Unfinished Wonder, Ta Keo Temple in Angkor Cambodia

Visit to Ta Keo happened by chance while touring the Angkor Temples. Ta Keo Temple is a massive structure made of sandstone. Unfortunately the temple because of its incomplete state hardly gets a mention. It doesn’t figure in must see list of temples in Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia. However this mammoth temple/monument attracts attention as you cross it. I am glad we heard it calling and halted to make a quick tour of the temple.

History of Ta Keo Temple in Angkor

Ta Keo Temple exists from 9th century AD and is one of the oldest temples in Angkor. Historians have concluded that Ta Keo is a representation of 5 peaked Mt. Meru on Earth. The present name Ta Keo is from inscriptions found there – Hema Sringagiri – mountain with golden peaks. The construction began in 975AD under instructions of King Jayavarman V. He dedicated the temple to Lord Shiva. Sadly he passed away even before the temple was completed. Later the constructions continued under the reign of King Jayaviravarman and King Suryavarman I. In 1010AD Suryavarman-I who ascended the throne gave the temple to Yogisvara Pandita in its incomplete state.

According to a Khemer legend, the temple was abandoned permanently when a bolt of lightning struck one of the temple’s towers. People then interpreted this event as an evil omen. No wonder Ta Keo Temple is referred to as Unfinished Masterpiece!

Ta Keo Temple in Angkor

Ta Keo Temple – Architectural Wonder

The main entrance to the temple is at the east. Your tickets are checked here. The temple is surrounded by a moat (there is no water now), 255m by 195m. There are steep staircases which lead from one level to next till you reach the main temple in the top. The raised outer enclosure (112m by 106m) is bound by wall made of pock marked laterite and sandstone. Further up a flight of staircase you land at the inner enclosure (80m by 75m). Four gopuras now in shambled state adorn the platform. A close look on the platform and you will find designs engraved on the rocks, worn out and some with a coat of dead black moss. At the center is the main temple. This central pyramid is 14m above the second enclosure. Total height of pyramid of Ta Keo Temple from ground is approx 21.5m (70ft.).

South gate, Laterite wall

Pock marked sandstone wall holding the second enclosure of Ta Keo Temple in Angkor

Tour of Ta Keo Temple in Angkor

Take one step at a time! Series of steps – that is what comes to mind when I think of this temple. Best time to approach this would be early morning hours so that the light isn’t too harsh. Gear yourself with a bottle of water. This temple doesn’t have much shade like Banteay Kdei Temple  or the Ta Prohm Temple. The first set of step at south are short and you are soon at the 4th layer of the temple from top. There are another set of staircase with narrow foothold just as you step inside. You can avoid that, walk eastwards and as you turn around the bend you will find long galleries on either side of east gopura (gate). This gopura has some stunning carvings on its three doorways. You get ample photo opportunities within these galleries. I found the balustered windows very interesting and photogenic.

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Inner Enclosure

Another flight of stairs and you land at the 3rd layer from top, the inner enclosure of Ta Keo temple in Angkor. You will now directly face the pyramid. A lone kneeling Nandi, in its worn out state; someone has put a garland of tiny bells around it. This is a proof that a Hindu Temple existed here once. On either side there are libraries. Interesting to note here the design of libraries that existed then! Imagine how many learned people would have walked these corridors centuries back.

At the extreme ends are 2 short galleries. Observe carefully and you will find the roofs are missing. Some sites mention that probably these were covered with wooden or tiled roofs, which would have degraded over time.

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You still have energy left in you? Climb one more flight of stairs to 2nd level. This platform was hardly negotiable when we landed there. Major repair work was on in this floor.  Scattered building blocks and construction materials obstructed the easy walk. This was in May 2017. Hopefully, now the space is all clear and more majestic after all that effort by them. This platform has 4 towers at the cardinal points. Not much art work is seen on their facades. It is evident that construction has been left incomplete.

Peak of Pyramid

Finally, one more flight of stairs and you are at the main shrine, the peak of the pyramid. This is again not a highly decorated structure. Inside there are idols of Buddha. Fresh garlands, burning incense sticks and offerings indicate that people still come to pray here.

