The Angkor Wat temples are truly remarkable, holding immense significance in Southeast Asian archaeology. Many travelers dream of visiting these iconic sites, and for us, it was a long-awaited adventure. Our recent trip to Southeast Asia reached its peak with the breathtaking sunrise at Angkor Wat, an experience that exceeded all expectations. Despite being hidden beneath Cambodia’s dense jungle for centuries, modern restoration efforts have unveiled the splendor of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, it stands as Cambodia’s top tourist destination, attracting over 2 million visitors annually.

Exploring Angkor Wat is more than just a sightseeing journey; it’s a deep dive into history, architecture, and natural beauty. However, it’s important to remember that Angkor Wat is just one part of the expansive Angkor Archaeological Park, covering 400 square kilometers. Within this vast area lie over 70 temples and countless ruins waiting to be explored. Navigating this vast landscape may seem daunting, but with our comprehensive guide to the must-visit temples at Angkor Wat, we aim to simplify your journey. By obtaining a 7-day pass, we were able to fully immerse ourselves in the wonders of Angkor Wat and bring you an in-depth exploration of its most remarkable temples. Don’t forget to check out our complete travel guide for all the essential information on visiting Angkor Wat.

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Discover the best temples to visit at the Angkor Wat Archaeological Park in Cambodia

VISA | Cambodia requires a visa for citizens of certain countries. Make sure to check the visa requirements on ivisa.com for your nationality before you go.

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HOW TO GET THERE | Discover the best flight deals to Cambodia on Skyscanner

GET AROUND | Download the Pass App, a ride-hailing app, to order a tuk-tuk or taxi to get around Siem Reap.

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TOURS & ATTRACTIONS | For booking the best & cheapest city tours and day trip excursions, check out GetYourGuide or Viator.

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Nestled in northwest Cambodia lies Angkor Wat, a sprawling wonder of ancient architecture. Just north of Siem Reap, this temple complex is a must-see for anyone exploring Southeast Asia. Listed on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites, Angkor Wat has the status of the largest religious monument globally.

Built back in the 12th century by the Khmer King Suryavarman II, Angkor Wat was originally meant to be a Hindu temple devoted to Vishnu. But over time, Buddhism took root here, blending with Hindu influences and leaving behind a unique spiritual ambiance. Today, you can still spot Buddhist monks wandering the temple grounds, offering blessings for a small donation.

Although Angkor Wat steals the spotlight, there are plenty of other temples within the complex. At its peak, this ancient city buzzed with life, possibly housing over a million people, though what ultimately became of them remains a mystery.

Once the heart of the Khmer Empire, the Angkor complex gradually faded into obscurity, taken over by the jungle. It wasn’t until the 19th century that these temples were rediscovered by French explorer Henri Mouhot. Thanks to restoration efforts starting in the early 1900s and ongoing maintenance funded partly by ticket sales, these architectural marvels have been preserved for future generations.

Today, Angkor Wat’s temples draw millions of visitors yearly with their stunning carvings, captivating reliefs, and towering spires, serving as a reminder of the Khmer civilization’s remarkable achievements.

Seeing Angkor Wat at sunrise, best things to do in Siem Reap Cambodia

The Angkor Wat Complex boasts an impressive array of around 72 major temples, along with several hundred minor temple sites scattered throughout. With so much to explore, it’s challenging to cover it all in a single visit. However, there are certain highlights you shouldn’t miss when exploring the Angkor Wat temples. Planning your itinerary will depend on various factors like the duration of your ticket (1, 3, or 7 days), your mode of transport, weather conditions, and your personal interests.

If you have just one day to spare, we recommend using a tuk-tuk for transportation and following the Small Circuit route. This allows you to dedicate ample time to Angkor Wat (especially for sunrise), Bayon, and Ta Phrom.

For those with a three-day ticket, you’ll have the opportunity to explore both the Small Circuit and the Grand Circuit, along with a choice of one or two remote temples.

Opting for a seven-day ticket offers even more flexibility, allowing you to delve deeper into each temple site and cover all the main attractions on both the Small and Grand Circuits, as well as the remote temples.

As for suggested routes in the central temple area:

When it comes to exploring the remote temples, there are countless combinations to consider. However, if you plan to visit multiple sites in one trip, it’s best to travel by tuk-tuk. Some popular options include:

Explore the temples of Angkor Wat, best things to do in Siem Reap Cambodia

Angkor Wat stands as the crown jewel of the Angkor Archaeological Park, serving as a living testament to Cambodia’s rich cultural heritage. It’s not unusual to encounter monks offering blessings to visitors, adding to the temple’s aura of spirituality. As the largest religious monument globally, this iconic temple spans a vast 400 acres and boasts impressive towers, intricate carvings, and a majestic moat. Its grandeur is so renowned that its silhouette adorns Cambodia’s flag.

Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Angkor Wat was a monumental undertaking initiated by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century, taking a staggering 30 years to complete. Its unique west-facing orientation suggests a significant departure from traditional Khmer temple design, possibly intended as a grand mausoleum.

The sight of Angkor Wat during sunrise, reflected in the serene waters of its surrounding pond, is truly breathtaking. It’s no wonder that witnessing this spectacle is often considered a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Exploring Angkor Wat reveals its remarkable preservation and intricate details, with each stone carving telling a story from ancient mythologies like the Ramayana and the graceful Apsara dancers. Climbing the steep stairs to the temple’s core offers panoramic views. However be prepared for queues due to restricted entry numbers and adhere to the conservative dress code enforced in this sacred space.

Practical information and travel tips for planning your trip to Cambodia & Angkor Wat
Tonle Om Gate (Southern Gate of Angkor Thom), must-visit temples angkor wat, siem reap, cambodia

Tonle Om Gate (Southern Gate of Angkor Thom)

Be sure to ask your driver to make a quick stop at the Southern Gate of Angkor Thom, known as Tonle Om – it’s a must-see! As you journey from Angkor Wat to the Bayon temple, you’ll pass through this iconic gate. Adorned with imposing stone faces on each tower, it’s a sight to behold from every angle.

These massive faces, gazing out in all four directions, add an air of mystery to the entrance. Additionally, you’ll notice 54 statues lining the path leading up to the gate, enhancing its grandeur.

Tonle Om is just one of five gates granting access to the Angkor Thom temple complex. Other gates include the Takaov Gate (West Gate), North Gate of Angkor Thom, Victory Gate, and Khmoch Gate (Gate of the Dead).

Serving as part of the protective wall encircling the temple complex, Tonle Om stands as a testament to the remarkable Khmer architecture. It’s not only a point of entry but also a fascinating glimpse into the history and grandeur of the Angkor civilization.

Bayon (the face temple), must-visit temples angkor wat, siem reap, cambodia

Bayon (The Face Temple)

Moving on to the captivating Bayon Temple, located at the heart of Angkor Thom, the ancient royal capital city of the Khmer Empire. Built a century after Angkor Wat, Bayon stands as a smaller yet uniquely enchanting temple complex.

From a distance, it may appear like a mere heap of rubble, but as you approach, the distinctive features of Bayon Temple become unmistakable. Upon entering, you’re greeted by a surreal sight: over 200 massive stone faces staring back at you. These faces adorn the 54 remaining large towers, with each one facing one of the four directions, all bearing a serene expression. It is said that the faces depict either Jayavarman VII, the temple’s builder, or the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara. The true identity remains shrouded in mystery, adding to the temple’s allure. 

In addition to the striking faces, Bayon boasts 1.2km of bas-reliefs, featuring over 11,000 figures. The temple’s interior is adorned with intricate carvings depicting daily life in Cambodia and religious rituals of both Hindu and Buddhist origins.

Exploring Bayon Temple thoroughly requires at least an hour to fully appreciate the craftsmanship of its stone artwork.

TIP | Exit Bayon Temple through its northern end and make a brief stop at the Terrace of Elephants. This 300-meter royal terrace served as a viewing platform for the king during events in the parade grounds or audience sessions with the citizens of Angkor. The terrace derives its name from the elephant carvings adorning its sides.

Ta Phrom, the tomb raider temple from the lara croft movie, many people's favorite temple at Angkor Wat in Cambodia

Ta Prohm (The Tomb Raider Temple)

You can’t talk about Ta Prohm without mentioning its starring role in the Lara Croft Tomb Raider movie! This enchanting site within the Angkor Archaeological Park is renowned for its captivating blend of ancient ruins and lush nature. It’s no wonder it’s one of the park’s most visited complexes – the jungle seems to be reclaiming it bit by bit!

Dating back to the late 1100s, Ta Prohm was initially a Buddhist monastery and university. Since the Khmer Empire’s decline in the 1500s, it has remained virtually untouched. Over the centuries, silk cotton and strangler fig trees have snaked their way through the cracks, adding to its mystical charm. You can’t miss the sight of enormous trees perched atop the temple, their roots winding around its structures. It’s a scene straight out of a fantasy novel, adding to the eerie yet fascinating atmosphere of Ta Prohm.

This place is massive, so make sure to set aside a good two hours to explore it fully. To protect the delicate temples, there are designated walkways for visitors to follow, ensuring everyone gets a chance to marvel at this incredible site. And don’t forget to watch your step – ropes are in place to guard the most popular photo spots, keeping both visitors and the temple safe.

