We never expected to enjoy three long, sweaty days of exploring the Angkor Temples in Cambodia quite as much as we did.
Just north of Siem Reap lies the stunning 400 square kilometres Angkor Archaeological Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to more than 50 ancient Khmer Empire temples including, the star of the show, Angkor Wat.
Prepare to go full-on Lara Croft with our complete guide to visiting the Angkor Temples.
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What is Angkor Wat?
We were a bit confused about this before we visited. Angkor Wat always turns up on those 'top 100 places to see before you die' lists but what exactly is it and why is it so important?
Angkor Wat is the most famous of more than 50 Angkor Temples within the Angkor Archaeological Park and Siem Reap Province. The area is over 400 square kilometres (155 square miles) of hot and humid jungle.
Angkor was the vast capital city of the Khmer Empire, which ruled over much of Southeast Asia from the 9th to 15th centuries. It is estimated that the city supported up to 1 million people at the empire's height.
Angkor Wat is the most famous of all the remaining Angkor temples today, being the best-preserved thanks mainly to continual use since its construction in the 12th century.
It has 5 distinctive towers in the central temple which when viewed from the front create the iconic 3 towered image which features on the Cambodian national flag.
However, looking beyond Angkor Wat, there are an amazing array of ancient Angkor temples to explore. Not all of them are accessible to visitors today but the core of 20 or so sites is more than enough to keep you busy.
As you explore the Angkor temples it's worth remembering that these solid stone structures were reserved for the highest and most revered in Khmer society such as kings and monks.
There would have been tens of thousands of regular folks living on the edge of these sites in simple wooden structures which of course are now long gone.
Angkor Temple Tickets Explained
You only need to buy 1 admission ticket or 'Angkor Pass' to explore all the temples included in the Angkor Archaeological Park. This one ticket will cover you for all the Angkor temples mentioned in this guide. Nice and simple.
You can buy a ticket which is valid for a 1, 3 or 7-day visit.
Angkor Temples Ticket Prices (Updated for 2019):
- 1-day ticket: $37
- 3-day ticket: $62
- 7-day ticket: $72
If you buy a 3-day ticket you can use it on any 3 days within 7 days from the date of purchase which is very handy. It used to be consecutive days only but it has changed so ignore any old information on ticket validity.
You will need your passport or country ID when purchasing your ticket before entering Angkor, don't forget this and waste time heading back to your hotel. At the window they will take a picture of your face which is printed onto the ticket to prevent fraud, clever stuff, just remember to smile.
Also if you're visiting the park without a Tuk Tuk or guided tour make sure you head to the ticket office first which is just off of Apsara Road, northeast of Siem Reap. All tours will stop here on your first day for you to obtain tickets.
Can I buy Angkor temple tickets online?
It now seems possible to book some Angkor tickets online via one of the local tour agencies.
However, we would suggest that you purchase them at the official ticket office just outside of the Angkor Archaeological Park during your visit.
The online tickets are way more expensive than the above rates plus if you change your visiting dates this can cause some issues. Also, there's no danger of getting scammed by any dubious websites.
How Many Days do I Need to visit Angkor Temples?
Now you know your ticket options, which one should you opt for? How long does it take to explore this ancient UNESCO World Heritage Site?
Well, that really depends on how much time you have to spare but we would suggest getting a 3-day ticket if possible.
Unless you're a huge Khmer empire temple fan or want to explore super slowly, we'd say that 7 days is a bit too much.
Equally, 1 day just isn't enough! If it really is your only option then plan your time wisely to avoid peak times at each of the main Angkor temples included below, and get ready for a long sweaty day.
We stayed for 5 nights in Siem Reap which gave us 4 days to explore. With our 3-day ticket, we went temple exploring on days 1, 2 and 4 of our stay. The 3rd day was a casual stroll around the town and some rest time before diving back in on day 4.
We realise this is a luxury but if you can do it, this is what we would recommend time-wise if possible.
Regardless of how many days you have, see the notes below about 'temple fatigue' and how to avoid it.
What’s the Best Way to Visit the Angkor Temples?
The chances are you'll be staying in Siem Reap where the majority of hotels and hostels are to be found. It's a buzzy little town which is geared up to cater for the 2 million-plus visitors that come to wonder at the Angkor temples each year.
Central Siem Reap is around 6 km south of Angkor Wat temple with many of the other temples in the park several kilometres apart.
Not such a great option for most when you factor in the distances covered between the temples plus the heat. This is only for the seriously fit/crazy among us.
