Photography Tours Cambodia Myanmar South East Asia


Banteay Chhmar temple, the Small Citadel

Banteay Chhmar is the fourth largest temple complex  in Cambodia and one of the biggest in the world,  situated about 164 km north east of Siem Reap, nearby the border with Thailand in the Banteay Meanchey Province. Since 2010, thanks to a new road, the temple is  only one hour drive from Sisophon on the highway 56.


banteay chhmar cambodia google map


Description of the temple


Banteay Chhmar,  also known as  the small  citadel,  is an massive temple complex having 4 entrances with causeways lined up on each side with stone  giants like in Angkor Thom and Preah Khan. Surrounded by a 63  meters wide moat it has also a large Baray connected to it.

Banteay Chhmar was commissioned by King Jayavarman VII during the late 12th century and  dedicated to  his son. Its design  follows the  Bayon style with many face towers: according to Groslier who surveyed Banteay Chhmar in 1920’s and 1930’s,  half of the 56 towers had 4 faces  like the ones we can  still see today in Angkor Thom and Bayon. Unfortunately, since then,  due to the lack of  maintenance, only few towers are still standing.

The one kilometer long outer wall is rich in  bas-reliefs, very similar to the one in Bayon temple, where scenes of wars and everyday life are depicted. Although large sections are now collapsed, many beautiful  carvings still remains. Two  beautiful carvings of the Avalokiteshvara with 32 hands  and 20 hands are decorating the western wall. Originally, 8 multi-armed Avalokiteshvara were carved on this wall, two of them are under the rubles,  two are believed to have been stolen, and the last two are at the Phnom Penh National Museum.



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Banteay Chhmar temple


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Face tower in Banteay Chhmar temple


Avalokiteshvara banteay chhmar

20-arms Avalokiteshvara on the western wall


avalokiteshvara banteay chhmar temple

The beautiful 32-arms Avalokiteshvara on the western wall


avalokiteshvara banteay chhmar temple

Details of the 32-arms Avalokiteshvara



bas relief detail eastern wall Banteay Chhmar

Bas-relief detail of the Eastern wall



Research and Conservation Work


Even though the French explorer Etienne Aymonier visited first Banteay Chhmar in 1911, the earlier archaeological surveys were carried out by George Groslier in 1924, 1934 and 1935: he described back then  a temple in a pity state with  few face towers standing. He took many photographs which are  priceless  to archaeology research today.

Banteay Chmmar was added to the tentative UNESCO list in 1992, the same year that Angkor Wat temple was listed UNESCO World Heritage  site. Because of its remote location, like Preah Khan of Kampong Svay, Banteay Chhmar  was  unfortunately the  target of  extensive lootings in the 1990s. In 1999, an organized group of thieves  were intercepted in Thailand with 177 pieces of sandstone as they dismantled 12 meters of wall  with two Avalokiteshvara carvings. One of them, a 10-arm Avalokiteshvara  is now exhibited at the Cleveland museum in USA, recently loaned  by the Phnom Penh National Museum in October 2017.


cleveland museum banteay chmmar avalokiteshvara

10-arms Avalokiteshvara (photo credit: Cleveland museum)

In 2008, the Global Heritage Fund (GHF)  setup a multi-year project  with many stakeholders such as The Ministry of Culture & Fine Arts, the government of Cambodia and  people living in the vicinity of the temple. Led by Dr John Sanday, this project  achieved in 2015,  was a success in restoring the temple, training Cambodians  but also providing the base for a sustainable tourism by setting up a community based tourism called CBT. Dr Olivier Cunin who did a lot of research on the architectural style of Banteay Chhmar and  built an impressive  a 3D model, concluded that Banteay Chhmar was built in different stages,  at the same period  than some structures of Bayon and Preah Khan temples. A video of the 3D model made by Dr Cunin can be watched here (starts at 5’15”).


olivier cunin banteay chhmar

3D reconstruction of Banteay Chhmar by Dr Olivier Cunin



Why it is worth visiting Banteay Chhmar?

