The 7th wonder of the world, on the UNESCO World Heritage site – Angkor is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful archaeological sites in the world. It is impressive for its size, architectural detail and level of conservation. The jungle setting gives it a very personal and mysterious character. This article gives you Angkor Wat travel tips to have a wonderful and memorable visit to this place.
Best time to visit Angkor Wat
Cambodia is hot all year round. However, there are two distinct periods:
November to April
This is the dry season. Temperatures are mild and rain is rare. However, many tourists come to Angkor during this period.
June to October
This is the monsoon season. Everything becomes greener because of the frequent showers. On the other hand, there are far fewer tourists, the hotel prices are cheaper and the colours are more vibrant. From September onwards, the showers are less intense.
How to visit Angkor Wat?
Angkor Wat opens at 5am and closes at 6pm, with the exception of some temples. To visit the temples of Angkor you will have to pay a Pass ranging from 1 to 7 days. Passes are nominative and you will be photographed when you buy your ticket.
The 1 day pass: 37$. You will certainly not have time to visit the main temples. There are too many of them.
The 3 consecutive days pass: 62$. Enough if you want to visit the main temples. However, you will not be able to visit the more distant temples.
The 7 consecutive days pass: 72$. Here you will be able to see everything in detail.
Please note: For temples further away from the site, the pass will not work, you will have to pay extra (this is valid for temples further than 10 km from Angkor Wat).
We recommend you to choose the 3 days pass to visit the majority of the Angkor site, as it seems to be a good compromise… It depends on your taste for old stones! You will be able to appreciate these vestiges at your own pace and fully enjoy its beauty.
How to get to Angkor Wat?
Many tourists arrive in Siem Reap by car from Phnom Penh or Battambang or by plane… Otherwise by boat, still from Battambang or Phnom Penh.
To get around the Angkor temple park, you will need a means of transport. From the most basic bicycle to the most luxurious car! However, if you are a little careful with your budget, there are two main means of transportation: the bicycle and the Tuk Tuk or the electric scooter.
Once there, you can take a Tuk Tuk to the other temples of Angkor, which is the most typical means of transport used in Cambodia. The Tuk Tuk is a very convenient way to visit the temples of Angkor without getting too tired or too expensive. It will cost you between 15$ and 18$ per day. Do not hesitate to define in advance the route you wish to take with your driver to avoid unpleasant surprises.
The bicycle is the means of transport for the small budgets which wish to discover the temples at their rhythm and in all freedom. You can also rent a bike, it will cost you about 2$ per day for a good quality bike, no need to take a mountain bike a simple city bike is enough. Or a “Green e-bike”, an electric bike. It will cost you 15$ for the day.
The electric scooter is environmentally friendly, less tiring than the bicycle, and reasonably priced (5-6$ per day). However, the autonomy is limited, there are spaces to recharge the scooter for free in the park, some temples are too far away to go there by electric scooter. Finally, if you are several, you have to rent one each.
For those who want more comfort, you can opt for an air-conditioned car with a driver which will cost you about 45$ a day. You can book a driver through your hotel or guesthouse.
Please note: You can hire a tour guide by contacting the Tourist Office or travel agencies. This will cost you $40 per day. A good local guide will tell you the legends of the temples and some anecdotes and will modulate your route according to your desires, the number of people in the temples, and also the weather…
Most beautiful temples of Angkor
You will find many temples worth visiting in Angkor but you will certainly have some “favorites” for some of them. Here are my top 5:
No need to present the most famous temple. It is a pride for the Cambodians, because they even have it on their flag. Angkor Wat is considered as the biggest religious building on the planet! Angkor Wat, the largest of the temples in the Angkor complex, lives up to its name of ‘city that became a pagoda’.
Built during the reign of Suryavarman II in the first half of the 12th century, the temple at its centre is mainly dedicated to Vishnu. This temple combines two major characteristics of Khmer architecture: the pyramid symbolising Mount Meru, the centre of the Hindu universe, and the concentric galleries highlighted by the four gopuras and the four corner towers.
The site is famous for the bas-reliefs that cover the outer walls of the temple enclosure. Over 600 metres, the frescoes represent the epics of Ramayan and Mahabharata, the parade of Suryavarman II and the battle of Kurukshetra. 2000 apsaras, the famous celestial dancers, also adorn the walls of Angkor Wat, but only one shows its teeth near the southern entrance of the site.
Bayon and its 216 faces
Built from the end of the 12th century, the Bayon temple is an integral part of the city of Angkor Thom which also includes other interesting sites to visit such as the Baphuon or the terrace of the Leper King.
Bayon is the state temple of Jayavarman VII. Quite unique, it would have formed a set of 54 towers decorated with 216 faces according to the sociologist Paul Mus (1902 – 1969). Today, only 37 towers are still standing. Most of them are carved with 4 faces, one at each cardinal point.
While the symmetrical structure is central to the architecture of Bayon, the meaning of the building is more complex, probably because of the different religious phases it has gone through. First Buddhist, then Hindu, it then returned to Buddhist worship. Bayon does not leave anyone indifferent. Those who find it too “Cartesian” will prefer Ta Prohm.
