Ta Keo is a stark, undecorated temple that undoubtedly would have been one of the finest of Angkor’s structures, had it been finished. Built by Jayavarman V, it was dedicated to Shiva and was the first Angkorian monument built entirely of sandstone. The summit of the central tower, which is surrounded by four lower towers, is almost 50m high. The four towers at the corners of a square and a fifth tower in the centre is typical of many Angkorian temple-mountains.

No one is certain why work was never completed, but a likely cause may have been the death of Jayavarman V. Others contend that the hard sandstone was impossible to carve and that explains the lack of decoration. According to inscriptions, Ta Keo was struck by lightning during construction, which may have been seen as a bad omen and led to its abandonment. Allow about 30 minutes to visit Ta Keo. 

Ta Keo Overview

Ta Keo is surrounded by a moat, which is now dried up, except after heavy rainfall. The outer temple wall, forming a 122 metres long and 106 metres wide rectangle, is not built on ground level, as usual, but at the edge of the first tier of the pyramid, which leaves the impression of a fortress. Inscription on the pilasters at the east gate record the temple's foundation.

Ta Keo's pyramidal structure is 21.5 m high. Its less steep eastern stairway still has a 55 degree gradient and is not easy to climb. The typical step pyramid Ta Keo, all in all, is the the most proportioned of the Khmer state temples preceding the Angkor Wat.

The majestic Ta Keo is the first temple constructed entirely of sandstone, enormous blocks were cut at the quarries of Phnom Kulen in 30 kilometers distance. Their accuracy is all the more astonishing as this kind of greenish grey sandstone, called feldspathic wacke or greywacke, is very hard to carve.

Furthermore, Ta Keo is the first Angkor temple with a straight gallery instead of a series of rectangular structures. Interestingly the brick-roofed gallery of Ta Keo had no doors, it appears to be purely decorative. Galleries became a main characteristic of later Khmer temples, e.g. the state temples Baphuon, Angkor Wat, and Bayon in Angkor Thom. So Ta Keo introduces the combination of three classical characteristics of imperial Khmer architecture: rising levels, enclosures with galleries, and five Prasat towers arranged in a quincunx.

At the foot of the eastern staircase there is a statue of a kneeling Nandi bull, Shiva's mount. Ta Keo's upper platform is square and almost entirely occupied by this quincunx of Prasats, similar to Pre Rup built by Jayavarman's father Rajendravarman. The central tower reaches a total height of 45 metres above ground level. All five towers are on cruciform bases and, as an innovation, open to all four cardinal points by projecting vestibules. So in this case there are no false or blind doors at the outer Prasat walls (they are found only at the corners of the central tower).

Ta Keo is plainly decorated, only on the east face there are some damaged stone carvings of floral patterns. The complete lack of lintel carvings is surprising. The usual explanation for this peculiaritiy is that Ta Keo remained unfinished. Yogishvara Pandita, a high priest who became minister of Suryavarman I and was in charge of Ta Keo, but felt himself unworthy of occupying the upper levels of the temple, records in inscriptions that a lightning strike hit the still unfinished building, so the works stopped because of this evil omen.

But still there are unanswered questions. Jayavarman V reigned many decades, and this state temple, unlike some others of his predecessors, was not abandoned after his death. Quite the reverse, works at Ta Keo were continued by Suryavarman I (1002-1050), whose rule also was stable and lasted a long time.

Below is the glimpse of Ta Keo Temple in 360o viewing:

What to see at Ta Keo?

Unfinished temple

The massive sandstone monument dedicated to Shiva was left unfinished at the start of the 11th century. Work on the Ta Keo was halted at a time when sculptors began to add decorations to the temple.

The reason why work stopped is not known. An inscription says that lightning struck the temple at one point which was taken as a sign of bad luck upon which work was halted. More likely it was because of the death of King Jayavarman V who commissioned the temple.

Around the Ta Keo was a moat, that represents the oceans surrounding Mount Meru. A paved walkway about 500 meters long towards the East with guardian lions on either side leads to a jetty on the large East baray.

The pyramid’s first tier is surrounded by a sandstone wall with gopura entrance gates on all four sides. On either side of the Eastern gopura is a room over 20 meters long, that was likely used to provide shelter for travelers.

The first circular galleries

The second tier of the pyramid is surrounded by galleries 80 meters long and 75 meters wide. The galleries have no doors and its windows open up to the inside of the temple.

The Ta Keo is the first temple where surrounding galleries were present. Many of the Angkor temples that were build later copied this feature. The circular galleries are a continuation of the long halls of earlier temples, like those of the Pre Rup.

On the Eastern end of the second tier platform are two gallery buildings similar to the circular galleries, but these are much smaller. Next to them are two library buildings, with a statue of Nandi the sacred bull in between.

Upper platform with five prasats

The top three tiers 14 meters in height are steep and narrow. A very steep staircase on all four sides leads towards the upper square platform. On the platform on top of the pyramid are five prasats, the largest one in the center, four smaller ones at the corners of the platform. The prasats have a cruciform floor plan and open to vestibules.

The sanctuaries have four doors, where earlier monuments had only one door usually to the East, and false doors in the other directions. The towers contain sanctuary chambers in which several lingas and statues were found.

A few hundred meters to the South East of the Ta Keo stands a single prasat, which is also unfinished.