Practical information and travel tips for planning your trip to Cambodia & Angkor Wat
Best preserved temple in Angkor Wat Complex, Banteay Srei in Siem Reap Cambodia

Banteay Srei (The Citadel of Beauty)

Venturing further north than the main temple complex, you’ll find Banteay Srei, a site we believe is definitely worth the visit. Its name, “Citadel of the Women” or “Citadel of Beauty,” suggests a fascinating history, with many attributing its construction to women. Dating back over 1,050 years, Banteay Srei boasts some of the best-preserved carvings and statues, all crafted from reddish-pink sandstone.

Despite its smaller size, Banteay Srei shines as a masterpiece of Khmer art and architecture. Its intricate bas-reliefs and delicate designs captivate visitors, making it a must-see for anyone exploring the Angkor temples. Every surface of the citadel is adorned with meticulously carved stories from Hindu mythology, a testament to its dedication to the Hindu god, Shiva.

For the most stunning views of its rich red hue, we recommend visiting Banteay Srei in the early morning or late afternoon. The sunlight enhances the rose sandstone, giving it an almost ethereal glow. Don’t let the lack of shade deter you – the sight of Banteay Srei basking in the sun’s rays is truly a sight to behold.

Preah Khan, one of Angkor Wat's largest and most captivating temples

Preah Khan (Holy Sword Temple)

On our second day, we made our way to Preah Khan bright and early, and let me tell you, it left us absolutely enchanted. Despite its vastness, the temple felt peaceful, with fewer visitors around, adding to its allure. As we wandered through its ancient halls, we hardly encountered anyone else, allowing us to soak up every bit of its mystical atmosphere.

Once a bustling Buddhist university, Preah Khan is now one of Angkor’s largest and most captivating temples. Stepping through its grand entrance, flanked by statues, felt like stepping back in time. Inside, the central hall seemed to stretch endlessly. You’ll stumble upon beautifully preserved carvings and intricate details around every corner, including those mesmerizing Apsara dancers. And the best part? Much of Preah Khan remains untouched, giving it this incredible blend of ancient ruin and natural beauty.

Don’t forget to take your time and wander through it all – trust me, you won’t regret it. And when you finally reach the end, prepare to be awestruck by the sight of a magnificent giant Banyan tree. With so much to see and photograph, you’ll want to carve out at least an hour to fully experience the magic of Preah Khan.

Ta Som temple at Angkor Wat, part of the grand circuit tour, Cambodia

Ta Som

Ta Som, though small in size, holds immense appeal and is a definite gem among the Angkor Wat temples. This intimate Bayon-style temple captured our hearts with its modest yet enchanting presence. Unlike its larger counterparts, Ta Som offers a quieter atmosphere, allowing for a more intimate exploration.

Similar to its neighbors, Preah Khan and Ta Prohm, Ta Som boasts a semi-ruined structure intertwined with native vegetation, giving it a unique charm. With less crowding, there’s ample space to admire its intricate carvings and bask in its serene ambiance.

Every detail, from the delicate devatas (goddesses) to the imposing dvarapalas (temple guardians), speaks volumes about the meticulous craftsmanship that went into creating Ta Som. While not as abundant as in Angkor Wat, these carvings are equally impressive.

One standout feature of Ta Som is its eastern gatehouse tower. The tower is adorned with serene stone faces that have been partially consumed by a fig tree. It’s a truly remarkable sight to behold and adds to the temple’s allure.

Ta Keo, five-tiered pyramid-style temple at the Angkor Wat Temple Complex in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Ta Keo (Crystal Tower Temple)

Ta Keo stands out from the crowd with its unique construction entirely of sandstone. This five-tiered pyramid-style temple commands attention with its imposing presence. However, be prepared for a challenging ascent as you navigate the steep and uneven stairs to reach the top.

Once you conquer the climb, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the surrounding area. Take a moment to explore the small temple at the summit, where you’ll find a shrine dedicated to Buddha. Just a heads up – the climb up Ta Keo’s steep stairways can be quite demanding, so make sure you’re wearing sturdy footwear!

Built during the reign of Jayavarman V, Ta Keo is one of the earliest temples of its kind. Despite its lack of ornate carvings, which suggests it was never fully completed, Ta Keo exudes a certain austere beauty that is well worth experiencing firsthand. So, don’t miss the chance to visit this unique temple when exploring the Angkor Wat temples.

Neak Pean, the water temple, unique at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Neak Pean (The Water Temple)

Neak Pean stands out among the temples of the Angkor Wat Complex. You’ll notice its uniqueness immediately upon arrival. To reach it, you’ll cross a man-made lake with swamps over a wooden walkway. The temple itself is situated on a small island within the lake, surrounded by water.

Named “The Entwined Serpents,” Neak Pean is adorned with naga sculptures, adding to its distinctive charm. This temple holds a special purpose – it was designed as a place of healing. Legend has it that the waters of its central pool possess healing properties. Constructed in the 12th century, Neak Pean comprises a central pool encircled by four smaller ones, each connected by water conduits.