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Tour Time of Ta Keo Temple in Angkor

The entire tour can be done in 30 to 45 minutes. Since there are not many intricate designs on the walls or facades photographing the temple doesn’t take much time.

Open Timings and Best Time to Visit

The temple is open from 7am to 5.30pm.

Travel Tips for Ta Keo Temple

  • Best time would be early in the morning. A visit late in the afternoon can be rewarding, especially because you can witness the setting sun and the green forest cover.
  • Wear good shoes with grip, the steps are narrow in width and bit worn out and smooth at some places.
  • Fuel yourself well and carry water with you.
  • Study the plan of the Ta Keo temple in Angkor. It helps to navigate your way through the temple faster.
  • Must see temple in your 3 day temple tour ticket in Angkor.

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54 Responses to “Unfinished Wonder, Ta Keo Temple in Angkor Cambodia

  • OMG! It’s a fantabulous creation! The architecture, the carvings, the stone windows – everything is so unique! You said it right, it is a wonder that needs to be shown to the world. Glad you stopped by! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • This is one of the places I always wanted to go to, but because I have asthma, I’ve always been afraid that the stairs would be too much. So many steps, which don’t bode well with my lungs! Do you think it’s a very hard hike to the top, or it’s still feasible, maybe taking my sweet time?

  • That is stunning – and something that must be seen in person. I can’t wait to visit. Your photos are beautiful and really show off the unique architecture.

  • I can’t believe that temple isn’t on a “must-see” list even if it is unfinished. The architecture and carvings are stunning. Your pictures really help get the feel of the place. When did the lighting hit it as an “evil omen”? Sounds like it was when Suryavarman-I was king.

  • The architecture is amazing! Considering how old the temple is, I can’t believe you can go inside and look around. I would love to visit one day, I did not realize how much there is to see in Cambodia.

  • As you rightly say the architecture looks wonderful. I was there a few years ago but did not go to Ta Keo. Guess will check it out the next time!

  • The carvings on the doorways of the eastern gopura are marvellous. Ta Keo is indeed an unfinished masterpiece. It looks like there are lots of stairs to negotiate, but I’m sure they’re all worth climbing.

  • This looks like a fascinating place to visit. I love the burst of color the Buddhas provide against the stone surroundings

  • Indrani, you have given the perfect title to Ta Keo Temple in Angkor Cambodia. It is an unfinished wonder. THe architecture here is amazing and the whole complex is huge. It seems there are lots of steep stairs to reach the next level, but seems worth too. Your pictures are amazing as always.

  • It is really nice. I would love to see this unfinished masterpiece. I wonder what it would have looked like had that lightning not struck and they did finish it.

  • All the Angor complexes are truly beauties. We also visited the Ta Keo temple and loved the fact that it was a little less crowded.
    Great post with a lot of details, useful info and really nice pics. Takes us back to earlier this year… Cheers.

  • Brooke Herron
    4 months ago

    would love to get to this part of the world. The temples are such thought-provoking passages back in time to a different age.. I always love thinking about who has been in a place before me… and what it looked like when it was first built and was in perfect condition

  • Is this actually part of the Angkor Wat temple complex? I’m trying to remember if I saw this one while I was there. I definitely went all around, riding over 45 km on the bike to see every temple I can find. It does look vaguely familiar, especially that dry moat surrounding it. If I did miss it, it’s just another reason I’ll have to get back someday.

  • There are just so many amazing temples at Ankor – I have been twice and I still have not seen them all! I actually find that the lesser known temples like Ta Keo are my favorite because you can enjoy them without fighting through the hoards of tourists you face at the more popular spots! If you get an early start and skip the standard sunrise at Angkor Wat you can wandering through places like Ta Keo with the early morning light streaming in through the trees and ancient windows for hours without seeing another soul. It’s absolutely magical!

  • I found this article to be very interesting. I am surprised that people are allowed to walk around the ancient temple so freely, especially since it is so old! But oh how amazing to imagine the history of the temple and the people who were devoted to building it!

  • The TA KEO temple is simply breathtaking! I went to Thailand but never made it here. When I get back from South America I would definitely like to visit Cambodia.
    Thanks for the insights.

  • Abhinav Singh
    4 months ago

    Cambodia has been a dream. I love visiting ancient civilizations such as this. It’s amazing that this temple has stood the test of time. I would love to spend an entire day here.