With the  popularity of the temples of Angkor, especially Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon, it is increasingly  difficult to be at peace in the temples. Here you can walk  among the ruins alone and have a feeling of mystery and adventure. You can  forget also the  many ticket checkpoints  of Angkor, just sign a book at the entrance and you are all set;  difficult to believe but  no tickets will be delivered to you and if you are coming back the same day just point your name on the book. The entrance fee is only USD 5 which is the same price than for  Beng Mealea temple.

If you feel more adventurous you can go around Banteay Chhmar and visit the 9  satellite temples built at the same period: of  particular interest are Ta prohm, Prasat Samnang and Ta Nem. If you look carefully you might even spot two  original  wooden ceiling  in one of them. If you have time, it is worth strolling in the village and have a look at the farmers working on the manioc.



ta phrom temple banteay chhmar


face tower Banteay chhmar satellite temple


wood carving ceiling banteay thorp

Original wood ceiling on one of Banteay’s Chhmar satellite temple


banteay thorp temple


manioc processing banteay chmmar

Local farmers processing manioc before exporting to nearby Thailand


Due to its remote location, Banteay Chhmar escaped the iconoclastic reaction which took place in Angkor when almost all  of the Buddha images in the Jayavarman VII’s temples is Angkor were destroyed or altered (Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, Bayon,…).


buddha image

Buddha image in Banteay Chhmar temple


In 2007, Banteay Chhmar received its highest number of tourists with   2200 visitors, a sharp 300% increase from 2008. To put things into perspective, Angkor Wat temple receives about 10 000 visitors on a busy day. We therefore strongly suggest  to visit  Banteay Chhmar after Angkor Wat and not  the other way around…

To add to your Banteay Chhmar experience, we  recommend to sleep at one of the  homestay of the CBT  to immerse even more yourself and have the chance to enter the temple early to take advantage of the golden hour. Some of them are only few hundred meters away from the temple. Booking is recommended as all homestays  can  only accommodate about 30 persons.

If you are a passionate photographer, please check out our special  photography holidays  at Banteay Chhmar.


Related videos


BEYOND ANGKOR: CAMBODIA SCULPTURE FROM BANTEAY CHHMAR (2017 Cleveland Museum of Art. English, 6 min) 5_stars

watch online: Complete (6 min)

THE SMALL CITADEL: RECONSTRUCTING THE RUINED BUDDHIST COMPLEX OF BANTEAY CHHMAR (2010 Freer and Sackler Galleries Smithsonian Institution. English, 66 min) 5_stars

watch online: Complete (66 min)







Preah Khan of Angkor, temple of the sacred sword

Preah Khan of Angkor, not to be mistaken with Preah  Khan of Kompong Svay,  is my favorite temple and probably the most underrated of the Angkor archaeological park. Although Angkor Wat is the most impressive in term of architecture and symmetry it lacks of atmosphere as many people are there,  Preah Khan temple is more fun to explore and photograph and when wandering within its narrow corridors, courtyards  and  hidden chambers you will feel like an explorer.

Preah Khan, commissioned in 1191, is a Hindu-Buddhist temple built during the reign of Jayavarman VII, one of the most charismatic Khmer king who commissioned many temples during the 12th, including the most famous of them i.e Ta Prohm and Bayon. Preah khanknown also as the temple of the sword,  was dedicated to the  father of Jayavarman VII (divinity Jayavarmesvara). Preah Khan was built as a monastic city dedicated to teaching and was also of course a place of devotion.



Preak Khan temple is oriented east to west, but most tourists enter via the west entrance through. Preah Khan is a vast complex spread on 56 hectares square kilometers with 4 concentric  enclosures. It has 72 garudas (mythical bird-man) holding two nagas all  around the outer wall. The  40 meters wide moat is full of water all year around although some sections goes dry during the  hot months of April and May.


preah khan temple map

Map of Preah Khan temple (from Maurice Glaize)



Conservation work

It was started by  Henri Marchal  from the EFEO between 1927 and 1932. The  first conservation work after the civil war was sponsored by the  WMF (Word Monument Fund) with a series in  missions in 1991,1992, 1993 and 1994. In the 90’s,  Preah Khan was described as a partial  ruin deep in the jungle. The role of these missions was also to train Khmer people in conservation.  Currently, the only major conservation work is carried out on the east entrance  by the Archaeological Survey of India.