This architectural design isn’t just symbolic. It mirrors the sacred Lake Anavatapta in the Himalayas, believed to hold miraculous healing powers in Buddhist mythology. So, if you’re exploring the Angkor Wat temples, don’t miss the chance to experience the unique atmosphere of Neak Pean.

East Mebon, best temples to visit at Angkor Wat in Cambodia

East Mebon

The East Mebon temple shares similarities with the Pre Rup temple below. However, it features fewer stairs and lacks a panoramic view. Despite its age, the temple remains remarkably well-preserved. Its symmetrical layout includes a central tower surrounded by four smaller towers, all situated on a higher square platform. Be sure to take notice of the exquisite elephant statues adorning each corner of the square platform – they’re truly breathtaking!

Pre Rup, on of the popular temples for watching sunset at Angkor Wat in Cambodia

Pre Rup

Pre Rup, dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, dates back to the 960s. Its name, “turn the body,” suggests its role as a cremation temple. With its distinctive pyramid tiers resembling a lotus flower, Pre Rup stands tall as one of the tallest temples in the Angkor Wat Complex.

As a popular spot to watch the sunset, Pre Rup offers breathtaking views over the surrounding jungle. However, climbing its steep stairs to reach the main towers can feel more like scaling a mountain, especially without handrails. Once at the top, you’ll be treated to stunning vistas of the ruins below.

The temple layout features a central temple surrounded by four smaller ones in the corners, all in a pagoda style. Despite its popularity during sunset, Pre Rup is generally less crowded during the day. So, whether you visit during the day or opt for the mesmerizing sunset views, Pre Rup promises an unforgettable experience when exploring the Angkor Wat temples.

Banteay Samre, more remote located temple outside the main Angkor Wat temple routes in Cambodia

Banteay Samre

Often overshadowed by larger temples, Banteay Samre offers a peaceful sanctuary away from the crowds. Located off the main temple circuit, it remains secluded, allowing for a tranquil visit. During our exploration, we encountered only one other couple, highlighting its serene atmosphere. If you’re short on time in Siem Reap, a visit to Banteay Samre might not be feasible. However, if you have the 3-day Angkor Pass you could combine it with Banteay Srei. After visiting Banteay Srei, we made a detour on our way back to Siem Reap to explore Banteay Samre. Fun fact, our driver had to laugh at the request as he LITERALLY lives right next to the temple with his family. 

Upon arrival, you’ll notice the striking resemblance of Banteay Samre to Angkor Wat in its design and features. Dedicated to Shiva, this temple boasts well-preserved carvings depicting Hindu mythology and Buddha. While its exact construction date remains uncertain, it is believed to have been built in the 12th century and has undergone extensive restoration.

Banteay Kdei (Citadel of Chambers), must-visit on the small circuit temple rout of Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Banteay Kdei (Citadel of Chambers)

Banteay Kdei, a part of the Small Circuit Tour, is a Buddhist temple famously dubbed the “Citadel of Chambers.” At first glance, it may not catch your eye. It exudes a more subdued aura, nestled in a serene forest setting, with its towers and walls partially reclaimed by surrounding nature. Despite its understated appearance, it features a unique blend of architectural styles, incorporating elements from both Bayon and Ta Prohm temples. When we visited, that’s exactly the vibe we felt.

The temple’s name offers a clue about its structure. It boasts a winding complex layout, resembling a labyrinth, with interconnected chambers and courtyards. As you wander through, don’t miss the “Hall of Dancers,” where intricately carved apsaras (celestial dancers) adorn the stones.

Where to stay in Siem Reap to see the Angkor Wat Temples in Cambodia

TRANSPORTATION | For booking ferry, bus, and train rides online, we recommend using the website 12go. This platform has been our go-to across Asia, saving us from the hassle of queuing at travel agencies or bus stations.

ACCOMMODATION | Finding affordable places to stay in Cambodia is a breeze with Booking.com. It’s the ideal platform to discover budget-friendly hostels and hotels.

FLIGHTS | Discover the best flight deals to Cambodia on Skyscanner. We love that they highlight the days with the cheapest prices for a destination, and the ability to search by month or region for flexibility.

TRAVEL INSURANCE | When it comes to travel insurance, especially for backpacking in Asia, consider Heymondo. It’s our top recommendation for comprehensive and trustworthy coverage.

INTERNET | Secure reliable internet access for your Cambodia trip with Airalo. Simply install it on your eSIM-compatible smartphone before your journey.

TOURS & ATTRACTIONS | For the best and most affordable city tours, day trip excursions, food tours, and cooking classes in Cambodia, check out  GetYourGuide or Viator.

VISA ORGANIZATION | Before your trip, ensure you check the visa requirements for your passport nationality. Explore details on travel documents at iVisa.com.

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