  • It sounds kinda creepy that a bolt of lightning hit the temple and therefore it was never finished. What was the overall vibe and atmosphere of the area? I’ve never been to Angkor Wat so I’m interested in finding out before I go.

  • These temples you keep taking me to are absolutely stunning. I can’t get enough of this architecture and to think the Ta Keo Temple was around from 9th century AD. Seems like a lot of steps to climb but wow. This place seems to be getting a lot of attention lately. It’s already on my to go to list.

  • Tao Keo temple is really a unfinished masterpiece. Taking tour of this temple in 3 day temple tour is a great tip. Also seeing the temple with setting sun and forest cover must be so beautiful. Great post with informative details and stunning pictures taken by you.

  • What a beautiful tour of Tao Keo Temple. I actually missed this when I was in Cambodia last time, but I’m heading this way again next week and I look forward to exploring it! I love that you can go to the top of the pyramid. It looks incredible! What an amazing structure. I wonder what it would’ve looked like completed.

  • I so want to go to Cambodia and this beautiful Ta Keo Temple seems like a place I would love. Enjoyed reading the history, can’t believe how old this is. The balustered windows do look very photogenic, I agree! Thanks for the tips and detailed information about the Unfinished Masterpiece.

  • Abigail Sinsona
    3 months ago

    I consider myself lucky to have had the chance to visit the Angkor Wat temples. The Ta Keo temple is beautiful. It is amazing how something like these temples have stood the test of time and remain standing until today.

  • Beautiful photography! Every temple in Cambodia is a sight for sore eyes. I visited this site back in 2014 and absolutely feel in love with all the history, primitive design (yet perfect) and the curious fact the guides would tell us along the tour. Definitely a must-go! – Mariella

  • That’s good you can see the temple with the 3-day ticket. I’ve yet to visit Cambodia, so have to admire all the photos from your post! The temples are amazing, and it’s surprising it only takes 35 to 40 minutes to see everything!

  • I haven’t read anything about the Ta Keo temple in Cambodia. It certainly looks like an Instagrammable structure! The history of this place is amazing, it goes back to before many other countries didn’t exist.

  • Your Cambodian series has been really amazing and besides all the lovely photographs I have specially enjoyed you capturing the history and heritage of the place in detail. Ta Keo and it’s history is pretty interesting and like a lot of the temples in the region, it has it’s own charm. I really want to visit Cambodia, just to visit the temples and photograph them.

  • I find so many such amusing places which are not in the tourist lists but still quiet interesting. And the best part about these is that there aren’t many people in these places allowing you to take your time and take pictures which do not have people in them. Ta keo’s history is so interesting. For me it looks like a perfect place for a beautiful photoshoot.

  • Parnashree Devi
    3 months ago

    I love reading your Temple Trail in Cambodia. The history of the temples and the way you describe it in words through pictures are absolutely wonderful. Your love for history and the architecture is commendable. I loved the pictures . I am aiming to cover these temples whenever I visit Cambodia.

  • We are very much fascinated by the architecture of the majestic Angor Wat temple which we are yet to visit but we hadn’t heard about the Ta Keo Temple. It does look stunning the architecture, sculptures with an intriguing history. We would love to visit the Ta Keo Temple whenever we make it to Cambodia and experience the magnificent structure in person.

  • Such a nice read and I must agree with you, Ta Keo Temple is an unfinished wonder! He architectural layout is one of its kind. Reading posts about Cambodia really makes me want to visit.

  • It looks beautiful even unfinished. I have Cambodia on the top of my list and would love to visit to see this first hand.

  • Cambodia seems like the perfect place to visit to see ancient temples, ruins, and such! Your article provides all the information I’d need to visit and explore this incredible temple! It’s such an incredible looking place and it seems like there are tons of tourists which is a plus!

  • We hear so much about the temples of Ankor Wat but it’s great to hear about one like Ta Keo Temple that has a real (and different) story behind it. I am always fascinated by legends as they are something that doesn’t exist in my culture. I can see how they would think this is a bad omen and failed to finish it. Thanks for highlighting this temple as it is definitely one I would want to see to even out the temple sightseeing here.

