12km east of central Siem Reap
Daily: 7:30am – 5:30pm
Admission: Included in Angkor Pass ($37/$62/$72)
Washroom On Site: Within the archaeological site boundaries, but not necessarily next to a temple
Named for the small town they are located in, the Roluos Group of temples are a cluster of three temples about 12km east of Siem Reap. History lovers will be interested to know that this site was once the capital of the Khmer Empire, tongue twistingly named Hariharalaya. Locals have built simple homes on the grounds now, and all that remains from that bygone age are the royal temples. In order of size (and I would say impressiveness) they are Lolei, Preah Ko, and Bakong.
I do recommend that you follow a North to South trajectory when doing the Roluos Temples. That way, you’ll be visiting the different sites with ascending magnificence, and of course, it simply makes geographical sense.
The Northernmost temple of the Roluos Group, your tuk tuk driver will likely drop you off here first. Lolei is made up of just four towers, two slightly taller than the others, and rumoured to be in quite a ruined state. The two taller towers represent King Yasovarman I’s father and grandfather, while the shorter two represent his mother and grandmother. We were short on time and figured that there wouldn’t be anything here to see that wasn’t at the other temples, so we skipped this one.
You’ll be able to see Preah Ko basically in its entirety from the road when you pull up. Broken foundations litter the ground initially, culminating into a clump of gopuras on a raised dais at the back.
Some well-preserved lion guardians perch behind a trio of stone mounds that were not as fortunate. It’s hard to tell from their extremely weathered condition, but I believe they were once ox statues. The carvings are in decent shape at Preah Ko, but this is a small site where you will quickly see everything. Expect to spend an average of fifteen minutes here.
Bakong is a proper pyramid-style temple and will be the crux of your visit to the Roluos Temples. As you approach Bakong, you’ll walk among the moat and, depending on the season, lovely white and fuchsia blossoms will perfectly frame Bakong in the distance.
Before you get to the outermost wall, you will pass what looks like a functioning Buddhist temple on your right-hand side. It will be hard to miss: a brightly coloured building with murals painted on its exterior walls.
A big courtyard lies just past the crumbled outer enclosure with tons of nooks and crannies for you to explore before making the climb up Bakong’s steps. Several solitary towers (most of them broken or under renovation) hover close to the wall like loners.
The heart of Bakong has one central gopura looming over the rest at the uppermost tier of the temple. If you have the time, I would suggest strolling the perimeter at each of the five tiers as you ascend toward the summit. Elephant statues preside at each corner on every level (where they haven’t been completely eroded away by time) and you can enjoy a mounting view of the surrounding Rolous area.
Bonus Temple: Prasat Prei Monti
A smaller, hidden temple named Prasat Prei Monti is sometimes included in guides as the fourth site. It is located south of Bakong, down rural roads with only a small sign marking where to turn off to get to the temple. Prei Monti is like a gawky nerd desperately trying to get in with the cool kids – insisting that it is a part of the group but without the level of cred of the others. The Ringo of the group, or the Pluto, if you will. If you come here, you’ll be probably be visiting it last after Bakong, which will be a sharp denouement to your visit. Prei Monti is mostly overgrown, single-storey collapsed ruins spread out in the jungle, similar to Sambor Prei Kuk, It could be your thing if you like going off the beaten track and escaping tourists.
The Roluos Temples are a straight shot East along the well-travelled NR6 road from Siem Reap. If your tuk tuk driver has a set daily price, he might charge you extra to visit here, especially if you also do any temples in Angkor Park on the same day. Drivers who have a “circuit” based price scheme will tack on $10 or so visit the Roluos Temples, or charge a flat fee to just do Rolous for the day.
Though the Rolous Group is not too far from Siem Reap, using e-hailing wouldn’t be in most people’s best interest. You would have to walk the distance between the temples, and they’re deceptively far apart despite being in the same archaeological site. On average, they’re about 1.5km apart, and if you walked to all of the temples, you would add an extra 5km of steps to your day. Then there’s the issue of whether a Grab or MyApp driver would be willing to come out there to pick you up when you’re done. Is there even wifi signal out in Rolous? Best to just pay the $10-$15 for a driver and not deal with these dubious questions.
If your travel plans involve driving to Phnom Penh after Siem Reap, you should consider stopping here. This is assuming you still have days left on your Angkor Pass. The landscape of Phnom Penh is starkly different, and the Roluos temples will offer you one last glimpse of ancient Angkor beauty before you move on.