Located in the eastern part of Angkor, the Buddhist monastery of Ta Prohm is another major building of Jayavarman VII. Just as structured as the other temples, it appears more chaotic because of its ruined state abandoned to nature.
Gigantic trees, the “Tetrameles nudiflora”, are intertwined between the stones to form a chimerical and dreamlike whole. This natural state was left as it was by decision of the Ecole Française d’Extrême Orient, which wanted to show what the Angkor monuments looked like at the time of their discovery in the 19th century. A rich idea…
Also built during the reign of Jayavarman VII, the megalomaniac, Preah Khan was a Buddhist university with about 1000 professors. What an oddity to build a religious school in honour of Jayavarman VII’s victory over the Cham.
Much less impressive than the “mountain temples”, Preah Khan extends over 56 ha on the way to the moat. Preah Khan is dedicated to Dharanindra Varman II, the father of the builder king who is idealised here in the form of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara.
Older than the other four buildings presented here, Banteay Srei was erected in the second half of the 10th century during the reign of Rajendravarman. Its modern name means “women’s citadel”, probably in reference to its smaller size. Its original name is Tribhuvanamaheśvara, great lord of the triple world. It is a flat temple like Preah Khan. While its small size always surprises visitors, it is the richness of its decoration that makes it considered the “jewel of Khmer art”.
Visit the temples of Angkor in 3 days
The temples of Angkor are divided into two circuits: the Grand Circuit (26km) and the Petit Circuit (17km). By following these two circuits, it is possible to visit all the main temples of the site but also others less known. It is essential to be at least a little organized and to have an itinerary before leaving to discover the temples of Angkor. Otherwise, you will lose a lot of time in transportation. Here are some Angkor Wat travel tips on how to best visit.
The Angkor temple park covers some 400 km2. I might as well tell you that it takes a lot of time to explore every corner of it. In my opinion, the strict minimum to visit the temples of Angkor is 2 days. In 2 days, you have time to see the main temples, to admire at least one sunset and one sunrise. However, I can only advise you to spend at least 3 days. In 3 days, you will also have time to discover the more distant temples such as Roluos, Banteay Srei or Kbal Spean. You will also have time to revisit your favourite temples at different times of the day.
Day 1: Sunrise on Angkor Wat, Grand Circuit and sunset on Angkor Wat
First day of visit to the temples of Angkor and first early wake up (4:30am) to admire the sunrise on Angkor Wat. 5am, we get on our bikes and head to the City of Angkor. Of course, at this time of the day, it’s dark and the road is not lit. A torch is essential.
Arriving around 5:30am, we set up after the bridge leading to the main entrance of Angkor Wat (West Gate). 30 minutes later, the sun gradually rises and the shapes of Angkor Wat start to appear. Beautiful! Before the end of the sunrise, we leave for Preah Khan.
Discovery of the temples of the Grand Circuit:
The goal is to arrive first to enjoy Preah Khan and get ahead of the groups. To be the first, we are the first, there is only us!
Unfortunately, the temple does not open before 7:30 am (like all the temples of the City of Angkor except Angkor Wat). At 7:30 am, access to the temple is authorized. Phew, we are not even 10. We walk around Preah Khan in one hour, taking the time to admire the frescoes and nooks and crannies of this Buddhist temple dedicated to Dharanindra Varman II, the father of the builder king Jayavarman VII.
This is followed by a morning of discovery of the temples of the Grand Circuit (Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon and Pre Rup). Few people in the morning on this part of the site. We take regular breaks as it starts to get very hot.
For the lunch break, we go to the Sras Srang lake. On the menu: home-made picnic at the edge of the water!
The afternoon of the first day of the Angkor temples visit is dedicated to the last temples of the grand tour, namely Banteay Kdei, Bat Chum and Prasat Krava. But also and above all, to visit the most famous temple of Angkor: Angkor Wat.
End of the day at Angkor Wat!
The immense Angkor Wat temple, symbol of the city of Angkor, is the only temple of Angkor to have remained an important religious centre since its foundation. Initially Hindu and dedicated to Vishnu, then Buddhist. It requires a good two hours visit. It is possible to climb to the top of the towers and to venture around the temple (watch out for monkeys). Before night falls, we leave Angkor Wat temple to admire the sunset.
A magnificent sight that seems to bring together all the visitors of the site, so many people are there. Before it gets completely dark, we leave the site to reach (still by bike) our hotel.
First day’s results: 38km of cycling, ten temples visited, a sunrise and a sunset on Angkor Wat. In short, a very busy day!
Day 2: Sunrise on Angkor Wat and short circuit in reverse
Second day of visiting the temples of Angkor and a second early morning to admire the sunrise this time on the back of Angkor Wat (East Gate). On this side of the temple, there is no one. We have a sunrise all to ourselves. The sun gradually illuminates Angkor Wat, magnificent! Another advantage of this location is the “proximity” to Ta Phrom temple. No need to cross the whole site to get there!
