How Angkor Wat alternative Koh Ker, with its tiered temples and ‘magnificent’ artefacts, gives a window into the Khmer Empire without the crowds – for now

For many visitors to Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor Wat is the go-to Khmer temple site, but two hours’ drive from the city is Unesco World Heritage listed Koh Ker.

I’m looking at a seven-tiered pyramid that has more in common with Mexico’s Chichen Itza temple than it does the structures often associated with Cambodia’s Khmer kingdoms. What’s more, I’ve got the site to myself.

There are no selfie-stick-wielding tourists and no children hawking dusty guidebooks. But I can’t help thinking the days of peace and quiet are numbered, partly because Koh Ker, the Khmer temple site I’m exploring, was given Unesco World Heritage status in 2023.

Experts believe Koh Ker, which is the name of both the entire complex, spread over about 81 square kilometres (31 square miles), and the seven-tiered structure at its heart, was built by King Jayavarman IV (ruled 928-941) as an alternative capital to Angkor following a breakdown in the line of royal succession.

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