Preah Khan has many locations to explore, you should plan a  1 h 1/2 to 2 h to cross the temple from West to East especially when taking pictures.  Among the highlights are the stupa at the central sanctuary, a linga with its yoni, the biggest strangler fig in Angkor beside the east gopura, the 2-story pavilion, the baray on the east  leading to Neak Pean and Ta Som. If you want to see the secret chambers it is recommended to hire a guide as they are difficult to find.


Preah Khan angkor photography tours

Narrow passage between two chapels in Preah Khan temple


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Elderly nun ready to give blessing, she is a long time resident of the temple and she is 79 years old.

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Central sanctuary in Preah khan temple


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Group of monks in Preah Khan temple with the  double stories pavilion in the background


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A two stories pavilion unique in Angkor


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Devata in a narrow corridor


Demon pulling a snake on the west causeway


strangler fig growing on a wall


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Gopura with a giant guardian  in the jungle



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Apsara dancer carvings in Preah Khan temple


Hidden Devata in Preah Khan temple representing Queen Indradevi


Forgotten statue Angkor . Angkor Photography tours

Crumbling Asura headless statue

Hidden Devata in Preah Khan temple representing Queen Jayarajadevi


devata preah khan

Hidden Devata in Preah Khan temple representing Queen Jayarajadevi


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monk exiting a secret chamber in Preah Khan temple



Buddha carving moss preah khan angkor photography tours

Buddha carving covered in moss in Preah Khan temple


hidden guardian preah khan

Hidden guardian with flowers offering



The baray, called Jayatataka, east of Preah Khan temple


One of the standing lion in the east gopura of Preah Khan


Nature and sandstone intertwined


Beams of light of the forest of Preah Khan


Hidden Devata in Preah Khan temple


preah khan temple

The biggest tree in Preah Khan, view from the west


preah khan temple angkor

The biggest tree in Preah Khan, view from the east



The Beautiful Petronas Twin Towers of Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

petronas towers kuala lumpur

The iconic  Petronas towers, raising at 452 meters (88 stories) above the ground, are  on the  bucket list of many travellers and architecture lovers.  They are to this day, (probably not for too long), the tallest twin towers in the world. Inaugurated on August 1999, they put  Kuala Lumpur  and Malaysia on the world map in the wake of the  Asian financial  crisis of 1998. It was the first skyscraper ever built by Malaysia and it took 6 years.

The Petronas Twin Towers are a fine example of Islamic architecture, both  tall and elegant connected by a skybridge. They  are located in the so called  KLCC area (Kuala Lumpur City Center) on top of  Suria luxury mall.

For photographers the Petronas are a source of inspiration during the day or at night when they are light up. As they stand much taller than the other buildings they are visible in many locations even few miles away from Kuala Lumpur. Each day, they reflect the light differently, and  they certainly raised up to many photography challenges from the distance or up close.



Petronas Towers at the golden hour at sunset from Kampung Baru


The twin towers reflecting in a  skyscraper across the road


petronas towers kampung baru

A century old Malay traditional house in Kampung Baru with Petronas towers in the background


Kuala Lumpur skyline at sunset from Bukit Ampang view


Kuala Lumpur skyline with the Petronas Towers and KL tower


Kuala Lumpur cityscape with the Petronas Towers on the background


Beautiful Petronas twin towers soaring in the sky just after sunset


Ground view of the Petronas towers at night


8 Good Reasons to do a Photography Tour in South-East Asia

Nowadays, photography tours are available all around the globe from Iceland to Antarctica, from New York to Paris. Because they are focused on photography, they are getting more and  popular among enthusiastic photographers but also beginners  as they combine discovery and learning.

A photography tour is an unique opportunity  to discover a new place in depth, explore locations out of the beaten path, capture beautiful pictures and learn more about your camera.

