Cambodia’s main draw is the ancient temples that dot the country, with Angkor Wat being the jewel in its crown.
As Cambodia’s top tourist attraction, Angkor Wat Archaeological Park is home to hundreds of ancient temples and religious structures dotted throughout the 400-sq km site.
While Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm remain the most popular, attracting tens of thousands of visitors from across the globe daily, there are many more sacred sites worth veering off the well-trodden trail for.
Regardless of the temple, each is impressive and boasts its own unique history, intricacies, design and atmosphere. However, accessing the more remote temples on-land can be time consuming. That’s why an increasing number of tourists are exploring the temples from the sky.
There are several helicopter tours that offer an exciting way to discover the majestic religious relics from above. While helicopters are not able to fly directly above Angkor Wat itself, passengers can get close enough to soak up simply stunning vistas of the sacred site sprawling below without battling the crowds on the ground.
Helicopter tour options also include hovering above Angkor’s lesser-known treasures. These range from Banteay Srei and the Roluos Group, through to Koh Ker. Of course, there is also the option to charter a private flight with a personalized itinerary to really explore the temples in style.
Here is an introduction to some of Cambodia’s must-see temples.
This legendary 12th century temple complex needs little introduction and is the main impetus for many travelers to visit Cambodia. Standing as the world’s largest religious monument, spanning 1.6 sq-km, Angkor Wat was originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu, before being converted into a Buddhist temple in the 14th century.
It is famed for its many bas reliefs etched with intricate carvings that depict folktales, battles fought and Angkorian life. Magnificent aerial views can be enjoyed from the comfort of a helicopter.
Another much-loved temple on the tourist trail, Bayon is best known for the 216 huge faces carved into its stone towers. Although small in comparison to Angkor Wat, this sacred building is much more condensed. It was built in the late-12th and early-13th century as the official state temple of King Jayavarman VII. Huge restoration work has since taken place, and is ongoing.
Hovering in the sky in a helicopter is a memorable way to view the iconic temple.
Another favorite with visitors, Ta Prohm found international fame when Angelina Jolie was filmed amid the dramatic, root-riddled walls for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Ta Prohm dates back to the 12th century and was built by Jayavarman VII to honour his family.
It features a five-tiered pyramid with steep staircases on each side. With many of the ruins consumed by the roots of towering trees, this temple is by far one of the most magnificent and incredible to view from a helicopter.
This 10th century temple sits 35 km from Siem Reap center, meaning it comes without the crowds of the main three temples. Nestled amid pristine countryside, vast paddies and farmland and lotus ponds, flying to Banteay Srei serves up breath-taking panoramas.
Boasting intricately-carved buildings made from soft, pink sandstone, this miniature temple could be plucked straight from a fairy tale.
This pre-Angkorian group of temples sits slightly off the well-trodden temple trail, meaning most visitors on tight timetables skip it. Dating back to the 9th century, the remains of three temple complexes are all that remain of the King Indravarman I’s former capital.
The group comprises three distinctively-different temple complexes – Bakong, Lolei and Preah Ko, which can be seen peeking out of lush jungle from above.
Rarely touched by visitors, due to it sitting an enduring 120 km from Siem Reap, Koh Ker is another jaw-dropping temple complex that Cambodians hold close to their heart. Serving as the capital of the Angkor Empire from 928 A.D. to 944 A.D., the remote site boasts 42 religious structures and monuments spread across a 9 km by 4 km area nestled among jungle. The focal point is striking Prasat Krahom, a 50-meter-wide sandstone pyramid that stretches 40 meters into the sky.