Our complete guide to the temples of Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Here's our definitive guide of what to expect when you visit Cambodia's brilliantly beautiful Angkor Wat complex, from what to see, where to stay, and how to get around.
We're pretty sure that the ancient city of Angkor Wat needs no introduction, but before we get into the nitty gritty of our guide to Angkor Wat, here's a brief overview.
Located in the Siem Reap province of Cambodia, this UNESCO World Heritage site was once the centre of the Khmer empire that ruled Southeast Asia before the civilisation went extinct. The city was then reclaimed by the jungle and found by western explorers in the 1800’s, and after extensive restoration in the 20th century Angkor Wat opened for tourists from around the world to explore.
Today, Angkor Wat rules in the tourism stakes with over 2 million visitors walking the marble and sandstones steps yearly, admiring the vast breathtaking structures. If you're planning on visiting these temples, you'll need to make the most of your time (hey, you’ll need it). Time make your life easier, we’ve put together our guide so you’ll know wat to expect (pun intended) when you visit Angkor Wat.
OUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO ANGKOR WAT, CAMBODIA
WHY VISIT ANGKOR WAT?
When you witness the Angkor Wat archaelogical zone for the first time, you’ll be struck by the sheer size, scale and diversity of each structure. The complex is massive! And then as you start exploring, you’ll realise how brilliantly intricate and well preserved it is. It’s literally like stepping into an Indiana Jones movie. Truly worthy of any ‘wonder for the world’ status, the Angkor Wat complex is quite simply a marvel.
Formerly hidden by dense jungle, the temples are now covered by humans, exploring every piece of the three main temples, Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm like ants. It’s overwhelming, especially in the heat yet the sheer beauty of the area makes it all ok.
You can spend hours and hours exploring each of the main three temples and we totally recommend doing just that, with the help of a guide. There is a lot to take in and having a guide will give you a great understanding of the temples, their history and the importance they hold to Cambodia.
While the three main temples are well worthy of your time, don’t forget to explore the others. We stumbled across Preah Khan on the advice of our tuk-tuk driver and were staggered to see it was not only as beautiful as Ta Prohm, but with a tenth of the tourists.
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WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT ANGKOR WAT?
The temples of Angkor Wat are open every day of the year but the best time to visit is in January, when the temperatures are slightly cooler. Unfortunately, this means more tourists!
The best time to explore the Angkor Wat temples is very early, right after sunrise. There will be less tourists and you’ll also get better photos without that harsh midday sun! Bring plenty of water as a day walking and climbing the temples in the stifling heat really takes it out of you.
For those looking to visit for sunrise (who isn't), Angkor Wat is clearly the best location. However it gets REALLY busy, so either get there early, around 4am, and stake your claim. Alternatively, you could arrive later and be comfortable in actually watching the sun rise, and not watching from behind your camera (or someone else’s phone screen).
WHICH ANGKOR WAT TEMPLES SHOULD YOU VISIT?
Depending on the length of your stay, we recommend visiting the following temples.
1 - 3 DAYS
Obviously. This temple is the largest in the whole complex and is where the Angkor Wat complex gets its name. Full of imposing structures and intricate details, this is the temple you want to spend most of your time at.
Probably the most attractive of all the temples, the Bayon has over 54 towers and 216 faces and is perfect for photography, especially around sunrise or sunset. The temple was built on 3 levels: the first 2 are rectangular, while the 3rd is circular.
Ta Prohm temple
Ta Prohm was made famous by the Tomb Raider movie and is therefore one of the most popular in the complex. It has trees growing out of various ancient cracks and little nooks and crannies waiting to be explored. You’ll want to miss the crowds which overrun the place, so arrive early.
A 1000 foot terrace of elephants. It was used as a giant viewing stand during public ceremonies, royal ceremonies, and so on. Many lions decorate this enormous path as well. Now it’s surrounded by camera-wielding tourists, and we found it to be one of the busiest sites here. We suggest visiting late or early to avoid the crowds, which get overwhelming.
3 - 7 DAYS
Our favourite temple mostly due to the lack of crowds, Preah Khan was formerly one of the largest sites in the Angkor temple complex. Largely unrestored, it’s similar to Ta Prohm and has many trees growing around the ruins and mossy stones left laying around.
Pre Rup was at the center of a city that has long since vanished. Climb the steep steps up to the three tiers of the pyramid for a sweet view of the area.
This is worth the visit due to the red sandstone, which differentiates it from the other temple. The carvings are also more intricate than the ones you find at the other temples and this is one of the most beautiful temples to visit.
HOW TO GET TO ANGKOR WAT (AND AROUND)
The easiest way to explore the temples of Angkor Wat is by hiring a Tuk Tuk or Moto-taxi for the day. They can cost anywhere between $15-$25 USD depending on where you want to go and what you want to do. Add a few more dollars if you’re heading out for an early start to watch the sunrise.
It’s a good idea to ask your tuk-tuk driver for advice as to what temples to visit; they are extremely knowledgable and may just find you a little ‘off the beaten track’ temple which you can have all to yourself.
Otherwise, hire a bicycle or e-bike and explore for yourself. Walking isn’t really an option here as the temples are huge and the distance between each is vast.
BUYING TICKETS TO ANGKOR WAT
There are three ticket options for Angkor Wat which cater for all types of visit.
A one day ticket will cost $20 USD but we recommend against this as you need to be spending more than one day here!
A three day ticket will set you back $40 USD and but gives you enough flexibility to really explore the temples. This is the option we chose.
If you’re visiting for a long time, you can also purchase a 7 day pass which allows you to visit at any time during the seven days.
You can buy your pass from the check point and ticket office from 5pm the evening before you want to enter, which we recommend as trying to sort out a ticket at 4am is painful. You’ll need to go there in person as you picture is digitally printed on your ticket.
WHERE TO STAY IN SIEM REAP
You can’t stay in the temples, as much as you’d like to. Almost all visitors to Angkor Wat stay in the town of Siem Reap, about 15 mins away. Siem Reap is home to a vast array of accommodation options, from 5-star luxury to backpacker hostels.
We recommend staying close enough to Pub Street (Siem Reap’s tourist hub) to walk in for lunch or dinner, but far enough away that you’re not kept up all night from the thumping music.
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A FEW HANDY TIPS TO REMEMBER
As this is a religious site you really should be dressed appropriately with your legs and shoulders covered (particularly for ladies!). Just be mindful that you’re in a foreign, more conservative country, and much of the access to temples is limited if you’re not dressed respectfully.
Do your research
Researching this ancient wonder will make you appreciate it more, trust us.
Bring lots of water
The heat here is oppressive, especially after walking and climbing each complex.
Wear comfortable shoes
Lots of walking will be done, often over uneven surfaces, so make sure you’ve got a decent pair of shoes. And to protect you from snakes (we saw heaps of skins floating about).
Have you visited Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples? What was your highlight?