Angkor can be called the eighth wonder of the world, it is one of the greatest archaeological treasures of mankind. Built between the 9th and 13th centuries, it is considered the largest religious architectural structure ever built. In 1992 the more than 900 temples that make up Angkor were declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco.
The temples of Angkor
Its history dates back to the 2nd century, but its golden age began in 802 A.D. with the Khmer Empire and its founder, King Jayavarman II, who initiated the worship of Hindu deities and created a single kingdom, declaring himself God-King. To subdue the tribes and reinforce his supposedly divine ancestry, he began to build great temples. This empire dominated Southeast Asia between the 9th and 15th centuries.
In 1295, King Jayavarman VII abandoned Hinduism and converted to Buddhism, thus building Angkor Thom and temples such as Bayon. However, in the 13th century, his son, King Jayavarman VIII, returned to Hinduism, destroying much of the Buddhist temples.
At the beginning of the 13th century, the Khmer Empire began to decline, at the same time that the Thai Empire emerged. Finally, in the 16th century, the Khmer Empire was conquered by the Thai Empire, which meant that Angkor was abandoned and the jungle took over most of its temples.
Angkor Wat was one of the temples that was never completely abandoned, since, despite being dedicated to the god Vishnu, it was still inhabited and maintained by Buddhist monks.
Entrance to the temples of Angkor
Tickets are purchased at a building near the temples and are open from 5AM to 5.30PM. If you plan to go to see the sunrise at Angkor we recommend buying tickets in advance as the queues at that time are usually very long. The sales office is usually empty in the afternoon, so it's best to buy your tickets around 5PM.
There are 3 different tickets depending on the number of days you want to visit the temples.
1 Day Pass: $37USD - Valid for the day you purchase it and allows you to enter 1 day to visit the temples. If you buy the pass after 5PM it is valid for the next day.
3 Day Pass: $62 USD - Valid for 10 days from the time of purchase and allows you 3 days entry to the temples.
7 Day Pass: $72 - Valid for one month from the day of purchase and allows you 7 days to visit the temples.
It is true that the entrance fees to the temples of Angkor are not very cheap but our advice is that one day is not enough to visit the wonder of this place. Besides, if you want to visit everything in a hurry, it is very likely that you will get tired and all the temples will start to look the same. We recommend you pay a little more and get a 3-day pass, and take a day in between to do something different from touring the temples.
TIP: If you enter the temples after 17hs you will not be counted for the day of the visit on the entrance ticket, you have to show your ticket but you can see the sunset at the temples "for free".
As this is a sacred place, it is obligatory to keep your shoulders and knees covered.
How to tour the temples of Angkor?
The roads leading to the temples are neither uphill nor downhill, which makes them very cycle-friendly, but you should be aware that it is usually very hot throughout most of the day.
In Siem Reap it is forbidden to rent motorbikes to tourists, which is why it is not usually an option for touring the temples. This is because it is a place with a lot of tourism and the renting of motorbikes to tourists has caused many accidents in the past, that's why the locals don't rent them anymore. However, we were told that there are two places that rent to foreigners, but if you are not a very experienced person we do not recommend it as the traffic is usually chaotic.
By tuk tuk
It is the most common way to tour the temples as it is the best value for money.
The tuk tuk can accommodate up to 4 people and usually the hotels will arrange the day before to accommodate you in a shared tuk tuk. The price varies depending on what the hostel wants to charge you and your ability to negotiate. But it is around 8-12 USD per person depending on the circuit.
As there were two of us and we wanted our own time we decided to book a tuk tuk just for us. At the hostel we managed to negotiate it for $20 USD for the big circuit and $15 USD for the small one. On the third day we decided to go later and took a tuk tuk on the street that charged us $12 USD to take us to only 4 temples.
If you want to avoid the heat and travel more comfortably, you can take a car tour or hire a car and driver to take you around the temples. Expect to pay around $30 USD per person.
Which temples to see in Angkor
The famous temple tours:
Short Circuit - Includes the major temples and is 18km long.
- Angkor Wat
- Ta Prohm
- Ta Keo Temple
- Victory Gate
- Baphuon Temple
- Elephant Terrace
- Terrace of the Leper King
Long Circuit - Includes the more remote temples and is 26km in length
- Ta Som
- East Mebon
- Pre Rup
- Preah Khan
- Neak Poun
This tour starts at dawn (5am) to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. It is the most famous temple for sunrise because the sun rises just behind its towers. We recommend arriving as early as possible (5am opens) to find a good spot among the many tourists. Watching the sunrise here is magical. Once the sun rises, we recommend you go inside and tour it immediately while the rest of the tourists take pictures of its exterior, so you'll be almost alone. Another option is to go to another temple and come back inside later, so you'll be almost alone in both places.
