Have a Question?
< All Topics

Roluos Group Temples

The Roluos Group of Temples: Gateway to the Khmer Empire’s Early Legacy

Located 13 kilometers east of Siem Reap, the Roluos Group of Temples forms a unique and compelling destination for international visitors interested in uncovering the early architectural and cultural achievements of the Khmer Empire. Comprising three main temples—Bakong, Preah Ko, and Lolei—this historical site provides a quieter, more reflective experience than the bustling sites of Angkor Wat. The Roluos Group offers a captivating glimpse into the formative period of one of Southeast Asia’s most significant civilizations.

Broadening the Appeal for All Visitors

Cultural Immersion

The Roluos Group of Temples serves as a historical gateway that predates the iconic Angkor complex. Visitors can immerse themselves in the rich legacy of the early Khmer Empire. Together, Bakong, Preah Ko, and Lolei showcase unique architectural and artistic styles that were pioneering during their time. Exploring these temples offers a rare opportunity to observe the evolutionary steps in Khmer temple design and religious iconography that laid the foundation for later structures, influencing millions of tourists worldwide.

UNESCO: Angkor – Historical Information

Photographic Opportunities

The Roluos Group is a paradise for photography enthusiasts, offering serene landscapes free from the crowds of Angkor’s main sites. The distinct architectural features of each temple—such as the intricate carvings of Indravarman I’s ancestors at Preah Ko or the majestic tiers of Bakong—serve as magnificent subjects against the lush Cambodian countryside. Lolei’s four towers rise from the remnants of what was once an artificial island, creating a striking visual contrast.

Educational Experience

Each temple in the Roluos Group is equipped with informational plaques and guides that detail the historical and cultural significance of the sites. These insights enrich the visitor experience, providing valuable context that connects guests to the ancient Khmer way of life. Guided tours offer deeper perspectives on the group’s collective historical importance, highlighting the stylistic and symbolic continuity that links these temples to the later Angkor structures.

Accessibility and Leisure

The Roluos Group is easily accessible via a short drive from Siem Reap, making it a leisurely half-day tour. Its proximity to Siem Reap allows for a flexible itinerary, accommodating both early risers and those who prefer a later start. The peaceful atmosphere and immersive historical narrative of the temples provide a rejuvenating escape from the more commercialized tourist hotspots.

Connect with Local Heritage

In contrast to more tourist-centric locations, the Roluos Group offers an opportunity to engage with Cambodia’s heritage in a more intimate setting. Local guides, often descendants of families who have lived near these temples for generations, share authentic personal stories that enhance the historical narrative. Their deep knowledge and familial connection to the temples provide a unique lens through which to appreciate the legacy of the early Khmer Empire.

The Roluos Group: Significance as a Group

The Roluos Group represents a critical juncture in the architectural and cultural evolution of the Khmer Empire. As a group, these temples offer a unique and cohesive insight into the early phases of temple construction, symbolism, and religious development in Cambodia.

Architectural Evolution

  1. Foundation of Khmer Temple Architecture: The Roluos temples mark the transition from rudimentary brick structures to more sophisticated sandstone architecture. Bakong, often considered the first true Khmer temple mountain, showcases this shift with its sandstone construction and tiered pyramid structure.
  2. Religious Symbiosis: The temples reflect a blend of Hindu and indigenous animistic beliefs, marking a formative period in Khmer religious identity. Each temple is dedicated to specific deities or ancestors, showcasing the integration of ancestor worship into Hindu symbolism.

Artistic Innovation

  1. Pioneering Carving Techniques: The temples display early Khmer bas-reliefs and carvings that would become hallmarks of Angkor-era art. Preah Ko’s detailed carvings of Indravarman I’s ancestors and Bakong’s elaborate lintels exemplify this innovation.
  2. Symbolism and Iconography: The group provides early examples of Khmer iconography, such as naga balustrades, guardian lions, and depictions of Hindu deities that would later be refined in Angkorian temples.