This is one option if you are feeling fit and we saw quite a few people exploring Angkor by bike. Bikes can be hired in Siem Reap from just $2 a day, just ask at your hotel or hostel.
Make sure you are provided with a decent lock as you'll need to your bikes unattended outside the temple gates at most sites.
Motorbike or Moped
If you want less pedalling then motorbikes and moped again can be hired at various locations in Siem Reap. Alternatively, go via your hotel but beware of the old scratches/damage scam.
Take lots of photos when hiring to ensure you're not accused of adding some superficial damage with a hefty fine upon returning it.
Tuk Tuk and Driver
This is the way we explored the Angkor temples and it's what we would recommend. We booked via our lovely hotel at a cost of $17 per day and the driver dropped us right outside the gates to each temple. He also recommended a good restaurant amongst the Angkor temples and was flexible with the route we took over the 3 days.
Having a waiting Tuk Tuk is also brilliant when you stagger out of a temple in a state of sweaty exhaustion. You can just jump in and rest your legs as you zoom off to the next site. It also provides some handy mobile shade from the intense sun or shelter from the tropical rains.
If you are travelling as a family, here is everything you need to know when visiting Angkor Wat temples with kids.
Dude. Where's my Tuk Tuk?
If you do go for the Tuk Tuk option remember to take a photo of your driver and his machine as a simple way of finding them.
Around some of the temple car parks, there are lots of very similar looking Tuk-tuks waiting for their customers, so make sure you don't lose yours.
Also, be very clear with the driver where you are meeting them when you exit each temple site. Sometimes this might be on the opposite side of the temple complex so confirm which compass direction it is and what to look out for there i.e. toilet block.
Top Tip: Don't get 'Temple Fatigue'!
Where possible, it's really worth taking your time over a visit to the Angkor temples. It's a special place and really does deserves enough time to fully appreciate this '8th wonder of the world' as some have called it.
Our top tip is... go slow!
Take the time to look around and appreciate the subtle differences between the temple sites. If you rush around the park just to 'do Angkor' you might end up feeling that the temples all look the same,
But the real differences are to be found in the intricate stone carvings, layouts, orientation and eras which you might overlook if you're in a hurry.
Another reason to take it easy in the heat. Angkor is in a jungle in Southeast Asia so yes it is very humid and you will sweat. A lot.
It can be a real killer when the sun is beaming down and some of the temple areas offer little shade. Go steady, carry a good travel water bottle and keep well hydrated all the time.
When Should You Visit the Angkor Temples?
In terms of the best time of year to visit Angkor, we would opt for the rainy season which runs from June until September.
Call us mad but the sites will be much quieter and the looming clouds offer great protection from the sun. Plus the jungle surroundings will be at their most lush and green.
When it did rain, the storms didn't last that long and over 4 days there was more than enough dry weather to explore all we wanted to. Maybe we were lucky but the rainy season in Cambodia often isn't as wet as people imagine it will be.
Also, hotels in Siem Reap will have lower rates and extra availability at this time of year.
November to March signals the peak travel season at Angkor with the coolest dry weather so the temples can get packed out.
When you are at Angkor, follow the advice of your local driver or guide on how to plan your day. They will know the best times to visit each temple site to get you the best experience and avoid the peak crowds.
What Should You Wear at Angkor Wat?
As stated on the admission tickets make sure you cover shoulders and knees when visiting the Angkor temples. Dressing like Lara Croft isn't recommended!
Overall this isn't enforced too strictly by the guards but it's a simple sign of respect in a very sacred place if nothing else.
We did see one person refused entry to the top of Angkor Wat because she was wearing a strappy top. A simple scarf covering her shoulders was not deemed good enough in this case.
To be on the safe side wear a shoulder covering t-shirt or similar and knee-length shorts at least. This is also good for sun protection as you’ll be outside most of the day when visiting Angkor.
For footwear, you'll want something sturdier than just flip flops (thongs). We would suggest decent trainers (sneakers) or sturdy closed-toe sandals. The surfaces are uneven everywhere and with the large amounts of walking involved you need to keep your feet as comfy as possible.
Hiking boots would only really be needed if it had been raining for days on end and was very muddy and slippery.
Food and Drink at the Angkor Temples
Before we visited we weren't sure how to plan our day around our meals but there's no need to worry. Tasty food and drink are available at Angkor outside the entrance and exit points to most of the larger temple sites.
These are pretty basic open food stalls with tables and chairs set out by a small kitchen offering mostly noodle and rice dishes. They also sell canned and bottled drinks as well as some welcome fresh smoothies, juices and coconuts.