Planning to visit Ta Keo

Temple Facts

  • Date: Around 1000 AD (11th century AD)
  • Religion: Hinduism
  • Built By: Jayavarman V
  • Dedicated To: Shiva
  • Style: Khleang
  • Best Time to Visit: Anytime
  • Length of Visit: 30 - 60 minutes
  • Temple Pass: Required (included in the pass to the whole Angkor Complex)

Location

Ta Keo is located in the Angkor Archaeological Park just to the east of the ancient city of Angkor Thom. It’s nearly half way between Ta Prohm and the Victory Gate at Angkor Thom. Nearby temples include Chau Say Tevoda, hospital chapel and Thommanon.

Check the location of Ta Keo Temple on the below Google Map for your reference:

Getting There

To get to Ta Keo, head out of Angkor Thom via the Victory Gate along Victory Way. Pass by Chau Say Tevoda temple on the right side and over the Siem Reap river. Keep following the road around to the right and you will see Ta Keo temple on the left side.

Best time to visit Ta Keo Temple

The afternoon is the better time for viewing the pyramid as a whole, from the Small Circuit road. The morning is better for seeing the main entrance and for climbing to the top. The Angkor ticket is obligatory for access to the elevated compound of Ta Keo.

Ta Keo Temple Tours

Ta Keo is one of the most popular temples in the park and is often visited on the Angkor Small Circuit Tour. Not all tours include Ta Keo, so if you’re specifically looking to visit this temple, then check with your tour operator first.

If you’re exploring the temples on your own or in a private tour, then ask your guide or driver to stop at Ta Keo after visiting Angkor Thom on the way to Ta Prohm temple.

If you’re on a shared or private tour and Ta Keo isn’t specifically listed on the itinerary, it’s unlikely that you’ll be stopping here. Make sure that you choose a shared tour which includes Ta Keo if you want to visit.

Accommodation

There are no hotels in the Angkor Archaeological Park and most visitors will find a place to stay in Siem Reap town. The town has grown to accommodate the millions of visitors who flock to Angkor Wat each year and there are hundreds of hotels. You’ll find some great deals available all year round.

Here is our Siem Reap Travel Guide

Why Visit Ta Keo?

Ta Keo is very popular because it’s one of the larger temples in the park. It’s also unique because it was never finished and contains very little decoration. There is thick jungle surrounding the area. As you stand at the top of Ta Keo, you can just see the tops of green trees in all directions.

The Layout & Design of Ta Keo

Ta Keo was the state temple of Jayavarman V and it was built to look very similar to his father’s state temple – Pre Rup. There are five sanctuary towers built on top of a five-tiered pyramid. This temple mountain was surrounded by a moat which was a symbol of Mount Meru, the mythical home of the Hindu gods.

Ta Keo is one of the largest temples built during the Khmer Empire. It looks even bigger because there are very few carvings or sculptures – the decoration work had just started when  construction stopped.
The temple is historically significant because it was the first temple to have been made completely by sandstone.

The Tiered Pyramid

The first tier of the pyramid structure is surrounded by a large sandstone wall. There are four entrance gates (gopuras), one on each of the four walls. On the eastern entrance gate, there is a large 20m room. This room was likely used as a shelter for visitors and travellers. This first tier and outer wall measure 122m by 106m.

The second terrace measures 80m by 75m. Here you will see galleries surrounding this enclosure, however there are no doors. This means that the galleries were likely to have been for decoration rather than be used for any particular reason. Much of this second tier is difficult to explore due to the large number of stones dotted all over the floor. Some parts of this area are also out of bounds to visitors.

The Upper Tiers

The top three tiers are very steep and narrow. They add a lot of height to the structure and together they measure 14m tall. There is a steep staircase on each side of the temple, but they are not all accessible to tourists.

On the top tier, you will find the five sanctuary towers. There is one tower on each corner, with a larger sanctuary in the middle. Each one has doors which open in all four directions. This is unusual for temples built before Ta Keo because earlier temples often had fake doors on three side with one opening to the east.

History of Ta Keo Temple

Jayavarman V was ten years old when he succeeded his father, Rajendravarman, in 968. His early years of reign were turbulent and the court officials dominated the royal politics. When he was 17 (in 975), he began the construction of his own state temple, whose modern name is Ta Keo, that was dedicated some time around 1000. In contemporary inscriptions it is called Hemagiri or Hemasringagiri ("the mountain with golden summits")

It remained unfinished until the reign of Suryavarman I Yogisvarapandita, a high priest who became minister of Suryavarman I and "received" the temple from him many years later, says in inscriptions that a lightning strike hit the unfinished building, an evil omen, so the work stopped. Maybe work stopped simply because of the death of Jayavarman V, as there was a struggle for succession. The temple worked continuously as a cult center until the 13th century, and even Yogisvarapandita worshiped the shrines at the first levels of the temple.

A term tightly linked to Hemasringagiri is Jayendranagari (which in Sanskrit means "capital of the victorious king"), the royal palace or maybe the new capital city of Jayavarman V. However, the remains of this large hypothesized ensemble are very scarce. Today only a tower in the southwest survives, similar to the corner towers of Ta Keo, with an unusual single door to the south.

Photos of Ta Keo

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My name is Jolie, I am a Vietnamese girl growing up in the countryside of Hai Duong, northern Vietnam. Since a little girl, I was always dreaming of exploring the far-away lands, the unseen beauty spots of the world. My dream has been growing bigger and bigger day after day, and I do not miss a chance to make it real. After graduating from the univesity of language in Hanoi, I started the exploration with a travel agency and learning more about travel, especially responsible travel. I love experiencing the different cultures of the different lands and sharing my dream with the whole world. Hope that you love it too!

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