Most visitors to Angkor see the most famous temples on a small circuit: Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm. However, anyone who goes to the Grand Circuit can discover a lot of new things away from the tourist crowds.
Here you will find tips and a suggested route visit the less known temples throughout the grand circuit of Angkor complex.
Grand Circuit: the route
Getting up early is not necessary for the Grand Circuit at Angkor archaeological park. Depending on how intensively you want to explore the individual temples, it is sufficient to leave shortly afternoon and stay until sunset. It is common practice to hire a bicycle or take our jeep tour for the excursion – this can also be done spontaneously. Here are the following routes to visit grand circuit temples: Preah Khan temple, Neak Pean, Tom Som, East Mebon and finally – Pre Rup temple with the magnificent sunset view.
Recommended Tour: Angkor Temples Discovery
At first glance, the Preah Khan temple resembles Ta Prohm, the Tomb Raider temple. It looks dilapidated, more like a ruin and is partly overgrown by strangler figs and kapok trees. It is much less known than its optical cousin Ta Prohm but no less beautiful. “Preah Khan” means “holy sword”. It was built in the late 12th century under King Jayavarman VII. It is believed that the temple served as the provisional capital during the construction of Angkor Thom. The Preah Khan is by far the largest temple on the Grand Circuit. When you get there, you will see a large gate similar to the South Gate of Angkor Thom, and then you walk a bit more before you arrive at the temple itself.
We continue to the Neak Pean – which really doesn’t look like any other temple. The Neak Pean (translated: “intertwined snakes”) is located on an artificial island in the center of a large water basin, the northern Baray. The Barays were created as water reservoirs when Angkor was in bloom and made a relatively large number of harvests possible – one reason for Angkor’s prosperity at the time.
You can get to the actual temple via a 200 meter long wooden walkway. From here you have a great view of the almost surreal scenery: gnarled trees and other plants grow from the water basin, behind the water basin you see the dense jungle, water snakes and small fish are making their way, chased by birds and anglers.
It is almost difficult to leave the jetty. Once on the island, you will immediately see the relatively small temple Neak Pean with its five water basins. The whole complex is beautiful because it’s so different – even if the actual temple was also built in the 12th century under Jayavarman VII.
The third stop is Ta Som. This is also reminiscent of Ta Prohm: like a ruin, embedded in dense greenery, and very little visited. Here, too, King Jayavarman VII was the builder, King Indravarman II later only added the outer wall.
The temple was built for Som, Jayavarman’s mentor. And even if the temple is one of the smaller ones and not quite as significant: How many teachers in this world have received such an honor?
We come to the East Mebon, whose architectural style is suddenly very different from that of its predecessors. This is the Pre-Rup style, which was not coined by Jayavarman for a change, but by one of the lesser-known kings of Angkor: Rajendravarman II. He was in power from 944 until his death in 968.
You can see immediately that different building material was used here because the sandstone is more yellowish in contrast to the stone grey of its predecessors on the Grand Circuit. The East Mebon is located in the eastern Baray, which has now dried up and was built over several levels. Climbing stairs is a big thing.
The temple is square, and on the lowest level you will find well-preserved and beautiful elephant statues on every corner. As a visitor you have peace and quiet here, very few tourists get lost on the complex.
If the schedule worked, the day should slowly turn into the evening. Sunset in Siem Reap is around 5:30 PM, and at that time it is highly recommended to go to the top of Pre Rup Temple. From up there you have the best view of the sunset.
The East Mebon can almost be seen as the architectural vanguard of the Pre Rup because the architectural style is, as already mentioned, very similar and by the same builder – however the Pre Rup is a lot higher, larger and more magnificent.
Climbing the steps all the way to the top is exhausting, and as these are very narrow, please be careful. You don’t want to slip up and tumble down! But the drudgery is worth it, because from above you have a great view over rice fields and the jungle, and when the sky is clear you can enjoy a great sunset.
After sunset, it’s time to return to Siem Reap. Then you are probably pretty broken and full of impressions.
Related post: Watch Sunset at Phnom Bakheng Temple