Siem Reap Temples A Guide to Visiting the Temples of Angkor by JetSettingFools.com

Siem Reap Temples: A Guide to Visiting the Temples of Angkor

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Visiting Angkor Wat was the main reason for our first trip to Cambodia, although the stop wasn’t originally on our Southeast Asia itinerary. We made a last-minute decision to visit the famous Siem Reap temples when traveling from Vietnam to Thailand. We had an entire week in Siem Reap and with the assistance of an extremely helpful hotel staff and conversations with fellow travelers, we sorted out the best way to visit the temples of Angkor.

Our Top Tips for Visiting Angkor Wat

Before we get to the list of Siem Reap temples, we want to share a few essential Angkor Wat facts and pertinent information for your Angkor Wat trip.

Where is Angkor Wat Located?

Every Siem Reap itinerary is certain to include visiting Angkor Wat – the Siem Reap temple complex is less than 7km from the city center. The drive from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat takes about 20-minutes by car and a little longer by tuk tuk. However, many visitors don’t fully comprehend how expansive the Angkor Archaeological Park is until they arrive – even when looking at an Angkor map we couldn’t properly judge the size until we were actually there. The park, which was designated a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1992, encompasses more than 400 acres, including the three most well-known Cambodian temples: Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayan Temple. The larger ancient city of Angkor is home to the remains of more than 1,000 temples and, while they are not all worth visiting, there is so much more to see beyond The Big Three Temples. We designed this Angkor travel guide to help plan your Angkor Wat tour itinerary.

Angkor Wat Itinerary

There are numerous factors to consider when planning an itinerary for Angkor Wat Archaeological Park, including time, cost and interest. We were in Siem Reap for a week, but didn’t want to spend all of our time at the temples. We were on a budget, but willing to splurge for the Angkor Wat experience. We were fascinated by the Angkor Wat history and wanted a guide to help us better understand. Based on our preferences, we devised an Angkor Wat 3-day Itinerary (using the Angkor Wat 3-Day Pass – more on Angkor Wat entry fee options at the end of the post) that would allow us to see more than 15 of the best temples in Siem Reap – and still leave ample time for relaxation and other Siem Reap tourist attractions. {Read Things To Do in Siem Reap besides Temples}

Angkor Wat 3 Days Itinerary

Our 3-Day Angkor Wat tour is broken down day-by-day to help you plan your time visiting Siem Reap temples. Each day represents an Angkor Wat 1-day tour for visiting the temples. Ambitious temple sightseers could combine Days 2 and 3 into an Angkor Wat one-day itinerary for a longer day of temple exploration. We strongly advise against attempting to visit Angkor Wat in one day only – there is simply too much to see and do at Angkor Park! (That being said, if one day is all you have, go! Angkor Wat is worth it!)

  • Day 1: Hire private Angkor Wat Tour Guide for full day of temple exploration, including the top sights at Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayan Temple
  • Day 2: Be at the Angkor Wat entrance before dawn for an Angkor Wat Sunrise; after sunrise visit one more temple, than spend the remainder of the day in Siem Reap. Siem Reap Sightseeing Tips.
  • Day 3: Use an Angkor Wat map and plot out an Angkor Wat plan for visiting temples on your own (with a tuk tuk driver).

Angkor Wat Guide or Self-Guided Tour

After you determine your itinerary, you need to decide how to visit Angkor Wat: With or without a guide. We opted for a private Angkor guide on our first day so that we could understand the background of the temples before setting off on our own the following days. We made no special requests or itinerary demands; we left the Angkor guidebook at home and let our local Siem Reap tour guide formulate the plan for what we would see at the Angkor Park. In addition to the vast knowledge he bestowed on us, he took us to places we might not have seen otherwise (and was also instrumental in capturing Angkor Wat photos with us in them!).

There are numerous Angkor Wat tours – including bus tours, tuk tuk tours, bicycle tours, Angkor sunrise tours and Angkor sunset tours, which we will go into more detail about at the end of the post.

How To Get to Angkor Wat

If booking one of the Siem Reap Tours to Angkor Wat, transportation will likely be included – or at least arranged (and we personally think that is the best way to see Angkor Wat on your first day). If you are planning self-guided Angkor Wat travel, you will need to arrange how to get to Angkor Wat from Siem Reap yourself. We highly recommend you hire a driver – either a car or tuk tuk to Angkor Wat– in advance or, if you have helpful hotel staff like we did, you can have your hotel help sort the details of getting to Angkor Wat from your accommodations.