Photography tours are available in many  destinations in South-East Asia such as Siem Reap, gateway of the temples of Angkor (Cambodia), Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi  (Vietnam), Yangon (Myanmar), Bali (Indonesia).

For this post,  we came up with  8 good reasons to why you should consider taking part in  a photography tour during your  next holidays in South-East Asia

1.Improve your photography skills

Even seasoned  sport or wedding photographers are likely to improve their photography skills in a photo tour. As South East Asia locations are diverse, many opportunities will arise and some of them outside your comfort zone: it can be either capturing paddy field landscapes, ancient temples or  busy food markets in the morning light.

vietnam photography tour

Rice harvest at sunset in Hoi An Vietnam


local market cambodia photography

Local market in the morning in Siem Reap Cambodia


2. Enjoy people photography

When living  in South-East Asia we often take for granted that people photography is  easy to do. In the West, due to privacy issues it is almost impossible except  during big public events. In  Asia,  people  play the game and even sometime  ask you to take pictures of them:)


vietnam photography tour

Cute elderly couple in Hoi An Vietnam


smiling and smoking Cambodian man

Worker taking a break in a knife workshop in Siem Reap Cambodia


market siem reap

Two Cambodian women selling betel leaves in a local market in Siem Reap Cambodia


3- Discover  a country with a different angle

During  a photo tour , you will be guided by a photographer who is always looking for new places and has been living in the area for many months or many years. This considerable asset  will allow  you to have access to some locations out of the beaten path which often are not available during  a “normal” tour. Often,  the photographer has develop some relations with locals, speak some of the language and this will be valuable in people photography. You might have access also to remote locations with tribes or be the witness some local Buddhist ceremonies.


siem reap photography tour kids running countryside

Kids plating in paddy fieds in Siem Reap Cambodia




Buddhist ceremony in a local monastery


tatoo women myanmar photography tour

Face-tattooed women in a remote village of Myanmar


4- Test the limits of your photography equipment

Sometime, at the end of a tour, it happens that some  guests decide to upgrade their camera system or buy new lenses.   If you have a old camera system or a entry level camera, you will test the limit of your equipment: shooting a low lights with moving subjects during  some festivals or in markets with dimmed lights. You might no get also the nice bokeh you were expecting in your portraits.   Common purchases are wide angle lenses to do architecture shots or a portrait lense.


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Khmer family going around the main tower of Angkor Wat temple


angkor wat photography tours night

Angkor Wat under thousand of stars


5- Meet like-minded people


If you take part in a photography tour  with a small group of people especially for few days,  it is likely that you will a blast together, keep in touch and maybe even do another trip together in the future. For many people,  a photo tour remains the highlight of their trip in Asia.



countryside sunrise photographers



6- For beginners,  a  quick way to improve your photography


Many people start learning  photography by taking theoretical courses in a classroom with little or no practice. During a photography tour, a lot of  the time is spent on hands-on practice and because of on many different situations encountered during the  day (sunrise/sunset, low light, portraits,architecture shots), you are most likely to make long lasting improvement on your photography. You will look after very differently at the triangle of exposure:)


silk farm puok cambodia

Silk farm in Siem Reap Cambodia


sun star bamboo forest

Bamboo forest with shining sun in Siem Reap Cambodia



7- Get to the best locations  with the best light


Photography is all about light and when exploring a  new place, knowing  the best photographic  spots with the best light  is very difficult even after some prior  extensive research online.  Depending on the destination (cities, archeological parks, national parks), it can take months to know the best shooting locations and the best angles. Even if seasons are not marked so much in South-East Asia, there is an impact  photography.  In Angkor Wat temple for example, the path of the sun is drastically different between June and December making  shots very different depending on the season.

During the monsoon,   your photography leader will  guide you around the locations  to get those nice reflection shots.


