I think many people leave Angkor Wat disillusioned, disappointed and tired of the crowds. The major temples are always busy, and any sense of reverence or peace is lost in the noise. But Angkor Wat complex is big. It’s big enough to keep some temples just out of sight, hidden down a side road or a lonely path, open only to the curious. Here are some of my favourite hidden temples in Angkor Wat – full of beauty and mystery, an oasis in the mayhem of this once great city.
Ta Som Temple
Surrounded by a moat, Ta Som Temple is a haven of calm and tranquillity. There were only a handful of other people here when we arrived, and exploring the small maze of corridors inside the temple is a welcome reprieve from the Cambodian heat. It’s been left mostly unrestored, so the trees have begun taking over the stone walls and gates, giving the place a wild and abandoned atmosphere, despite being on the Grand Circuit of Angkor Wat. As well as a huge strangler fig tree that engulfs one of the main gates, the temple also features Bayon-style, Buddha faces atop one of the main entrances. And the best part is, you won’t have to stand in a 20-deep queue to take photos.
This smaller temple will almost certainly be deserted. It’s close enough to the main circuit that visiting is no major detour, and you’ll unlikely see another soul there. While it may be smaller and less impressive than the main temples, the experience of having an entire temple in Angkor Wat to yourself is one you don’t want to miss out on. Banteay Prei is next to a moat and is set back from the dirt road, giving it a peaceful atmosphere. Ruined meditation galleries surround a central sanctuary that is all but demolished. Bas-reliefs lie crumbled on the floor, and it really feels like you could be in your own adventure movie.
If you make it to any temple in Angkor Wat, this needs to be top of your list. It’s a little tuk-tuk drive through a local village, but completely worth making the trip out here. Built in the same style as Angkor Wat itself, it’s beautifully restored, allowing you to walk around a large part of the temple. There’s no record on who built it, or when, but it’s size and layout suggests it was an important temple that contained a small town. If Banteay Samre was five minutes closer to Angkor Wat, it would be another impressive but crowded temple. But for those of you who take the extra mile or so, you’ll be rewarded with a temple like no other you’ve seen.