Angkor Wat is the largest and best-preserved temple in Angkor and the largest Hindu temple in the world.
The second stop on the tour is Ta Prohm, the famous temple of Tomb Raider (the movie with Angelina Jolie, did you see it?). The most striking and beautiful thing about this temple are the roots and trees that grew within its walls.
The Ta Keo Temple dedicated to the god Shiva is the third stop on the circuit.
The fourth stop on the tour is Angkor Thom or the Great Fortified City. Among the remains still standing is the impressive 20-metre high Victory Gate, which has four carved Buddha faces, each facing the different cardinal directions.
Next is the Baphuon Temple dedicated to the god Shiva. It has a five-storey pyramidal structure, totalling 25 metres in height.
From Baphuon you can see the Elephant Terrace, a wall with carved elephants.
The terrace of the Leper King is the last stop at Angkor Thom. The statues represent the Hindu god Yama.
The last stop on the short tour is the Bayon Temple, famous for its 37 towers (originally 54) with more than 200 carved Buddha faces.
Tip: At 5PM it is completely empty!
This circuit usually starts at 11 a.m. and ends at sunset.
The first stop is Ta Som, a temple that is also surrounded by nature and trees, a beauty! It was built in the late 12th century for King Jayavarman VII.
The next stop is the East Mebon Temple built in the 10th century during the reign of King Rajendravarman. It has three levels topped with 5 columns. It is dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva and in honour of the King's father.
We will then visit the Pre Rup Temple which means "turning the body". It was built as the state temple of King Khemer Rajendravarman and dedicated in 961. Pre Rup is one of the few temples that closes at 7 PM and is a great option for sunset viewing. It is one of the highest temples in Angkor, so if you enter and climb to the top of the temple, you will have a breathtaking view of the sunset over the jungles of Cambodia.
Preah Khan Temple is one of the largest temples in Angkor and also one of our favourites. Preah Khan translates as "Sacred Sword" in Khmer, and was named by Jayavarman VII in honour of his victory in battle against the Cham invaders.
It is spread over an area of 800 by 700 metres and covers an area of 56 hectares. Its aesthetics are very similar to the Ta Prohm temple surrounded by trees and vegetation.
The last temple we will visit in this circuit is the Preah Neak Pean, a small Buddhist temple from the end of the 12th century. In the centre we find the central island and around it 4 pools representing the 4 elements: fire, earth, wind and water.
Other temples to see:
Phnom Bakheng: It is a Hindu temple in the shape of a mountain dedicated to the god Shiva. It has a height of 60 metres and that is why it is one of the favourite places to watch the sunset. It is usually full of tourists, so if you are looking for a quiet place, we recommend you to go early in the morning.
Srah Srang: It's not a temple, it's a reservoir. It is chosen by many to watch a magical sunrise away from the masses of tourists.
Banteay Srey : This temple is located 20km from the main airport of Angkor. It is known as the women's temple, the small temple and the pink temple. It is a beautiful pink limestone temple with decorative carvings of many female deities on its walls.
How to avoid the crowds when visiting the temples of Angkor?
It is true that the temples of Angkor receive 2.6 million tourists per year which means that you will be sharing your tour with hundreds of other tourists. There are ways to avoid them and enjoy the amazing, almost empty temples.
- Make the circuits in reverse order of how they are usually made.
- Visit Bayon, the temple of a thousand faces, at 5 PM. We were alone!
- Go to the most popular temples shortly before closing time. For example, Ta Prohm closes at 5:30PM, we arrived at 5:10 PM, we begged to be let in saying we were doing it too fast. It turned out that inside we were almost alone, all the tourists had already gone back to their hotels to rest or were going to watch the sunset in Phnom Bakheng, which allowed us to walk around without crowds. Also once you are inside they let you finish the tour, we spent about 40 minutes inside. The experience was completely different from when we walked around it the first day surrounded by thousands of tourists.
- Visit the temples very early at their opening time, apart from Angkor Wat, Sras Srang, Phnom Bakheng and Pre Rup, the rest of the temples open at 7:30AM.