Visit of the temples of the Small Circuit in the opposite direction:
Ta Phrom, which was made famous by the Indiana Jones movies and especially Tomb Raider, was built as a monastery and Buddhist university. Left in a state close to its re-discovery, Ta Phrom stands in the middle of the forest. In fact, nature has gradually reclaimed its rights over the temple and many trees have grown inside and especially on the temple. It is magnificent! After an hour and a half of touring and as the groups start to arrive in droves, we leave Ta Phrom to go to Angkor Thom.
But before Angkor Thom, a quick stop at Ta Keo which is a pyramidal temple with 5 levels.
Let’s go for the discovery of the royal city Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom is the witness of the greatness of the Khmer empire. Angkor Thom is home to at least a dozen temples. We start our discovery of Angkor Thom by the Terrace of the Elephants, the Terrace of the Leper King and by the Phimeanakas temple. To enjoy the two main temples of Angkor Thom, namely Baphuon and Bayon, we eat a little earlier than usual, facing the temples.
This is an efficient technique for Baphuon, where there are not many people. At the same time, what an idea to climb to the top of the huge Baphuon mountain temple in such heat. It’s a pity that the reclining Buddha in the temple structure has partly collapsed.
On the other hand, at the Bayon temple, there are a lot of people despite the fact that it is 1pm. Bayon is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and original temples in Angkor: 216 Buddha faces spread throughout the temple. It is also the central temple of the royal city of Angkor Thom.
Before returning, we go to see the Phnom Bakheng temple which is located at the top of a hill. The 800 meters climb is not hard and allows us to see the city of Angkor from above. It is also possible for 20$ to climb to the top on an elephant but honestly I don’t recommend it at all. On the road, we stop one last time in front of Angkor Wat for a last photo session.
Second day’s results: 26 km of cycling, the discovery of the main temples of Angkor and much more people than the day before.
Day 3: Angkor temples in the Siem Reap countryside
After a day of rest, we start our last day of visiting the temples of Angkor. This time we don’t wake up early. On the agenda, temples not accessible by bike. We rent a scooter in town (9$ a day) and we set off for a 1h drive through the countryside of Siem Reap.
First stop of the day, Banteay Srei, 40 km North-East of Siem Reap. Banteay Srei, the women’s citadel, is a magnificent flat temple built with pink stones. Unlike all the other temples in Angkor, the details are remarkably fine.
After lunch, always a home-made picnic, we drive to the Roluos temples, 12 km southeast of Siem Reap. The Roluos temples include Preah Ko, Lolei and Bakong temples. All dedicated to Śiva. Well, to be honest, we didn’t fall for their charms. We found them less beautiful and less interesting than the other temples. Maybe the beginning of a temple overdose!
The result of the day: 80 km of scooter through the countryside and a big crush on Banteay Srei.
It is also essential, in our opinion, to plan for days off / rest between the days of visits. In order to rest and not to overdose on temples. If you visit the temples of Angkor in 2 days, then plan a 3-4 day stay in Siem Reap. If you visit the Angkor temples in 3 days, plan a 4-5 day stay in Siem Reap. You can also dedicate a day to visit Siem Reap in the middle of your stay.
Where to see the sunset and sunrise on Angkor?
Definitely the best place to see a sunset is Angkor Wat. Whether it’s from the outside or inside the temple, you won’t be disappointed. Lonely Planet recommends Phnom Bakheng temple to watch the sunset but I don’t think the spot is great. On the one hand, it is limited to 300 people and it is under construction. As a result, good seats are very difficult to get.
As the sun rises behind Angkor Wat, you will see either a kind of Chinese shadow with the sun rising behind it (West Gate) or the western facade of the temple light up (East Gate). Please note that Angkor Wat opens at 5 a.m. unlike the other temples which open at 7.30 a.m. You will have to get up early, around 5 a.m., because the sun rises early in Cambodia. However, it is by getting up early that you can enjoy the magic moments. It would be a shame not to see the magnificent sunrise at Angkor Wat.
It is absolutely splendid when the temple comes out of the darkness!
Tips for your visit
- Visit the temples preferably between 10am and 2pm as most of the tourists will be eating and you will be away from the crowds, especially in high season.
- Visit early in the morning as the temperature will be much more pleasant and bearable.
- Depending on the season, the temperature can reach 39°. In December and January it is cooler, but unfortunately many tourists know this by now.
- Please note that certain dress codes must be respected. You should not visit the temple with a very short dress…It remains a religious monument and since 2016 it has become mandatory.
- It is important to keep in mind that the temples of Angkor are above all sacred places for the Cambodians and that it is advisable to dress properly.
- Be aware that restaurants often charge you for the menu according to your “head”. If possible, be accompanied by a Khmer…
The Angkor temples deserve an attractive tourist destination for those who love to discover archaeology, history and ancient culture. These are the best Angkor Wat travel tips we learned to making the best of the limited time at the temples. We hope they will be helpful to you and make your trip more enjoyable. Are there any topics we didn’t cover that might be helpful for you? Let us know in the comments.