At its peak, the Temples of Angkor supported over a million inhabitants. Today, they are a wealth of marvel that serves as the premier attraction for tourists visiting Cambodia. Spread over a wide range of land near Siem Reap, the temples vary in restoration quality from the exceptional Angkor Wat to the purposefully abandoned Ta Phrom. In all cases, they are a fascinating visit that requires more than a single day to do any justice. We visited for three days and managed to take in only a small part of all that Angkor has to offer.
Our first two days were spent on the small and large loops, two very popular routes that loops through Angkor Wat, Preah Khan, Banteay Pre and a handful of others. All loops can be done by bicycle or more popularly by tuk tuk . We opted for a tuk tuk, paying $15 USD for the day. Angkor takes their temples very seriously and charges $40 USD for a three day pass. Cheaper $20 USD day passes are also available as is a more expensive week long pass.
By far the most well known of the temples, Angkor Wat is also the best restored and arguably the most impressive of the Temples. It features a massive all surrounding moat, defensive stone walls and stunning reliefs. If you only have one day, make this your first stop. We visited twice on two different days and were surprised to find how empty the temple was, particularly on the first level. The reliefs on the lower level are stunning. Check out the scene of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. The scale and intricate detail in the works here is really stunning and perhaps because they are so large, you just can’t appreciate their incredible worth properly or fully.
The Bayon is a beautiful temple and best known for the four sided faced towers. Built originally for King Jayavarman VII it is highly photogenic and in great condition.
The largest of the Temples, Angkor Thom in its day was a massive walled city. There are five entrances; one at each quadrant and a fifth, Victory Gate, to the east. Angkor Thom features the many faces of Bayon, as well as the Terrace of the Leper king and the Terrace of the elephants. Walking this massive complex takes time but is greatly rewarding.
A real gem of a temple, Ta Phrom has been purposefully left to nature with little effort to restore the temple. The result is some incredible scenes of nature against man battles, with nature clearly winning. Massive trees thrust upwards in some cases through the temple in in other cases, simply engulfing it. Like an enormous squid tackling a fishing boat, the trees swarm, branches and roots tearing slowly, inch by inch, the bricks of the temple. You have probably seen pictures of this temple before but nothing can quite capture the magnitude of the trees or their incredible fight against the work of man.
- If you have time, try and take three days instead of compressing everything into one day.
- Try and take a bike tour. We did this on our third day instead of taking a tuk tuk and enjoyed the area immensely. You should likely be able to rent a bike for around $1 from your hotel.
- If you only have one day however, the temples above are our “must see” temples. Get up early- the temples open at 5am and close by 5pm – and get a good driver and ask to see the above temples instead of doing either of the traditional loops.