There are also several restaurants scattered around the park where dishes typically start from $5 and up. If you're feeling the heat there are also few with aircon at a slightly higher price.
We visited in the quieter wet season and most of the food stalls around the temples were offering a few dollars off the listed prices.
Dishes are usually around the $5 to $6 mark but we got some for around $4. Water was usually $1 for a large bottle.
A cheaper alternative would be to bring snacks and drinks with you and there are plenty of stores in Siem Reap to grab some at a lower cost than in the park.
What are the Small and Grand Tour Circuits?
You might see tours labelled as Grand Circuit and Small Circuit when looking into hiring a Tuk-tuk or when cycling around the park.
Simply put they both run via Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Bayon, where the main bulk of visitors go but the Grand Circuit then extends eastwards to cover all the smaller temple sites.
This can be a bit confusing because they both cover many of the same larger Angkor temples. If you are booking a tour or Tuk-tuk for 2 or 3 days they will cut the grand circuit tour into 2 or 3 parts.
There's only really 1 main road that runs past any of the temples so just reference the map against the guide below to work out your best route.
You might see the Roluos Group mentioned in tour itineraries. This small group of temples are located 13 km east of Siem Reap and are also included in all Angkor Pass tickets.
Additionally, Banteay Srei(Citadel of the Women) temple is 25km north of the main temple area but is still included in your Angkor park pass.
The 9 Best Angkor Temples to Visit
With so many temples to see across the Angkor Archaeological Park, it can be difficult to know where to start.
I have listed the must-see temples which you should definitely have on your Angkor visit itinerary below. They are all included on the small circuit with the exception of Banteay Srei (Citadel of the Women).
Most of these can be visited in a day, especially with a well-organised temple tour.
Angkor Wat Temple
Angkor Wat is massive, stunning from every angle and lives up to just about every cliche you can throw at it. There’s a good reason it’s the star of the show as the best-preserved temple of the bunch.
As you approach the site, the sheer size and splendour strike you first, the huge moat running around the perimeter met by mighty walls which are 1300 meters x 1500 meters long.
The main causeway runs across the moat up to the gateway and then onwards into the central temple buildings. This is the busiest area and it's difficult to get a good photo here but due to the size of the temple, it's easy to find a quieter spot.
Angkor Wat Highlights:
Head around the perimeter to the back of the temple buildings for a clearer view and better photo opportunities. Walk around the exterior wall walkways of the lower level to see the fantastic bas-reliefs which depict stories and characters from Hindu mythology.
Sit for a while and absorb the fact that this structure is well over 900 years old and still so magnificently imposing.
Also, don't miss the staircase that leads you up to a higher level under the towers. There's a great view back towards the main gate from here but you might have to wait over 1 hour at peak times as the number of people allowed up top is limited. We waited around 20 minutes.
Constructed: Early 12th century.
Best time to visit: Many people visit Angkor Wat on day trips from other cities or even countries so, the earlier you can get there the better.
There's always the option to come for sunrise and grab an iconic photo of dawn breaking over the towers and their reflection in the moat.
Equally later in the day many of the big tour groups will leave so, it can be a good time to pop by, particular as the sun shines on the front of the temple in the afternoon. Ideal for those iconic photos!
Time needed: 2 - 4 hours.
Angkor Wat map coordinates: 13.412480, 103.867522
Famous for the large smiling faces staring out over the site from its 54 stone towers, Bayon is another temple for the must-visit list on a visit to Angkor. Are they smiling or trying to look more sinister? You decide!
You can walk right inside it and climb to the upper levels. This puts you literally face to face with the happy giant stone carvings which surround you. It's actually difficult to find a spot where their eyes won't be watching you.
Don't miss the detailed bas-reliefs on the lower levels of the exterior walls which depict a wide range of scenes from Khmer life in amongst those of a battle.
Constructed: Late 12th century.
Best time to visit: Early or late in the day to avoid the tour groups. There’s limited space on the upper tiers and it quickly can feel crowded. However, there’s plenty of space around the temple for taking a great photo.
Time needed: 40 minutes - 1 hour.
Bayon map coordinates: 13.441381, 103.859097
Banteay Srei Temple (Citadel of the Women)
This temple is around 25 km north of the main temples of Angkor. Our driver offered to take us here after seeing that we were up for maximum temple viewing on our first day.
Admission is included in your Angkor Pass ticket.
We paid our driver an extra $10 for the trip out and back which took around 40 minutes each way. This could also be done as a separate half-day tour and combined with the nearby Cambodian Landmine Museum.
Banteay Srei Highlights:
Both the wonderful pinkish stone and the intricate carvings combine to make this temple stand out from all others at Angkor.