Panoramic view of Bayon temple in Angkor Thom Cambodia with water reflection. Bayon temple was built late 12th century by Jayavarman VII.


angkor wat sunrise reflection


devata carvings in Angkor Wat

Beautiful devatas carvings in the temple of Angkor Wat Siem Reap Cambodia at sunrise



8- Go back home with great pictures

Because you have being in the right locations  with the best  light, and had guidance during your shots, you will be sure  to go  back home with  the best pictures of your holidays. Why not make a coffee table book of your best pictures to show your friends and plan together your next photographic adventures?


photo book Cambodia photography tour






















10 Fun Facts to Know About Angkor Wat Temple

Angkor Wat temple, architectural masterpiece of the Khmer Empire, situated near Siem Reap in North-western Cambodia is one of the most visited temple in the world (more than 2 million visitors in 2016). Here are 10 fun facts below about Angkor Wat temple.


1. The central tower of Angkor Wat is aligned with sunrise twice a year in March and September during the winter and spring equinox.

angkor wat sunrise spring equinox photography tours

Angkor Wat sunrise Spring equinox (March 2016)

2. The artificial moat surrounding the temple provides stability to the structure by keeping constant the humidity of the sandy ground below.

3. Contrary to the other Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is facing West.

monks angkor wat temple

4. Angkor Wat counts about 1700 delicate carvings of topless celestial dancers called Devatas.

apsara angkor wat

5. The first pictures of Angkor Wat were taken in 1866 by John Thomson.

6. Angkor Wat was during the 12th century the largest city on Earth with an estimated population of nearly 1,000,000.

7. Angkor Wat has four entrances but only the west and the east are accessible.

angkor wat temple towers

8. Angkor Wat was built as heaven on earth with its fives towers representing Mont Meru and its moat the ocean.

angkor wat temple towers

9. Since 2013, you can visit the entire temple complex of Angkor Wat from your smartphone using Google Street View.

google map angkor wat temple

10. Angkor Wat central sanctuary is made of an iron core (coming from laterite, a porous stone containing iron oxide).

laterite angkor

Dragon Monks of Cambodia

cambodia buddhism

While leading  a photography tour with one of my guest in the Cambodian countryside,  we  unexpectedly stumbled upon a unusual Buddhist ceremony at a local pagoda: many families were there busy preparing offering and several young Cambodian boys with shaved heads were wearing colorful dresses and make-up. One of them was actually crying.

We learned later that this 2-day ceremony was  inspired by the Dragon Monk Legend:  a long time ago, a dragon (Neak in Khmer language) who took the form of a man   was ordained monk by Buddha. While taking a nap, the monk changed back to dragon and the trick was discovered. The legend lived until this day as the ceremony of the dragon is taking place when a Cambodian man wants to become a monk either for few years or longer.

We were lucky to be the only outsiders taken pictures of this ceremony  of the 9 monks  to be ordained. Future monks had  their head and eyebrows shaved and were dressed up with the with a colorful sampot (an ancient long traditional saron)  and a lace top along with some jewellery. They also applied lipstick to make themselves more beautiful, something which can be seen  in the temples of Angkor done by locals on some Buddha and Devata statues.

At one point of the ceremony, beautiful horses were  brought in and  monks rode  them to take part of a procession going back to the city few miles away. Some women carried colorful boxes containing the robe of the monks  that they will be wearing the  next day.

When back from the city, a large crowd did a circumambulation (3 times) before entering the pagoda where the monks were been ordained by higher monks.


If you are visiting Siem Reap and want to document this  special Buddhist ceremony please get in touch with us.

cambodia monks Buddha

Dragon monks praying Buddha

monk pagoda cambodia

Dragon monk in a colorful pagoda


A soon to be ordained monk adjusting his colorful sampot


Khmer family dressing session in pagoda


Dragon monk wearing a pink sampot

dragon monk cambodia

Young dragon monk wearing a lace top outfit


dragon monk cambodia

Dragon monk posing  with his offerings


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Dragon monk dressed with  a sampot in the monastery


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The nine to be ordained monks kneeling and praying