 

List of Siem Reap Temples to Visit

We were intent on seeing the best Angkor Wat temples and sights – not only the most popular three. Our Angkor Tour Guide showed us the iconic Siem Reap temples on a personalized Angkor Wat day tour – including numerous sites at both Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom – and then we created our own Angkor temple tours for the remaining two days of our Angkor Wat 3 Days Pass. Our Angkor temples list includes the best Angkor temples, as well as a small introduction and facts about each one. You can use this list as an Angkor temple guide. The temples are listed in the order we visited them and we’ve provided a helpful Angkor map of temples below.

Angkor Thom

Founded in the 12th century by Jayavarman VII – On our first morning of sightseeing Cambodia temples in Siem Reap, we bypassed Angkor Wat (but still got a glimpse of it) for the much less crowded Angkor Thom. Spread over 10 square kilometers, and surrounded by both a wall and a moat, Angkor Thom – which translates to Great City – is home to several sights and is an ideal start to visiting the temples of Angkor. We entered through the Angkor Thom South Gate by walking across the bridge through the ‘Churning of the Ocean of Milk’ (with 54 demons on our right and 54 gods on our left) and passing under a high tower with four imposing faces looking down on us.

 

Bayon at Angkor Thom

Built in the late 12th century by Jayavarman VII – Once inside, we made our way to the Angkor Thom Bayon Temple, best known for its 54 towers and 216 faces that stare out from the tower walls. Before we entered the temple, our guide explained some of the stories of the bas-reliefs carved on the exterior. Religious stories, fables and history are etched in detail on the stone walls, which have surprisingly survived over the centuries. Note: Bayon Temple is often referred to as the Angkor Wat Faces Temple.

 

Baphuon Temple

Built in the mid-11th century by Udayadityavarman II – Baphuon is another Angkor Thom temple, which is just a short walk from Bayon, and was completed sometime around the year 1060. The temple is entered by walking down a long causeway, then scampering up steep stairs to the upper tiers of the five-level pyramid. Along the western side of Baphuon, visitors can see a 60-meter-long Reclining Buddha built directly into the temple wall (sometime in the 15th or 16th century). The carving can be difficult to see – and is almost like an optical illusion. It is one of the many examples of the architectural brilliance involved in the construction of the ancient temples.

 

Phimeanakas, Terrace of the Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King

Phimeanakas was built at the end of the 10th century by Rajendravarman – Continuing our walk to the north on a short nature trail, we arrived at Phimeanakas. The Hindu temple was built in the 10th century in the middle of the royal enclosure (where the palace was located) and is believed to have had a golden spire or dome at one time. Perhaps not nearly as opulent now as it was intended, the surrounding forest provides a tranquil and almost mysterious charm to the temple.

Outside the royal enclosure are two terraces: The Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King. During ceremonies, the Terrace of the Elephants was where the king sat. Three-headed elephants and a large lotus flower top the platform. The adjacent Terrace of the Leper King has a bit of a grimmer story: It was used to cremate the remains of the royal family. The outside walls feature bas-reliefs and on top of the platform is a statue of Yama, the god of Death (but it’s a replica, as the original is housed in a Museum in Phnom Penh).

 

Angkor Wat’s Ta Prohm

Built in the year 1186 by Jayavarman VII – Ta Prohm is one of the most popular Siem Reap temples and is featured in many Angkor Wat pictures – especially after the temple was made famous by the movie Tomb Raider. The beauty of the temple is not the architecture so much as how nature has impacted the temple – as it is gradually being taken over by the forest. Dedicated to the mother of King Javavarman VII, Ta Prohm had nearly 80,000 people living in or providing services for the temple, including more than 600 dancers. Now, trees grow on top of the stone buildings, wrapping and digging their roots around and through the rocks. Canopies of leaves shade the temple grounds and moss clings to stones, enveloping the entire temple in a hue of green, creating an almost eerie atmosphere.

 

Angkor Wat

Built from the year 1113 to 1150; started by Suryavarman II and completed by Jayavarman VII – By early afternoon the crowds had thinned at Angkor Wat – the grandest of all Siem Reap temples. Even the approach is grand, as visitors travel along the expansive moat (650 feet wide) to the long bridge at the Angkor Wat entrance. It took more than 300,000 workers to build Angkor Wat – and they completed the massive structure in less than 40 years. The Angkor Wat architecture is astounding; it is truly a sight to behold.  

