had a base at the hill. You can still see one of their guns as you go up the steps.
The temple is beautifully dilapidated, and if you keep going to the northwest you’ll find a large platform on which a huge linga, now broken, once stood. Whatever you do, don’t forget to bring water if you’re making this trip. You can buy some at the base of the hill too, and whatever you think you’ll need, double it. Don’t forget your camera either, like some complete twit I happen to know.
Got even more time on your hands? Check out our week-long itinerary suggestion for around Siem Reap.Last updated: 31st January, 2015
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