These hidden temples in Cambodia will take you off the beaten path

Avoid the crowds at these lesser known alternatives to Angkor Wat—which include Cambodia’s newest addition to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Nearly 1.4 million people plan to trek to Cambodia’s 900-year-old Angkor Wat temple complex this year, but 68 miles northeast is a site once considered “the center of the Angkorian world,” says archaeologist Sarah Klassen. Koh Ker, home to Cambodia’s largest pyramid, is the country’s newest addition to the UNESCO World Heritage List and one of the nation’s many historically significant archaeological marvels often missed by travelers. Here are four lesser known sites built by the prosperous Khmer Empire during its heyday from the ninth to the 15th centuries.

The rise of Angkor and the Khmer Empire

Founded around A.D. 802, the Khmer Empire grew to become one of the most influential in Southeast Asia, spanning from modern-day Vietnam to Myanmar. It was ruled by a dynasty of powerful god-kings from the capital of Angkor, home to the 400-acre Angkor Wat complex. Featuring elaborately carved spires, elevated towers, covered galleries, and spacious courtyards, the 12th-century “temple-mountain” is one of the world’s largest religious structures and is Cambodia’s most renowned sacred site—so much so that it appears on the nation’s flag.

“The ability to harness all of the people that would have been required to build something like the big monument at Angkor is really spectacular,” says Klassen, who is the co-director of the Cambodian Archaeological Lidar Initiative and director of the Koh Ker Archaeological Project, adding that these structures are “a testament to the power and wealth” of the civilization.

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