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Kapilapura

A lost Angkor 'suburb' in the jungle?

The slightly underwhelming ruins of Kapilapura at Angkor -probably the least-visited, least-known of any temple that actually appears on most maps of the Angkor Archaeological Park.

Ruins of Kapilapura
Ruins of Kapilapura

Just look slightly above and to the right (northeast.) of Angkor Wat on any standard map and you’ll see a small spot marked Kapilapura. What’s interesting about it though, apart from being able to say you’ve visited a temple that most guides have never heard of, let alone any other tourists, is getting there!

It begins with a very pleasant and easy walk along the outside of the north moat of Angkor Wat until you reach the far northeast corner. From here a sandy track leads off at a diagonal into dense forest with just a single consequential fork after some 50 metres Take the left fork and keep on that path for another 1-200 metres until you see a path and a slightly cleared, raised area to your right. Since the ruined walls are low it is easy to walk right past them!

More of the temple later but if you rejoin the track and turn right, keep going straight on – due north and keep on the main path, you’ll come out after a km or so at the far southeast corner of the moat of Angkor Tom. Great views there and you have the choice of turning left and following the south bank of the moat to the South Gate of Angkor Tom or keeping north and reaching the East Gate of Angkor Tom. Either way is very scenic and both are 1.5 kilometres.

Angkor Tom, S.E. corner of moat
Angkor Tom, southeast corner of the moat

Back to the ruins…

Firstly it’s interesting to note that apart from the small ruins of Kutisvara near Sra Srang, this is probably the only temple at Angkor that has kept what was more than likely its original name!  Pura means settlement or town in Sanskrit whilst the English/Sanskrit dictionary we found on the net gave either a reddish-brown monkey or a renowned hermit from Hindu and Buddhist mythology as a definition of Kapila, (so we’re assuming the 2nd). An inscription dated to 968 was found there which places it at either the end of Rajendravarman II or the start of Jayavarman V’s reigns, but in either case, it must have been started during the earlier reign. Rajendravarman II took the city of Yashodapura, around what is now Phnom Bakheng, as his capital as well as building his own personal temples at Pre Rup and East Mebon with the main thoroughfare between the two sites running due west from Pre Rup then straight south to Bahkeng so the site of Kapilapura was a bit out of the way. There is evidence that a temple from this period existed on the site of Angkor Wat itself so Kapilapura may well have been on the road to that location. In any case, what we appear to be seeing with Kapilapura is a small suburb or satellite town of the main 10th-century capital city.

There’s not really much to see these days; the remains of  2 laterite shrines, one with extra anti-chamber and facing east and another, presumably Vishnuite shrine, facing west. (Interesting with its close proximity to the later Vishnuite Angkor Wat.) There’s also an east-facing, ruined brick tower and a couple of other mounds which look like they cover ancient walls too. With a bit of imagination, it’s possible to make out a small moat surrounding the 5 (?) temples. French photos from the 1930s show 5 temples as well as a lintel which is no longer there. (They also found the 968-dated inscription.)

Not really worth visiting the temple as such, unless you’re a particular fan of Rajendravarman II, but it does make for a great walk! This hike is offered as an option on our Cambodia Overland and Beyond Angkor itineraries.

Angkor Tom, emerging at the east wall
Angkor Tom, emerging at the east wall