Kbal Spean is without a doubt the most elaborate of all the ancient Angkor temples, but the journey to reach the temple is more than half the fun. As the summer holidays come to a close, if you can make the trip to the Kingdom of Wonder later in the year you’ll be blessed with a generally cooler climate, and less tourist traffic. Now is the perfect time to take a day trip out to Kbal Spean.
Lose the crowds at Angkor Wat and hire a tuk-tuk for the day – one luxury hotel in Siem Reap offers complementary tuk-tuk driver daily. After a day or two exploring the man-made monuments at the Angkor Archeological Park, you will really appreciate the opportunity to get back to nature. An open-air carriage ride into the Cambodian countryside provides, for many visitors, the most memorable and striking memories of their time in Cambodia.
Kbal Spean is about an hour’s journey from the bustling city center, and your ride will take you through the stunning Cambodian countryside, past rural villages, vast rice paddies and a slice of Cambodian life.
“Without doubt, for me this was the best part of the trip, and well worth going that extra distance to see it.”
This intricate temple along a string of waterfalls is featured in Siem Reap Off the Beaten Path for a reason. You’ll have to climb a hill to reach the temple itself, and the walk is absolutely stunning, but if you have young children with you, be sure they can walk for a half hour on their own before setting out. You’ll traverse a rain forest path for about one and a half kilometers through the rainforest, past Indiana Jones-sized boulders wrapped in creeping vines. Be sure to wear appropriate footwear – flip-flops wouldn’t be the best choice for this temple tour.
Take your time
Make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to enjoy the ride out to the temple, the hike up the hill, and the exploration of the temple itself. It’s best to set off early, keeping in mind the temple closes at 3pm daily. Give yourself an hour for the ride, 45 minutes for the climb, and at least an hour to explore the temple itself and its gorgeous surroundings.
Think you’ve seen it all?
If you’ve seen Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon temples you may think you’ve seen it all, but Kbal Spean is carved from rosy pink sandstone and carved with Ramayana scenes and intricate floral motifs. It is smaller in stature than some of the more popular temples near Angkor Wat, but the detailed scenes of Hindu gods carved into false doors and staggering soaring pediments are unlike any other temple in the country.
Don’t walk around blindly
If you don’t know much about Hindu traditions and lore, it would be well worth your time to hire a guide – there are usually a handful of friendly locals who speak fairly good English and are willing to take you around the temple grounds to explain the stories etched into these 11th century walls for a dollar. Even for expatriates who have visited Kbal Spean multiple times, new carvings and stories seem to appear on every return visit and the trip never fails to amaze.
Temples, waterfalls, and lingas
You can walk along the river in search of ancient and sacred linga carved into the riverbed. These carvings are known locally as the site of 1,000 lingas, but we have never stuck around to count for accuracy. They’ve been etched into the river at Kbal Spean for nearly a thousand years, and are meant to bless the river water that washes over them, so make sure to splash some on your hands and face for good luck.
Budget and food
If you have a guide show you the best path through the forest and around the temple past the river, they won’t expect anything more than a dollar and a big thank you. If you get hungry after the climb, your new friends can point you towards a few local food stalls where you can get delicious stir-fries and grilled meat for less than $5. The only real cost you’ll incur is the $20 day-pass required to visit the Angkor temples. If you think you’re up for it, you should include your trip to Kbal Spean with a visit to nearby Banteay Srey, which we will discuss in the coming month!
As always, if you have any questions about Kbal Spean, the best tuk-tuk drivers, or even the weather forecast, please don’t hesitate to contact us so we can facilitate your trip to one of our favorite, out of the way Angkor temples.