From the outside, the five towers and temple are visible. The entrance is along a single, straight walkway that leads through the gate, past the libraries, between the pools to the temple. Immediately inside the temple gate is a statue of Vishnu, to whom the temple is dedicated.

The exterior walls of the temple run for the length of 800 meters and are covered from top to bottom in carvings. The Angkor Wat bas-relief etchings tell stories of life, the king and the gods. One entire wall is used to depict a scene of heaven and hell – and shows the punishment a person can expect if they sin: bodies shackled and pounded with nails and body parts being fed to animals were just a few of the detailed carvings on the wall.

Inside Angkor Wat, a steep stairway ascends to the towers that are visible from so far away (it’s a long way to heaven, they say!). The center tower now houses several Angkor Wat Buddha statues (although the original Angkor Wat religion was Hindu, parts of the temple have been converted into a Buddhist sanctuary). The courtyards between the towers provide a peaceful place to unwind from the whirlwind of exploring Angkor Wat and offer a chance to contemplate the history of the place.

 

Phnom Bakheng

Built from the year 889 to 910 under Yasovarman I – Built on a hill, at one time Phnom Bakheng featured 108 towers, but most have crumbled and only a few are left standing today. Historically significant, Phnom Bakheng pre-dates Angkor Wat and it is believed that the temple was built as the focal point of the new capital; today it is mostly visited for the incredible views. Watching an Angkor Wat sunset, which is visible from the elevated platforms of Phnom Bakheng, is one of the most popular things to do in Angkor Wat. We, however, skipped the crowds and the sunset and visited shortly after witnessing an incredible Angkor Wat sunrise. We practically had the temple to ourselves.

 

Prasat Kravan

Built in the year 921 by Harshavarman I or Ishanavarman II – The modest, red-brick Prasat Kravan temple features five towers in a row, facing east, and is surrounded by a moat. The most striking element of the temple is the interior carvings – the first we saw in red brick – of Vishnu and Lakshmi, which are well-preserved. This style of bas-reliefs is rare in Cambodia.

 

Sra Srang

Built in the mid-10th century by Rajendravarman II – There is no longer a temple at the edge of the reservoir – only a foundation with guarding lions remains. The lake, also known as the Pool of Ablutions, is the former royal bathing pond. The entrance to Sra Srang is opposite Banteay Kdei.

 

Banteay Kdei

Built from the 12th to 13th centuries by Jayavarman VII – The dilapidation of Banteay Kedi can be attributed to the poor choice of materials used to construct it, although the intricate carvings that remain are quite striking. Although it is being restored, the disrepair is part of its charm; much like Ta Prohm. A long walkway leads to the temple that sits at the center of multiple enclosures. The temple, which is a Buddhist temple, was occupied by monks until the 1960s and bright saffron robes and colorful shrines can be seen throughout the temple.

 

Pre Rup

Built in the year 961 by Rajendravarman – The name, Pre Rup, translates to ‘turn the body,’ which has led to the common belief that Pre Rup Temple was used as a crematorium. The view on the approach is staggering, as the towers (now sprouting vegetation) rise from a reddish stone. Between the outer enclosure and the stairs to the temple is a black box – it is debated whether the box was used for cremation or was the base of a statue. The mountain temple is another hotspot for sunset.

 

Eastern Mebon

Built in the 10th century by Rejendravarman – Eastern Mebon was built in the same style as Pre Rup, with the top platforms looking almost identical. The Hindu temple is dedicated to Shiva and to honor King Rajendravarman’s mother and father. The intricate carvings over doorways have survived the elements, even though the rest of the building is deteriorating. One of the most identifiable features of East Mebon are the large elephant sculptures that sit at the corners of the temple.

 

Ta Som

Built at the end of the 12th century by Jayavarman VII – The small Ta Som temple only has one shrine – and it’s actually the gated entrance and outer walls that garner the most attention. Like Ta Prohm, nature seems to be absorbing the temple – and the sacred fig tree growing over the eastern entrance is a prime example. The main gate features a tower of faces, like the faces at Bayon temple, that appear to be looking down on you as you walk through.

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Neak Pean

Built in the 12th century by Jayavarman VII – The island temple of Neak Pean sits in the middle of a square pond, surrounded by four smaller ponds that feed into the main pool. Built according to the Hindu belief of balance (and thought to be modeled on a legendary lake in the Himalayas, Anavatapta), the water was believed to have curing properties – and the four connected pools represented Water, Earth Fire and Wind. A long boardwalk through swampy marsh leads to the temple.