Socio-Political Significance

  1. Indravarman I’s Legacy: The Roluos Group reflects the vision of King Indravarman I, who established his capital here before Yasovarman I relocated to Angkor. His construction of Bakong and Preah Ko laid the administrative and spiritual foundations of later Khmer capitals.
  2. Religious Continuity: The temples highlight a continuity of religious practices and architectural styles that persisted and evolved throughout the Angkorian period.

Historical Context

  1. Capital of Hariharalaya: The Roluos Group was situated in the ancient capital of Hariharalaya, one of the earliest and most significant Khmer capitals.
  2. Chronological Significance: As a group, these temples mark the beginning of the “Classical Period” of Khmer architecture, influencing later masterpieces like Angkor Wat and Bayon.

Little-Known Details That Captivate International Travellers

  1. Secret Underwater Temple at Lolei: Originally situated on an artificial island, Lolei was surrounded by a massive baray (reservoir), symbolizing the cosmic ocean. Although the baray has since dried up, remnants of the artificial island remain, offering a glimpse into the water management prowess of the early Khmer.
  2. Bakong’s Hidden Shrines: Bakong Temple houses hidden shrines within its base, dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu. These sacred shrines were reserved for royal worship and are believed to have contained sacred linga and yoni symbols.
  3. Preah Ko’s Guardians of Stone: At Preah Ko, six sandstone statues depicting lions guard the six towers. Legend has it that these lions represent the spirit of the Khmer rulers, protecting the temple and its visitors.
  4. Unfinished Structures: Visitors can observe several unfinished carvings and structures at the Roluos temples. These incomplete elements provide a unique insight into the construction techniques and challenges faced by early Khmer architects.
  5. Ancient City Layout: Archaeologists believe that the temples of the Roluos Group were arranged following a strict geometric plan, forming the spiritual and administrative nucleus of Hariharalaya. Traces of the city’s layout can still be seen, giving visitors a glimpse into ancient urban planning.
  6. Astrological Significance: The temples are aligned with specific celestial points and astrological markers, reflecting early Khmer cosmology and its connection to Hindu beliefs. Bakong’s central sanctuary is believed to represent Mount Meru, the sacred axis of the universe.

The Roluos Group: Three Temples, One Heritage

The Roluos Group is a testament to the ingenuity and vision of early Khmer rulers. Each temple offers a distinct yet interconnected glimpse into the architectural evolution that culminated in the splendor of Angkor Wat.

Bakong Temple

  1. Significance: The first temple mountain constructed entirely of sandstone, Bakong exemplifies early Khmer architecture and religious symbolism.
  2. Design: The five-tiered pyramid structure mirrors Mount Meru, the sacred mountain in Hindu mythology, and includes eight intricately carved towers around its base.

Preah Ko Temple

  1. Significance: Built by Indravarman I, Preah Ko is dedicated to the king’s ancestors.
  2. Design: The temple comprises six brick towers adorned with exquisite carvings and statues that reflect early Khmer artistic influences.

Lolei Temple

  1. Significance: Originally situated on an artificial island, Lolei was constructed in honor of Yasovarman I’s ancestors.
  2. Design: The temple features four towers with detailed sandstone carvings, providing insight into the evolution of Khmer artistry.

Why the Roluos Group is a Must-Visit

Visiting the Roluos Group is not just about stepping back into history; it’s about experiencing the tranquil beauty and enduring legacy of the Khmer Empire’s early days. It’s a chance to appreciate the quieter nuances of Khmer architectural innovation before it reached the zenith of Angkor Wat. For anyone fascinated by history, architecture, or archaeology, the Roluos Group is a compelling addition to any Cambodian itinerary, promising both enlightenment and inspiration.

How to Make the Most of Your Visit

  1. Timing: Visit early in the morning to enjoy the temples in cooler weather and with fewer crowds.
  2. Guided Tours: Consider hiring a knowledgeable guide for a deeper understanding of the temples’ historical and cultural context.
  3. Photography Tips: The soft morning or evening light enhances the intricate carvings and majestic structures.

