Temple Name: Ta Keo
Notable Features: One of the first temples to be built out of sandstone. It was abandoned uncompleted, resulting in a unique and eerie appearance.
Getting There: Ta Keo is located east of the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom.
An Unfinished Masterpiece
Ta Keo is an incomplete temple that boasts a moat, five 50-meter tall towers, and a 22-meter tall pyramid. Sometime in the 10th or 11th century, King Jayavarman V ordered the construction of Ta Keo. He dedicated the enormous structure to the Hindu deity Shiva, hoping that it would one day become the new state temple of the Khmer Empire. Unfortunately, Jayavarman V died before the temple was ever finished.
Construction on Ta Keo resumed under King Jayaviravarman and King Suryavarman I. But they couldn’t finish it either. According to legend, the temple was abandoned permanently when a bolt of lightening struck one of the temple’s towers. The Khmer people interpreted this event as an evil omen.
Ta Keo’s towers sit atop a 22-meter tall ziggurat (step pyramid). The ziggurat consists of five levels. The bottom two levels are spacious enough to support gardens and courtyards, but the top three levels are barely wide enough to walk on. For this reason, scaling the Ta Keo pyramid is quite challenging. The stairs are steep and the height can be daunting. Make sure you wear a good pare of shoes, and watch your step.
Massive sandstone blocks were used to construct Ta Keo. The temple was one of the first, if not the first, to be erected entirely out of sandstone. If this temple were not abandoned during the ornamentation stage, it would surely be among the finest examples of Khmer architecture. The temple’s precision stonework and thoughtful simplicity is unparalleled throughout Cambodia’s temple region. Today, despite the temple’s brilliant construction, Ta Keo appears plain against the ornate façades of neighboring temples.
The remains of abandoned carvings can be seen inside the temple’s towers. Only a few ornaments were finished at Ta Keo. As a result, visitors and archeologists are able to get a cross-sectional view of Angkor Temple construction.
Because of Ta Keo’s steep and dangerous stairs, it is best to view this temple early in the morning. Eat a good breakfast, drink plenty of water, and be prepared for some thigh-burning stair climbing.