 

Preah Khan

Built in 1191 by Jayavarman VII – Similar to Ta Prohm, Preah Khan once hosted a large community of nearly 100,000 people and was dedicated to the father of Jayavarman VII (Ta Prohm was dedicated to his mother). Also, like Ta Prohm, the site has been influenced by the forces of nature, which has left the sprawling temple in a state of disrepair. Many statues have been stolen or demolished – like the headless statues that guard the temple – but many of the carvings have  survived. The state of the temple does not, however, diminish the magnificence of the complex; the entrance to the main gate is lined with statues (Churning of the Ocean of Milk) and the complex, while crumbling, remains impressive.

 

Angkor Temples Map

A Siem Reap temples map is crucial when planning the best way to visit Angkor Wat. The complex is enormous – and you don’t want to spend precious time (in the heat!) back-tracking. You can use our Angkor Archaeological Park Map to help plan your route; it is color-coded to indicate which temples we saw on Days 1, 2 and 3 (which is a route that we think provides the best way to explore Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples). For a detailed layout of the complexes, use this Angkor Wat Temple Map and this Angkor Thom map.

 

 

More Angkor Wat Tips and Information

Once you decide which Siem Reap temples you want to visit and what to see in Angkor Wat, there are still a few more details to think about! First, you need to consider your Angkor Wat cost. In addition to the Angkor Wat fee, you will need to factor in the price of guided Angkor tours (if you decide to take one) and the fee for getting around and getting to Angkor Wat from Siem Reap.

Angkor Wat Ticket

When choosing which pass you want to buy to visit Angkor Wat, there are a few important details to understand.

  • The Angkor Wat Ticket Office is the only official ticket seller; your tour guide or driver will know where to buy Angkor Wat tickets that are official.
  • The Angkor Wat Ticket Price can be paid with cash or credit card.
  • Angkor Wat Ticket Office Opening Hours are from 5:00am to 5:30pm.
  • The Angkor Wat Temple Pass is valid from the date of purchase.
  • When you buy Angkor Wat tickets after 5:00pm and they are valid for the remainder of the day issued as well as the entire following day.
  • An Angkor Wat Day Pass cannot be purchased in advance.
  • A 3-Day Angkor Temple Pass is valid for 10 days from the issue date and the visitor can choose any three days within that period to visit the temples; you do not have to visit on three consecutive days.
  • A 7-Day Angkor Pass is valid for one month from the issue date and the visitor can choose any seven days within that period to visit the temples; you do not have to visit on seven consecutive days.

The Angkor Wat entrance fee is paid at the gate and allows access to all temples. The three options for an Angkor Wat Pass are (Angkor Wat price current as of June 2018):

  • 1-Day Angkor Wat Ticket ($37 USD)
  • 3-Day Angkor Pass ($62 USD)
  • 7-Day Angkor Pass ($72 USD)

Keep in mind that if you plan to visit Angkor Wat in 2 days, the Angkor Wat entry fee for the 3-Day pass is the best choice – both for economical and practical reasons. The Angkor Wat Day Pass costs $37 USD – so buying an Angkor Wat 1-Day Pass for two days of visits will cost $74 (purchasing the 3-Day pass at $62 will save $12). In addition, since you cannot purchase an Angkor Wat One-Day Pass in advance, you would have to wait in line for buying tickets for Angkor Wat both days. Likewise, if you intend to spend 4, 5 or 6 days at the park, the 7-Day Angkor pass is the most economical.

 

Angkor Wat Hours

The park opening hours vary by temple, which makes it a little confusing and very important to plan your trip in advance or take a tour to ensure you stay on schedule. The majority of the park is open from 7:30am to 5:30pm. Sra Srang and Angkor Wat opening times are earlier, for sunrise visitors: 5:00am to 5:30pm and Phnom Bakheng and Pre Rup are open for both sunrise and sunset: 5:00am to 7:00pm. 

 

Best Angkor Wat Tours from Siem Reap

There are an almost endless number of Siem Reap temple tours to choose from where an Angkor Wat temple guide will lead the way to the top sights. Some of the options for a Siem Reap-Angkor Wat tour include: Private, small-group, large group; sunrise, full day, sunset; air-conditioned car, open tuk-tuk, bicycle. You can find Angkor Wat photography tours and even see the sights by helicopter.

