When people search for Angkor Wat or an Angkor Wat itinerary, they tend to mean the entire Angkor temple complex. Angkor Wat is one temple, the most famous, within the complex but has become synonymous in meaning with the entire world heritage site of Angkor. Angkor is situated a few kilometres North of Siem Reap and both are Cambodia’s most visited tourist areas.
The amount of temples in Angkor is overwhelming, and it can take a while to get your head around planning your days. Hopefully this guide will help you to decide which temples you want to visit and the best route to do so.
The cost to visit Angkor Wat will probably the biggest expense during your trip to Siem Reap or Cambodia, it was for us! The Angkor Wat entrance fee varies for the length of stay you choose, but the most popular option (and in my opinion the best) is the 3 day pass at $62 each. You don’t have to use your 3 days consecutively, your pass is valid for any 3 days within a 10 day period. The best way to buy tickets is to hire a tuk-tuk for the evening to take you to the admissions office (which is on the way to the Angkor complex) around 4pm. Once you’ve bought your ticket you then receive the bonus of a free evening on the day of your purchase, allowing you to then head straight to Angkor Wat to watch the sunset.
Although this is expensive for an attraction in South East Asia, the value for money is incredible, especially compared to what $62 can buy you in Western countries. The photo for the pass does end up making you look like a Nintendo Wii avatar though…
Unfortunately there are no Angkor Wat Hotels! You’ll be staying in Siem Reap and need to find your way to the complex each day. Therefore an added expense is the transport you’re going to need for getting to Angkor Wat and around the temples. Our tuk-tuk driver cost us roughly $30 per day (we tipped an extra $5 – $10 per day also) but was again, good value for money.
You could hire a car/driver for double the cost of a tuk-tuk, or hire bicycles for half. In my opinion though, tuk-tuk is the best way to visit Angkor Wat as it’s affordable yet practical and not too hot – the wind cools you down when you’re on the move and most good drivers have a cool box full of water and cold flannels in the back. A word of advice is to book a hotel in Siem Reap with a pool, as you’ll be needing to cool down in the afternoons after your temple adventures.
As I mentioned in my Cambodia itinerary post, we booked our tuk-tuk driver through our hotel to avoid any kind of scams and to have a set price in place per day. The only downside with this was that we had to choose either the standard ‘Grand Circuit’ or ‘Small Circuit’ routes, with no variation. I had put quite a bit of planning into a custom route, but our driver really did not want to compromise.
If anyone is interested, here is my perfect route if your driver is willing to follow it! The squares are all the temples in the area, and the starred ones the main ones and temples I didn’t want to miss. This is a great itinerary for anyone with a 1 day pass too.
This are the routes we followed instead – red is the Small Circuit and green the Grand Circuit. We did the small circuit, which confusingly is the longer day as it has the main temples on, on our first day and the grand circuit on our second day. On our third day we saw everything left over that we had missed or wanted more time at, and made our way out to Banteay Srei.
So finally below is my guide to the temples in Angkor, in the order we visited them over our three days. We actually saw nearly every temple in Angkor (thanks to the persistence of our driver!) so several are left out; below are the most notable temples that I think are worth visiting and spending your limited time at.
South Gate Bridge
We used our ‘bonus’ evening from the day we purchased our tickets to venture into the Angkor complex just before sunset. Our driver advised that Angkor Wat Temple was probably far too busy and we should try somewhere off the beaten track instead. He took us to South Gate Bridge, one of the entrances to Angkor Thom, which is lined with 54 stone figures – demon gods on the right and guardian gods on the left.
Day 1 (Small Circuit)
A lot of people get up around 4am on their first day to join the masses in watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat. We’re not really cut out for those kind of alarm times but it is heralded as a ‘must do’ during your time in Siem Reap! We arrived at Angkor Wat around 6:30am and spent just over an hour walking around inside.
The temple is absolutely huge and the length of time you’ll stay depends on how much detail you want to take in. It would have been nice to have a tour guide with us as we walked around, but reviews of scams put us off and we couldn’t really justify the cost. If you do want a guide, be sure to only hire one of the official guides with the grey shirt uniform (from memory) and a lanyard.
Your tuk-tuk driver will drop you at the entrance of each temple you visit and arrange a pick-up point afterwards, waiting for you whilst you walk around each one.
Angkor Thom / Bayon Temple
Angkor Thom is the old capital city and houses several temples. Probably the most popular is Bayon Temple. Bayon is famous for its mysterious faces peering out of the various towers in the site. There are apparently around 200 faces, and unless you arrive here at the crack of dawn, you’ll most likely be barging past hundreds of tourists trying to pose with them.
I must just mention that elephant rides are offered in Angkor Thom (and at other locations within Angkor) but please do take part!! If you’re not aware of how cruel elephant riding is I have another post on a Chiang Mai elephant sanctuary that explains in full.
A short walk North of Bayon brings you to Baphuon temple which involved a lot of steps to climb! Baphuon was originally dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva but was later converted into a Buddhist temple.
Terrace of the Elephants
The exit of Baphuon brings you out the back, and from there it’s a 20 minute walk to the detailed terraces further North. The Angkor Thom Terrace of the Elephants is an ancient royal viewing platform for the King to watch his army return from battle after they had passed through the Victory Gate…
The Victory Gate was used by the Khmer Empire’s army whenever they had returned from a successful battle. I’m not too sure how they returned if they had lost…
If you climb the hill at the side of the bridge, you can get a great close-up view of the head figurines at the top.
Ta Prohm or the ‘Tomb Raider Temple’ was one of my favourite temples in the complex and it always extremely busy. It’s well known for being one of the Tomb Raider film locations (the bit where Daniel Craig is chasing Lara Croft/Angelina) and has some seriously cool overgrown trees hanging over the ruins.
Ta Prohm is a complete maze though, be warned. You’ll spend a lot of time here partly due to how amazing it is, and partly because you need to through it and around it probably 3/4 times to see everything!
Day 2 (Grand Circuit)
Preah Khan was a bit of a hidden gem. I hadn’t researched it much and it was very quiet when we visited (first thing in the morning) which always adds to the experience of exploring a temple. The detailing is still quite well preserved and the huge overgrown tree at the back of the temple was my favourite photo of our trip; the tree sort of resembles a boney hand stretched out over the temple wall.
Neak Pean was a nice change from the ‘conventional’ temples. There’s a long, thin boardwalk through the middle of an extremely reflective lake that brings you to the small temple at the end. You won’t spend that long here, but it’s a nice walk. Even the local dogs seem impressed!
Ta Som is quite a small temple but featured my favourite aspects of Angkor – head figurines and overgrown trees. Be sure not to miss the tree that has grown around the doorway of one of the temple’s entrances and looks like some kind of gateway to Narnia – it’s set a bit further out from the main area and could be easily missed.
Probably the least exciting temple on this list to look at (in my opinion) but quite a large structure with different levels and vantage points. Pre Rap is dedicated to the god Shiva and was thought to be the location of funerals.
Day 3 (Further out Temples)
Banteay Srei is the best preserved temple in the Angkor complex. It is quite far out from the main ‘action’ but still fills up with tourists quite quickly. We arrived here at opening time on our third day and there were only five or so other visitors.
On the way back from Banteay Srei we visited the Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre, the Bakong Temples and Preah Ko. There’s also the option of taking a tour of Tonlé Sap Lake and floating village to conclude your final day!
If you’d like information about visiting Cambodia beyond Angkor Wat, check out my Cambodia 3 week itinerary. Feel free to ask me any questions about Angkor Wat in the comments below!
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