Elderly Cambodian women at the Dragon ceremony


Elderly Cambodian woman in front of a colorful pagoda mural


colorful box monk robe cambodia

Colorful box containing the robe of a future monk


Procession going from the pagoda to the city on foot


buddhist monk processing cambod

Dragon monk riding a colorful horse on his way to the city


buddhist monk processing cambodia

Dragon monk riding a colorful horse on his way to the city


cambodian monk photography tour

Monk waiting by the pagoda’s entrance


Young Cambodian kid with colorful paint on his face


Crowd gathered in front of the pagoda for the final ceremony

6 Top Reasons to Use Your Smartphone for Travel Photography

smartphone photography tips

Smartphone cameras have come a long way with a dramatic increase in picture quality the past few years, so much that it made point and shoot cameras almost obsolete and that smartphone photography is a now a category of its own. The latest smartphone cameras have high megapixels sensor (20+ megapixels) and new features as dual lenses to reproduce the bokeh effect.

Huawei P10 Plus, the last flagship model of the brand features a main camera with 20 MP Monochrome and a 12 MP RGB, F1.8 sensors. IPhone 7 Plus has two 12 MP sensors with 28/56 mm equivalent focal length (F1.8/2.8 aperture).

We will not discuss in this post the quality of smartphones but rather their use in travel photography.

1. Take snapshots

The most obvious of course: sometime when we travel especially we do not have always carry our camera but most of he time we carry a smartphone in our pocket. I wish I had taken the shot below with my Canon though:)

yangon photography walk rangoon burma

Group of young nuns carrying alms bowl in the streets of Yangon Myanmar (Huawei P9 Lite)


yangon street photography

Smoking Burmese cigar in the streets of Yangon ( (Huawei P9 Lite)


Your camera phone will be useful to document your trip (for example take a picture of a train ticket or a street sign) and will save you space on your memory cards.


2 – Keep a low profile

In travel photography especially when taking portraits or life scenes, the approach is quite critical to get the best shots as possible. I have found that sometime a smartphone can help “breaking the ice”: after the subject being more relaxed, they can be less intimated by your big camera.


yangoon street photography

Young Burmese boy wearing thanaka in the streets of Yangon (Huawei P9 Lite)


rangoon street photography

Young Burmese boy wearing thanaka in the streets of Yangon (Canon 750D).

Some places like museums forbid the use of a camera in their premises, so if you want to document your visit, a smartphone camera is very handy. Do not forget to deactivate the flash and shoot in manual mode (set the ISO) when you shoot indoors.


3- Geotag your pictures

You might not have a GPS chip in your camera so taking few pictures on location with your smartphone will help you later to document your trip and come back later on location especially in areas where Google Maps do not have data.


4- Look at different angles, take difficult shots

Before getting out your camera from your bag, it is sometime useful to look at composition with your smartphone to find new angles. It is useful to know at this stage what is the 35 mm equivalent of your smartphone camera: Huawei P9 lite is equivalent to a 27 mm so it will make sense to use a full frame with a 24 mm lens for example.


As they are relatively small and light smarphone can be placed in places where a camera cannot fit. An example bel0w of a staircase in yangon where my DSLR could not go through the grid.

old staircase yangon myanmar

A old staircase in Yangon captured with by Huawei P9 Lite



5 – Promote your work on social media

Nowadays even in some remote locations in South-East Asia you will be surprised to get a 3G/4G signal, the data package are as well very affordable and you can have a number and several GB of data for less than USD 10. On top of that with powerful editing application such as Snapseed with which you can edit and even make promotional material. This alone justify to take your smartphone when you are on a photo expedition.

If did not bring your laptop during your trip and that your camera has Wi-Fi &NFC functions you can upload low resolution pictures to your smartphone, edit them with Snapseed and share them online.



6 – Take panoramic pictures


When shooting panoramic pictures, I tend to use most of the time my smartphone camera instead of my Canon 5DMKII as it lacks a panorama mode . It is best to take panoramic shots with the camera positioned vertically rather to horizontal to have a ratio close to 16:9. If you manage to include a person in your shot like o the picture below it is even better.

Taking a quick panoramic shot is also a way to check if its is worth taking it with a DSLR and go through the tedious task of stitching pictures.