Questions to Ask Your Guide

  1. What was the significance of Hariharalaya as the Khmer capital?

    Hariharalaya was the first capital of the Khmer Empire, established by King Jayavarman II and later expanded by Indravarman I. It served as the administrative and spiritual nucleus of the early Khmer state, predating the Angkor complex. The Roluos temples were integral to Hariharalaya’s status as a political, religious, and cultural hub.

  2. How did the architectural styles of Bakong, Preah Ko, and Lolei influence later Khmer temples?

    The temples of the Roluos Group pioneered key architectural and artistic innovations that later evolved into hallmark features of Angkorian architecture. Bakong’s five-tiered pyramid structure influenced the construction of later temple mountains like Angkor Wat. Preah Ko introduced intricate brick carving techniques, while Lolei demonstrated the symbolic importance of water in temple design.

  3. What are the key religious and cultural symbols represented in the temples’ carvings and sculptures?

    Common symbols include naga balustrades representing cosmic serpents, guardian lions protecting the sacred grounds, and Hindu deities like Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma. The sacred linga and yoni represent fertility and creation, while Mount Meru’s representation at Bakong symbolizes the axis of the universe.

  4. How were water management and the baray system crucial to the success of the Khmer Empire?

    The baray (reservoir) system was crucial in supporting agriculture, particularly rice cultivation. The barays also had symbolic importance, representing the cosmic ocean. At Roluos, Lolei’s baray provided irrigation to surrounding rice fields, demonstrating the Khmer Empire’s sophisticated water management system.

  5. What role did King Indravarman I play in the construction of the Roluos Group?

    King Indravarman I established the Roluos Group as part of his capital at Hariharalaya. He built Bakong as the first temple mountain entirely of sandstone and constructed Preah Ko in honor of his ancestors. His architectural vision and religious devotion laid the foundation for later Khmer capitals and temples.

  6. What was the spiritual and cultural significance of Bakong’s hidden shrines?

    Bakong’s hidden shrines were reserved for royal worship and contained sacred linga and yoni symbols. These shrines represented the divine authority of the king and the union of male and female cosmic energies. They highlighted the central role of the king as a spiritual intermediary.

  7. Why are there unfinished carvings at some of the temples, and what do they tell us about Khmer construction techniques?

    Unfinished carvings, particularly at Bakong and Preah Ko, suggest that work was often halted due to resource limitations, political changes, or labor shortages. They also provide insight into Khmer carving techniques, showing the step-by-step process of chiseling designs into brick or sandstone.

  8. How were the temples aligned with astrological markers, and what was their cosmic significance?

    The temples were aligned with celestial points and astrological markers, reflecting early Khmer cosmology. Bakong’s central sanctuary represents Mount Meru, the axis of the universe in Hindu mythology. The cardinal orientation of each temple signifies harmony between the earthly and divine realms.

  9. What do the lion statues at Preah Ko symbolize in Khmer culture?

    The lion statues at Preah Ko symbolize protection, power, and the spirit of Khmer rulers. They guard the sacred towers and represent the king’s divine right to rule. Lions are also associated with Narasimha, an avatar of Vishnu, symbolizing the protection of the divine.

  10. How did local legends and folklore influence the design and significance of the Roluos temples?

Local legends often intertwined with Hindu mythology and influenced the design of the temples. For instance, the sacred linga at Bakong is believed to have divine powers. Folklore about the cosmic serpent naga and guardian spirits also shaped the iconography of the naga balustrades and lion statues.


Visiting the Roluos Group offers more than just a historical excursion—it’s a chance to connect with the heart of Cambodia’s cultural and spiritual life, away from the well-trodden tourist paths. Whether you are a seasoned traveler, a history buff, or simply in search of peace, the Roluos Group welcomes you to discover the roots of a bygone empire that shaped a nation.

Table of Contents