Thousands of travellers flock to the temples in Siem Reap province every morning to watch the sunrise over incredible Angkor Wat. This awe-inspiring trip frequently tops the list of things to do in Siem Reap, Cambodia and makes the list alongside Machu Picchu and the Taj Mahal as a top bucket list destination. Unfortunately, all of this attention has made a visit to Angkor Wat slightly less than peaceful…
Only five years ago, finding solitude simply meant visiting nearby Ta Prohm or one of the many temples within Angkor Thom first thing in the morning. You could easily meditate under the 216 smiling stone faces of the popular Bayon temple until the tour buses slowly started to trickle in around 9am. The truly bold and ambitious made the long ride to the magnificently ornate Banteay Srei. Today, however, you won’t be finding your solo temple experience without a bit of research and effort.
Luckily we’ve done that for you. So go out and unleash your inner adventurer at these off the beaten path temples.
Two temples in Siem Reap without the crowds.
Banteay Ampil: The deserted dream.
Located about 35 km outside of Siem Reap town on a bumpy and often muddy single track that can only be reached by motorbike, Banteay Ampil is blissfully difficult to find. Part of the beauty of this temple is the journey to get here. You’ll pass by tiny stilt houses, rural students walking to school, sprawling green rice fields, and soaring palm trees. Once you arrive at the temple, you’ll likely find a single guard asleep in a hammock. Don’t be shocked if he’s surprised to see a visitor. Banteay Ampil is situated in the jungle outside of the Angkor Archaeological Park itself and a ticket is therefore not required here. Here’s to solitude and saving money, something not possible at the other temples in Siem Reap area.
Built in the 12th century, Banteay Ampil is a beautiful fusion of the style of art found at Angkor Wat and the overtaking of nature often seen at Ta Prohm. It’s a small complex but it’s highly likely you’ll have the place to yourself to explore and bask in its beauty. A nearby road was being constructed at the time of my visit, so this special place may not remain an untouched secret for long. It’s currently really difficult to find, so if you’re visiting Cambodia, send us an email or hit the comment section below. I would be happy to help you get to Banteay Ampil and connect you with our favourite local expert who can take you there on a motorbike!
Beng Mealea: The massive maze.
Imagine deserted 12th century corridors, trees engulfing ancient sandstone walls, and intricate Hindu and Buddhist carvings. Beng Mealea is all of this and more. It takes around an hour and a half to reach this incredible, huge temple complex and this distance has kept it from witnessing the huge crowds seen within the Angkor Archaeological Park. That being said, the temple is slightly busier with tour groups in the mornings and it’s advisable to visit around lunchtime for the best chance of solo exploration.
Similar in style to Angkor Wat, Beng Mealea is entirely unrestored and uncleared of undergrowth, which is part of its jaw-dropping beauty. With four entrances, the sprawling complex easily justifies two to three hours of exploration. Climbing under small entrance ways and through rubble, you can find large sections of this maze to explore in complete solitude. Given the undisturbed adventuring you can do here, do watch out for snakes: I saw three during my Beng Mealea visit.
Both Banteay Ampil and Beng Mealea are a journey back in time to when the temples in Siem Reap province were less discovered. Places with this kind of mystical appeal are unlikely to remain untouched secrets for much longer, so try to visit them sooner rather than later!
Need help making your way to these temples? Drop me a line in the comments section! I’d love to help you get to know Cambodia!