Angkor Wat Best Temples & Siem Reap Guide
The Kingdom of Cambodia sits between Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. For many, this is a popular travel destination, especially for those backpack trips across the region. Many go for the history, from the US bombings between 1969 and 1973, to the Cambodian Coup (1970) and the Cambodian Genocide (1975–79). However, most travellers are attracted to the temple complex of Angkor Wat. Spanning across 402 acres of land, this is the world’s largest religious site. The temples date back to the 12th century, built originally for the worship of the Hindu God, Vishnu. The Khmer Empire and the temples gradually turned Buddhist during the latter parts of the century. The Khmer-style temples are an impressive sight and it is highly recommended to spend 2–3 days trekking around and visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site, comparing the different styles, discovering and getting lost.
There are two main routes to take when visiting the temples, each taking around a day to complete at a gentle pace. Speak to your hotel and they can arrange a tuk-tuk to take you around, all for a reasonable price.
Top 11 Temples to Visit
There is no doubt that we have all seen a friend’s FB post of the Angkor Wat sunrise, with the sun coming up from behind the massive temples, reflecting beautifully. A tip is to arrange with your driver to collect your Angkor Wat pass the day before. This will allow you to arrive earlier at the temples and grabbing a good spot before the tour crowds hit. While you are out getting your pass, pop into Angkor Wat for the beautiful sunset. We were lucky that the sun was out and was shining gorgeously against the temples.
It is never nice getting up at 4am, but this was well worth the early rise. By 4:45 our tuk-tuk driver was ready and we were on our way to the temple site. Our hotel packed a takeaway breakfast for us, which was much needed. We made our way in the dark towards the large temples and found a nice spot on the left-hand pond. If you are lucky and early enough, the best spot is the far left corner. The wait was long but really worth it. Seeing the sun slowly creep from behind was a truly beautiful site. No wonder everyone posts about it!
Head into the main temple complex of Angkor Wat after wards and take in the incredible arches and structures of the temple.
Climb to the top of the temple and check out some of the amazing views, before heading for a well-deserved breakfast at the roadside stalls.
Next, your driver will drop you off just before the bridge to Bayon, allowing you to take some snaps with the large warrior statutes. It is quite surprising how well-preserved they are.
Walk across the bridge and your tuk-tuk will pick you up and take you to Bayon. This temple was the official state temple of the Mahayana Buddist King Jayavarman VII. It sits at the centre of the capital and houses some of the best structures in the site. Check out the many picture opportunities with the grand door frames and the large head carvings.
Walk down the single lane and you will see a large structure sitting at the end. The pyramid-like structure is really impressive and views from the top are excellent after a nice climb up. The structure here really looks a bit like the Egyptian pyramids, looking grand and spectacular.
Stop by Ta Prom for those much needed Lara Croft Tomb Raider photoshoots. The trees here have grown and become part of the temple. Watch out for the crowds but enjoy the mix and integration of nature and buildings. Great picture opportunities!
Prasat Kravan, Pre Rup and East Mebon
All three of these temples were made with red bricks, giving it a very different style. Prasat Kravan is one of the older sites (10th century) and consists of five small towers. The site is built in a symmetrical style and if you walk closely to one of the towers, you can see some of the fine carvings on the walls. Pre Rup is another pyramid-like structure where funerals were conducted (above). Check out the large elephant statue at the corner of East Mebon!
This temple is completely different to the others around. After a short walk on a small track over the waters, you will reach a small temple that is surrounded by a moat. You cannot get any closer but the pictures here are great, along with the selfies you can take on the walk in!
This is the sister temple of Ta Prom and is very similar, with trees growing around the temples and over doorways. This is often less travelled compared to the tomb raider temple but is equally stunning.
If I could recommend one thing for Siem Reap, it would be to take a day trip to Banteay Srei and Beng Mealea. The former is another temple made of red sandstone, but what makes this temple stand out is the detailed carvings at the doorways and the temple structures. Some of the carvings are so detailed, it is quite unbelievable.
If you are into doing a bit of exploring and adventure, then visit this temple. This is one of the only temples where you are allowed to truly explore, finding gaps in the walls to climb through and getting lost in the many layers of the temples. Photos were great here as well, with all the fallen stones and overgrown trees. It was definitely worth the drive out, a truly nice place to properly roam around and explore!
Details of tours
Small tour: Angkor Wat, Phnom Bakheng, Angkor Thom, Ta Keo, Ta Prom, Banteay kdei & Prasat Kravan — $15 (tuk-tuk)
Grand tour: Preah Khan Neak Pen, Ta Som, East Mebon, Pre Rup, Banteay Kdei, Prasat Kravan — $20 (tuk-tuk)
Banteay Srey & Beng Mealea — $55 or $75 (tuk-tuk/car)
The Rest of Siem Reap
For those looking for something different, join the quad bike sunset tour. Spend an hour driving around the country lanes of Siem Reap and seeing the relatively rural side of the city. The tour takes you around the rice fields and stops half way to see the sunset into the large fields. A very pretty scene, literally in the middle of nowhere.
Every city has a hipster area, and in Siem Reap this is at Kandal Village on Hap Guan Street. Here you will find fancy cafes and locally handcrafted products. Pop into the Little Red Fox for a nice local drink. Don’t get put off by the ingredients of the drink ‘Cafe Meas’ (Khmer style Golden Coffee with turmeric milk spiced with ginger, cinnamon and coconut), just try out the interesting mix of local flavours. This flu fighter will do you good!
You can’t go to south-east Asia and not find a night street market. The one here offers the chance to show off your bargaining skills for those much needed Cambodia t-shirts, magnets and loungey trousers.
Sit down at Khmer Cafe and enjoy a nice meal of local cuisine. The fish amok is a delicious and traditional curry like dish, matched well with some fried rice and spring rolls. The beef lok lak is a great stir fry and so is the morning glory!
Angkor Wat is one of those places that you must visit at some point. The beauty of the temples are truly astonishing and it is highly recommended to spend a good few days walking around and taking it all in.