Prasat Wat Athvea is situated in the southern outskirts of Siem Reap, only 200 metres to the right of the road leading to Chong Kneas and the Tonle Sap. The ancient monument is now part of a pagoda of the same name ("Wat" means "monastery"). Other spellings are Vat Atvea or Wat Athvear or Wat Athwear. The Khmer pronunciation sounds like "Utveer", stressed on the second syllable.
Wat Athvea is a flat temple, this means all structures are on ground level. The complex supposedly originates from the same time as the Angkor Wat. As there are no details concerning the foundation date mentioned in inscriptions, only stylistic details indicate the time of origin.
Contrasting to other temples from the same Angkor Wat style period (Banteay Samray, Thommanon, Chau Say Tevoda, Beng Mealea, and parts of Phanum Rung and Phimai), Wat Athvea almost completely lacks sculptural ornamentation, maybe it was never completed. Wat Athvea's only Apsara sculptures are found on decorated pilasters at the doors leading from the Mandapa hall to the cella, which is inside the main Prasat. The Apsara sculptures are in the classical style of Angkor Wat. The inscriptions at the pillars are Buddhist additions from the 16th century. The huge pedestal of a Lingam in the cella marks the temple as a former Shiva sanctuary.
Wat Athvea is rarely visited by tourists, though it is much bigger than for example the Thommanon, and it is in a remarkable good condition.
Though guests will enter it from the east, Wat Athvea is orientated west. A Gopuram gate stands in front of the inner enclosure, to the west. This westards orientation is remarkable as there is only one other monument from the same era (first half of the 12th century) with this unorthodox feature, the Angkor Wat itself. In the case of the Angkor Wat it is interpreted as indicating a funerary function. But little indicates Wat Athvea could have been a kind of tomb, too. Wat Athvea’s orientation towards the is all the more confusing as it was a Schiwa temple. Angkor Wat was a Vishnu temple and Vishnu was associated with the west. But this explanation makes no sense for a sanctuary dedicated to Shiva.
The inner courtyard of Wat Athvea is surrounded by a still intact massive laterite wall, 50 metres long and 42 metres wide. The main sanctuary built from sandstone is surrounded by 4 nearby satellite structures, all of them opening to the west. This is unusual for libraries as their entrances are normally oriented to the main shrine. The stone blocks of the principal structure are of great size and an attractive grain.
The best time to visit the ancient part of Wat Athvea is the afternoon. But in case you like to see the ensemble of old temple and new pagoda in the best sunshine you should come in the morning.