  • Ta Keo sounds well worth a visit if you have several days in Siem Reap. I would love to visit at sunset as you suggested. It sounds beautiful, and must be much less crowded than the usual spots. Thanks for sharing about it!

  • With a Nandi here, my guess is that this was a Shiva temple. There seems so much left to uncover here. I know I would feel like Lara Croft here 😉 The fact that it is not crowded is a huge plus for me to explore this. Glad you could too.

  • Ta Keo Temple is truly an architectural wonder! It amazes me how people from back in the days are able to create something so unique and grand. And more importantly, the structure can sustain over all these years!

  • It is amazing how Ta Keo Temple has survived the centuries. It still amazes me how much effort people put into the temples of old. I would love to watch the sunset over these temples.

  • I was looking for something beyond the main Angkor complex and this fits the bill! Thank you for providing something off the beaten path. I love the idea that it went unfinished due to a lighting bolt taken as an evil omen. How fascinating!

  • I’ve never heard of this temple before, it’s nice to know there are other temples to see near Angkor Wat. I hope to visit Cambodia soon and will definitely add Ta Keo to my itinerary! I love the legend about the lightning bolt striking down on it, it gives it such a unique history. It’s interesting to know that people still go there to pray even though it’s considered an evil omen.

  • I love finding sites that are a bit overlooked and Ta Keo seems like a gem – unfinished or not. Thanks for the tips too. Heat is an issue for me so an early morning or late afternoon visit would probably be best. Now I just need to get there. Loved your photo gallery too!

  • It looks a really interesting temple, who doesn’t love a good set of ruins. We have still to visit Cambodia but hope to change that soon.

  • I have never heard of this temple until now, but I am so glad you introduced it to me! Fascinating read about its history, and such a beautiful structure even in its incomplete state. Truly a wonder.

  • This sounds like an amazing and intriguing place to visit. I love your beautiful photographs!

  • Wow. This temple looks so amazing. On my trip to Cambodia I’ll be sure to check it out.

  • The architecture is beautiful, I didn’t even initially realise that it was unfinished. The Angkor Wat complex has so many different temples that a lot of the smaller and less famous ones fall under the radar and aren’t explored as much. I personally like this one and I think the unfinished nature adds to the aesthetic and charm.

  • Your photos do justice to this ancient ruin. Thanks for such a detailed post and the useful tips. I would definitely make a mental note of this, whenever I do visit Angkor.

  • I love peeping into the bygone eras and exploring the ruins is something that really fascinates me. The temple looks beautiful even in its unfinished ruins. Love the intriguing carvings and beautiful architecture. Hope to visit this fascinating wonder someday. 🙂

  • Thank you for sharing the photos. They’re beautiful. It looks like a lovely place to visit.

  • We haven’t made it to Cambodia (yet!), but it’s on my wish list! I can’t believe Ta Keo isn’t as popular as the rest of the sites, as it looks incredible! I love the Khemer legend – it’s so fascinating (and a good reason why it’s not finished!). I really enjoyed scrolling through your gallery and seeing the detail. I bet it looks amazing at sunset!

  • I’ve visited the temples in Siem Reap a few times, but there’s always so much more to explore. I’m always amazed at how BIG everything is. The steps are as precarious as you say, one step a time is almost too fast! Getting struck by lightning is a good sign to give up if I ever heard one.

  • Megan Jerrard
    4 weeks ago

    You’re right, I haven’t heard of Ta Keo Temple in Angkor, but as one of the oldest temples I would be sure not to miss it. So interesting to hear that superstitions at the time made them abandon it because of lightning – you wonder how much of the world would be left abandoned if that thought process was the same everywhere! It really does look like quite the Architectural Wonder. Thanks for the tip on visiting early in the morning 🙂

  • Love your series on the Angkir Wat temples. They are so fascinating, The Ka Teo temple is indeed a timeless wonder. Wondering about its history and the stories that the stone structure hides in its folds. I was really awestruck by the idol of the Buddha. Its colourful presence stands out starkly against the grey stones.

  • It’s just beautiful. The more I read, the more I want to visit this part of the world. I have never been here, although I’ve read a lot about the Angkor temples and have seen many pictures and fils. but nothing substitues for the real thing – thanks for giving me such an education!

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