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6 of the best of Angkor’s Ta Keo Temple

Ta Keo Temple at Angkor – often overlooked and never gets too many stars in the guidebook ratings yet it is a very impressive monument and one that you can generally visit without fighting your way through noisy crowds of Koreans for a pleasant change.  (Or Chinese, French, Russians whatever – don’t mean to be rude about Koreans in particular!)

Ta Keo Temple. Impressive or what?
Impressive or what?

It was never actually finished so lacks the ornate carvings of other temples but was certainly solidly built, unlike some later temples, which is demonstrated by its excellent condition. So no crumbling ruins, giant tree roots and apsaras but then part of the attraction is the contrast it provides with neighbouring temples like Ta Prom and Banteay Kdei.

Ta Keo Temple. South gopura
South gopura

There is some carving as shown by the entrance gopura above but the reason for the temple never having been finished is an interesting one in its own right.

Spectacular but little visited
Spectacular but little-visited

Started by Jayavarman V as his state temple, work stopped abruptly upon his death in 1001 and was put on hold during the following years of struggle for succession. When Suryavarman finally assumed control at Angkor and recommenced work on the temple the workers were, according to legend, struck by lightning! The temple then assumed a ‘cursed’ tag and with the king undoubtedly having problems finding workers willing to complete it probably gave it up as a bad job and went off to construct his famous cardinal points of the empire temples instead, (see earlier post).

The 'cursed temple'.
The ‘cursed temple’.

Ta Keo is a massive, solid, no-frills construction – a classic Khmer stepped pyramid – but what singles it out from a historical and architectural viewpoint is that it was the first major Khmer temple to be finished entirely in sandstone. The base was standard laterite and there are some brick/tile roofing sections, but for the first time ever all the enclosure walls, towers, corridors were clad in sandstone. Jayavarman IV had done this with Prasart Tom at Koh Ker but even there some of the associated Prasart Krahom towers are still in brick and the enclosure wall around the great pyramid is laterite. The earlier Bakong pyramid is sandstone but surrounding towers brick built as was Bakheng.

Look no bricks!
Look no bricks!

So an under-rated temple by one of Angkor’s lesser-known rulers but it certainly warrants a visit and Jayavarman V also warrants recognition as the architectural innovator, (or employer of innovative architects), that he was.

Southern gopura from above
Southern gopura from above

Sadly many visitors at Angkor spend too short a time there and can only fit in the most famous sites on their bog-standard Bayon, Angkor Wat, Ta Prom and sunset at Phnom Bakheng programme, but since the chances are that you’ll only visit this fabulous site once in your life we reckon you may as well do it properly! Our All Points East itineraries spread the Angkor visit over 3 days which we feel is the minimal time required to be able to see all the highlights at a relaxed pace, without trying to rush around and fit it all in an exhausting schedule guaranteed to give temple fatigue, but also allows time to visit some of the lesser-known but often most interesting sites. Check out our Angkor itineraries on our Cambodia page here.