Choosing which Angkor Wat temple tour you join simply depends on your preference of how to see Angkor Wat. When we decided to purchase an Angkor Wat 3-day tour pass, we determined that an Angkor Wat One-Day Tour with a private guide was enough for us – after that we used a handy Angkor Wat guide book (which you should purchase in advance of your trip!) to provide additional Angkor Wat temple facts and information. If you decide to visit Angkor with a guide, we recommend reviewing Angkor tours in advance of your trip to make sure you find the best Siem Reap temples tour for you. To help, we’ve researched some of the top-rated Angkor Tours

Angkor Temples Small-Group Tour – Full-day tour from Siem Reap to the most iconic temples at Angkor, including a Cambodian lunch. Book It Now! 

Private Angkor Wat and Royal Temples Tour – A private full-day tour to the top sights at Angkor Archaeological Park, including a Cambodian lunch. Find out more! 

Angkor Temples Bike Tour – Spend a full day cycling to the best temples at Angkor Park and then follow your guide to small nearby villages (lunch provided). Read the Rave Reviews!

Private Angkor Tour with Sunset Viewing – Learn the history of Angkor and tour the sites with a knowledgeable guide and stay for sunset at Pre Rup. Book it! 

{For top tips on watching sunrise at Angkor Wat, read Angkor Wat Sunrise}

 

Top Tips for your trip to Angkor Wat

More tips for your Angkor trip, including weather, what to wear, how to get there and where to stay. 

Angkor Wat Weather

Expect the weather at Angkor Wat to be hot and humid…and count on sporadic thunderstorms in the rainy season (May to November). You can check Siem Reap weather forecasts on AccuWeather.com. Many people think the best time to go to Angkor Wat is in the morning for the cooler weather, but it’s also the most crowded at that time; so factor both weather and crowds into your sightseeing plan.

What To Wear to Angkor Wat

What you wear to Siem Reap temples needs to be both appropriate temple attire (non-revealing, covering shoulders and knees) and comfortable. You also need to make sure it is suitable for the weather. Wear loose-fitting clothes, like these shirts, and capris or temple pants. We also recommend wearing a travel hat, sunscreen, insect repellent and carry a water bottle and a travel umbrella (for both shade and downpours!).

Siem Reap Airport

The closest Angkor Wat airport is the Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport (airport code: REP). Many carriers have flights to Angkor Wat – and we always start our search for the best prices for flights on SkyScanner.

  • Phnom Penh to Angkor Wat – There are daily flights from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap; the flight takes 45 minutes. Check for flights for your trip! You can also travel by bus, which is outlined in this article.
  • Bangkok to Angkor Wat – There are multiple daily flights from Bangkok to Siem Reap airport; the flight takes a little more than an hour. Check for flights for your trip! You can also travel from Bangkok to Siem Reap by bus, read this review

Angkor Wat Accommodation

Visitors can find everything from hotels to hostels to guesthouses in Siem Reap as a base for tours of Angkor Wat. During our visit, we stayed at the Villa Siem Reap, which we can highly recommend for the attentive and personal service, clean rooms and refreshing pool.

If you are wondering where to stay in Angkor Wat and are looking for the best hotels in Siem Reap, we recommend taking a look at Villa Siem Reap (check availability!) or starting your search on Booking.com – like we do!

 

Before You Go

  • Don’t forget to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes for your trip. I (Sarah) have traveled with these shoes by ColumbiaSkechers and Reef. Kris prefers wearing these shoes by Merrell and Sanuk.
  • We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos (that can later be beautifully compiled into a travel photo book). We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures, is slim and lightweight – and the new models are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!).
  • To better understand the history of Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat temples, a guidebook is helpful – even if hiring a guide!
  • We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.

 

Start planning your trip to Angkor Wat! Search for the lowest airfares, the best accommodations and fun things to do…then start packing!  Want more travel planning tips? Head over to our Travel Planning page for more information and tips on traveling – and for country-specific information, take a look at our Travel Guides page!

 

We want to know: What are your favorite Siem Reap temples? Would you add any others to our list of Temples of Angkor? Give us your best tips and advice in the comments! 

 

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Siem Reap Temples A Guide to Visiting the Temples near Angkor Wat by JetSettingFools.com

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4 thoughts on “Siem Reap Temples: A Guide to Visiting the Temples of Angkor

  1. Anonymous

    Two of my friends have visited the temples (at different times) during the last two years — both taking almost identical close-up pictures of the huge root that envelopes the building. That is such an amazing sight!

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