Angkor what? For those of you who might have never heard of it, Angkor Wat is an ancient city and temple complex located in the province of Siem Reap in Cambodia. It is the largest religious monument in the world and by far the most important landmark of the country. It belonged to the great Khmer Empire, once a very powerful Hindu-Buddhist empire in Southeast Asia. Reclaimed by the jungle in the last hundreds of years it was rediscovered by Western explorers in the 19th century and now definitely counts as a see-at-least-once-in-your-life destination.
With thousands of visitors every single day it is probably the most visited tourist attraction in all of Southeast Asia. Yet, you can still find your moment of peace to enjoy this breathtaking cultural heritage. The Angkor Wat complex is incredibly huge (it’s a 400 square-kilometer archaeological site, the actual temple of Angkor Wat is just a small part of it!). In the following, we have tried to break it down to the hot-spots and most important info you need for your trip here.
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Where to Stay
The gateway to the ruins of Angkor Wat is the city of Siem Reap. Here you will find a large selection of accommodation options. The city has the most sophisticated offer of hotels, hostels, and guesthouses in all of Cambodia. We put together a small list of places for each budget category. In general, prices are quite low here and you can easily find rooms and dorms starting as low as $4!
One Stop Hostel – one of the most famous hostels in Siem Reap offering a rooftop bar and nice lounge area. It is one of the best-rated places and located in the heart of town. Only offers dorms (mixed and female dorms).
Siem Reap Pub Hostel – a quite modern hostel offering an outdoor pool and onsite restaurant. It’s perfectly located in a small side street, not far from the famous Pb street. Offers dorms and private rooms with aircon.
Angkor Pal Boutique Hotel – just around 600 meters away from the center, this hotel has a nice pool and amazing rooms for a very decent price.
Mekong Angkor Palace Inn – greatly located and featuring a nice outdoor pool, this accommodation is a great choice for exploring Angor Wat!
Navutu Dreams Resort – tucked away from the main streets, this is probably one of the nicest resorts in Siem Reap. 3 pools, a spa, and wellness center are only a few of the great services offered in this luxury stay.
Lynnaya Urban River Resort – not far from the main Pub street, this property features classical, Cambodian-style furnishings and has all the amenities of a true 5-star resort.
What to See and Do in Angkor Wat
Before reading further I suggest you check out our last picture story of Angkor Wat to give you an impression of what the temples and places look like here. We also made a small video about the sounds of Angkor – still impresses me every time I watch it! As mentioned before, the site is incredibly large and goes far beyond the temple of Angkor Wat, which is the main and most iconic temple there. There are numerous other temples and relics to be found throughout the area, here the most important and must-see sites.
The most striking and well-known temples of all. You can find its image on the national flag and the currency – Angkor Wat is impressive and a breathtaking site. Built by King Suryavarman II, Angkor Wat was dedicated to the Hindu god of Vishnu. The entire site takes over 200 hectares and is the most impressive site ever built by a Khmer king. The entire structure is a model of the divine, with the central tower representing the holy Mount Meru, surrounded by smaller towers, courtyards, walls, and the moat. A naga bridge leads you across to the towers, allowing people to cross from the land of mortals to the land of the gods. You can find numerous galleries and sculptures depicting various goddesses and historic battle scenes.
Angkor Thom & Bayon Temple
The walled city of Angkor Thom was built by King Jayavarman VII to strengthen the capital and further protect it from attacks. It covers and area of 9 square kilometers which you can enter through five 20-meter tall gates from various sides – the most famous being at the south side, the closest to Angkor Wat. The complex holds various monuments and temples, the most famous one being the Bayon Temple. It is one of the nicest temples as it depicts numerous Bas-reliefs, small halls, and rooms and the famous faces of Prasat Bayon.
Personally, one of my favorite temples in all of Angkor. Lesser known than Bayon, the Baphuon temple is just as stunning. It is also located in the Angkor Thom complex and was dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. The energy here is amazing, simply walking towards the temple on the large causeway leading to it is already impressive. The restoration of this temple just finished in the year 2011.
This temple is located a bit further out of the complex, around 25 kilometers away from Siem Reap. Yet, it truly is worth the ride. It is also known as the Citadel of the Women, referring to the delicacy of the decorations. It holds superbly well-preserved and incredibly detailed stone carvings. The entire temple is constructed of pink sandstone.
One of the largest complexes in Angkor, Preah Khan has all it needs for an amazing Tomb Raider experience. From imposing causeways, crumbling ruins, gigantic trees, and detailed carvings – you can find it all here. It was thought to have been a religious university, holding over a thousand teachers at one point.
As the name says, this is terrace holds many carvings of elephants and, together with the Terrace of Leper King, is part of the Royal Terraces. It was here where most of the royal ceremonies were held. You can enjoy a nice stroll on top and take great pictures from here.
Built by Jayavarman VII for his mother, this temple complex is an extraordinary example of the mix between man and nature. It is here where you will find large trees covering the ruins, enabling you to imagine how the entire complex once looked like. You can take great pictures here. This temple was also made famous by the Tomb Raider movie.
Ta Som is a very compact temple compared to the others. It has a well-preserved gopura, or monumental tower, and a central shrine. Once you are here make sure to reach to the back of the temple to see the famous tree-framed door.
Important Info & How to get Around
As the entire Angkor Wat complex is very large you cannot simply go and walk around the temples. Before visiting the park you should consider that there are different entrance fees, depending on how many days you want to visit. It starts with $37 for a one-day, $62 for a two-day and $72 for a one-week pass. The process takes just a few minutes and they take a picture of you and print it on your ticket. So there unfortunately is no way to pass on the ticket to a fellow backpacker – unless there is a striking resemblance.
The best way to explore the zone is to take a tuk-tuk and a bicycle. You can visit the temples which are closer to the town of Siem Reap by bicycle and enjoy biking along and between the ruins in peace (and silence). It does take a bit to reach the temples but its totally worth it. Remember that temperatures can rise over 30 degrees here, so make sure to leave early, bring enough water and take breaks in the midday sun.
To reach the temples which are further away I suggest renting a tuk-tuk. You can rent a tuk-tuk including a driver for the entire day and it will probably cost you around $25. This way you can enjoy the ride and also have the chance to discover the temples which are further out, such as the temple of Banteay Srei as mentioned above.
Another great thing to do in Angkor is to watch the sunsets. Unfortunately, this has become very popular and so the main areas to watch this are usually packed with tourists. The best places are Phnom (Mount) Bakheng (very crowded!) and parts of Angkor Thom.
By all means – NEVER, and I mean NEVER ever take one of those elephants rides around the temples. Riding on the back of an elephant is a cruel and animal-abusing practice and the fewer people do it the less it will be offered to tourists.
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