Maha Bandoola Garden Yangon

Panoramic shot of Maha Bandoola Garden in Yangon city center (Huawei P9 Lite)


panorama angkor thom cambodia

Panoramic view of one of the gate of Angkor Thom in Cambodia (Huawei P9 Lite)

The lost Temples of Mrauk-U in Myanmar

burma photography tour

Mrauk-U is a relatively unknown and probably the most underrated archeological site in South-East Asia. It is located in the state of Rakhine in western Myanmar (Burma). Rakhine state is a narrow strip of land bordered by the Bay of Bengal on the west and by Bangladesh on the north.

The landscape around Mrauk-U is quite unique as the city sits on a valley with numerous mounds and interconnected creeks, moats, canals and artificial lakes.

Founded in 1430 A.D, Mrauk-U became after Launggret the center of the powerful Arakan Empire for more than 300 years until 1785 and an important cultural and commercial hub.

Mrauk-U, named the “Golden City” by early Europeans (Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch) traders and missionaries was an important center of trade for elephants, rice and other commodities. It is also known as the fortress city due to its 30 kilometers of fortifications built around it.  Little Bagan is another name because of  Mrauk-U.

Mrauk-U archaeological site is centered on the old palace and divided in four main groups: western, eastern, southern and northern, the latter being the most important. You can buy a 5000 Kyats pass (less than USD 4) valid for a a week at the Shittaung Pagoda.

Among the  famous temples are Koe-Thaung (also called the little Borobudur), Shittaung (the temple of the 80,000 Buddhas), Andaw Thein (it contains a tooth relic of the Buddha coming from Sri Lanka), Koe-Thaung (the temple of the 90,000 Buddhas). A story carried by locals says it was once 1552 temples in Mrauk-U so many are left to be discovered.

The temples of Mrauk-u are not as impressive as the ones in Bagan, but their beauty lies within: you can stroll in their  labyrinths for hours and see thousands of Buddhas and beautifully preserved carvings. You can have also many temples by yourself and with some tenacity found some  which are not on the map. As locals are living within the ruins, you will have many opportunities to interact with them and take beautiful portraits.

In his last visit to Mrauk-U in december 2016, Kofi Annan (who sits on the advisory commission on Rakhine state) strongly advocated for Mrauk-U’ UNESCO World Heritage Status.

There is no direct flight from Yangon at the moment and the construction of the new airport is being halted due the lack of funding. The most scenic way to get to Mrauk-U is to take a 4 to 5 hours ferry  on the Kaladan river from the city of Sittwe. Local buses are also available and the roads are pretty decent. With only 4,000 visitors in the temples of Mrauk-U in 2016, you are sure to have most of the temples for yourself.

If you enjoyed exploring the other archeological sites in South-East Asia (Angkor, Bagan, Borodudur,Sukhothai, Ayutthaya) it is time to go to Mrauk-U before it gets its fame back. Temples are best explored by bicycle or by foot especially the ones in the Northern group, but to move between all of them  it is recommended to hire  a private transport.

The temples of Mrauk-U are one of the highlights of our next 12-day photography expedition in Myanmar in October 2017, do not miss it!



kaladan river mrauk u

On the way to Mrauk-U on the Kaladan river


mrauku temples sunset

Sunset with some of the temples of Mrauk-U


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Beautiful hilly landscape of Mrauk U


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One of the many beautiful temples of Mrauk-U


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Enigmatic Buddha in the temples of Mrauk U


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Buddha statues inside Andaw Thein temple


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Stone carving in Shittaung Pagoda


shittaung temple photography tour

Beautiful carved wall inside Shittaung temple


koe thaung temple mrauku

The amazing interior of Koe-Thaung temple


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Young burmese girls in the temples of Mrauk-U with Thanaka


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Local woman going back home at the sunset

The enigmatic temple of Preah Khan of Kompong Svay

preah khan kompong svay photography

Preah Khan of Kompong Svay (not be mistaken with Preah Khan temple  in Angkor), also called Prasat Bakan by the locals,  is a remote archeological site located 100 km from Siem Reap as the crow flies  in Preah Vihear province at the eastern end  on the ancient royal road from Angkor.

Preah Khan  is the single biggest temple complex built during the Khmer Empire occupying an impressive footprint of about 22 kilometers square, 11 times larger than Angkor Wat and 2 times larger  than the city of Angkor Thom. Because of its remote location  (more than 200 km one way  from Siem Reap including about 70 km of unpaved road) it  receives  less than 10 visitors daily.

The layout of the temple is unique compared  to the other sites  in Angkor as it is oriented northeast. It has been proposed that the temple is aligned with the raising sun during thee summer solstice.

A  large baray of 3 km long  lies on the east with a temple called Preah Thkol in the middle similar to the West Mebon in Angkor.  It was built between the 10th and 13th centuries in  different stages during the reigns of Kings Suryavarman I, II and Jayavarman VII. The influence of  Jayarvaman VII  is clearly visible in  Prasat Preah Stun which has with a four-faced tower similar to the Bayon temple (see picture below).



The rediscovery of Preah Khan is credited to French explorer and artist  Louis Delaporte who lead a expedition  there in 1873. At the end of their visit they took many statues which are now at the Guimet museum in Paris : among them, a naga  garuda and an elephant statue from  Preah Damrei (see picture below).

Because of its remote location and lack of security,  the site was badly sacked during the 1980’s and 1990’s and even more recently in 2003. Even so, some  beautiful pieces like doors and lintels are still there. The causeway crossing the moat (mostly dry like in Beng Mealea) has many garuda carvings on both sides.

Exploring the site can be quite difficult because of the dense vegetation there and the absence of clear paths.


Recent  archeological missions

The Cambodian Archaeological Lidar Initiative (CALI)  known for his groundbreaking discovery of the first Khmer empire city, Mahendravarpata, in Phnom Kulen and  in 2014 did a survey of  Preah Khan in 2015 and confirmed the previous layout  of the temple. They confirmed that Preah Khan was an important iron smelting center at the height of the Khmer Empire. 90 structures were identified within the four enclosures of the temple.

Another project called The Two Buddhist Towers  lead by a multidisciplinary team of researchers (UCLA, University of Illinois, University College London, EFEO,…) aims to study the transition from Mahāyāna to Theravāda Buddhism at Preah Khan did some excavations in 2015 and 2016. Three Chinese coins dating from the 10th and 11th  century were found confirming the importance of his  site during the Khmer Empire.

LIDAR preah khan kompong svay

LIDAR image of  Preah Khan of Kompong Svay


Main entrance of Preah Khan of Kompong Svay


preah khan kompong svay photo tour

Buddha niche at Preah Khan Kompong Svay


Atmospheric entrance in Preah Kompong Svay


Garudas below the main bridge of Preah Khan of Kompong Svay


luis delaporte preah khan kompong svay

The same garuda bridge by Louis Delaporte in 1873


Remain of a lion statue


preah khan kompong svay photography tour

Laterite towers in Preah Khan Kompong Svay



preah khan kompong svay photography tour

Beautiful door at the main temple of Preah Khan Kompong Svay


preah khan kompong svay photography tour

Temple ruin in preah khan kompong svay second enclosure



preah khan kompong svay photography tour

Temple ruin in preah khan kompong svay second enclosure


preah khan kompong svay photography tour

One of the two elephant statues remaining statue at Preah Damrei. Louis Delaporte took one back to France in 1873.



preah khan kompong svay photography tour

Bayon like temple in Preah Khan Kompong Svay


preah khan kompong svay photography tour

Beautiful Naga with Garuda at Preah Damrei


Tree growing on one of the temples of Preah Khan of Kompong Svay


preah khan kompong svay photography tour

Devata at Preah Damrei


preah khan kompong svay photography

Preah Stun , a surprising Bayon look alike temple in the jungle




Preah Khan of Kompong Svay is best visited during the dry season when the unpaved road is in fairly good condition.  It is a 1-day trip  from Siem Reap  that can be combined with a visit to Koh Ker or Beng Mealea. A 2-day trip with a visit to Preah Vihear can also be arranged. If you like to do a private photography tour of this enigmatic and beautiful  temple, please contact me.

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