The more remote location adds to the sense that you've found something a bit special and we'd recommend adding this to your 'must-see' list.
Apsaras, celestial nymphs in the Hindu tradition, feature prominently across many of the detailed carvings here and contribute to the mystical charm. The site has benefitted from huge investment and now boast modern toilets, shop, visitor centre and cafe.
Best time to visit: Early morning or late afternoon.
Constructed: the 10th century.
Time needed: 30 minutes to 2 hours.
Banteay Srei map coordinates: 13.598855, 103.963311
Ta Prohm Temple
Since it served as a backdrop in the 2001 movie Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie, Ta Prohm has secured its place on the must-see temple list at Angkor. It has been left partially restored with the trees growing over and right through the temple structures.
Ta Prohm Highlights:
The overgrown look really helps to bring home the age of the temples at Angkor and how they were almost lost to nature.
As you stand there, try and imagine what it must have been like to first rediscover these amazing structures amongst the dense jungle.
Take your time here and be patient, if you're after some great photos, Ta Prohm won't disappoint.
Best time to visit: Quieter in the mornings as it’s further away from the Angkor Archaeological Park entrances.
Constructed: Mid 12th to early 13th century.
Time needed: 1 hour.
Ta Prohm map coordinates: 13.434836, 103.889594
Angkor Thom Temples
Angkor Thom isn’t a stand-alone temple but the 10 km square fortified city contained within an eight-meter high wall and a deep moat.
The famous Bayon temple sits right at the centre of this area so even on a short tour you’ll be sure to pass through it. But there’s a lot more to explore beyond the massive smiling faces.
Archaeologists believe that Angkor Thom was the last great capital city of the Khmer empire before it’s eventual decline. It is thought to have been home to over a million people at its height, crazy to imagine as you walk through the peaceful jungle environment here today.
The only way to enter the Angkor Thom complex is across one of the 5 grandly decorated bridges and gates. There’s once facing each compass direction with two on the eastern side.
Angkor Thom Highlights:
I’d suggest heading in from the south side if possible. The south gate bridge is lined with 54 god statues alongside an equal number of demon figures.
The scene depicts an epic tug of war which represents 'The Churning of the Ocean Milk', a popular Hindu legend.
Immediately north of Bayon, a grand raised walkway leads you down to the massive temple-mountain structure which you can climb up for a nice view across the site. This temple is said to represent the mythical Mt. Meru, a golden mountain that stands in the centre of the universe and is the axis of the world in Hindu mythology.
Make sure you walk all the way around it to the back to see the massive reclining Buddha formed of huge stone blocks which were added to the temple in the 1500s.
Just to the north of Baphuon and hiding in amongst the trees, we almost missed it. It has taken a battering over the years so there's not much detail here but it is the highest point in Angkor Thom.
If you fancy a climb up for the stunning views, it makes an easy escape from any crowds at Bayon.
Terrace of the Elephants
Running north to south along the entranceway to Phimeanakas for 300 meters and stands 2.5 meters tall. It features impressive elephant carvings all the way along and some fantastic sculptures to the northern end (pictured above).
It was used by Angkor's king Jayavarman VII as a platform from which to view his victorious returning army.
Terrace of the Leper King
You'll find this at the northern end of the Terrace of the Elephants. Having been restored you can now walk between the outer and inner wall to see some amazingly detailed stone carvings along this section including five-headed horses, warriors and dancers.
Best time to visit: Anytime due to the size of the site.
Constructed: Late 12th century to the early 13th century.
Time needed: 1 to 3 hours.
Angkor Thom map coordinates: 13.445764, 103.856854
Preah Khan Temple
This is one of the largest individual temple sites at Angkor (56 hectares) and represents an interesting merging of Buddhist and Hindu cultures. It has a similar feeling to the now-famous ‘Tomb Raider’ temple, Ta Prohm but attracts a lot fewer visitors being further north.
Preah Khan Highlights:
This large ruin complex was great fun to explore and feels like a real adventure as you can walk right through the corridors from one side to the other. It's a great place to grab some uninterrupted temple shots due to the size and maze-like layout.
Constructed: the 12th century
Best time to visit: Anytime
Time needed: 30 minutes to 1 hour
Preah Khan map coordinates: 13.461957, 103.872315
Pre Rup Temple
Found to the east of the main Angkor complex, Pre Rup is like a crumbling mini version of Angkor Wat which is well worth the trek. There's lots of restoration and preservation happening here to bring it back to its former glory.
Pre Rup Highlights:
Finely detailed carvings on the doorways as pictured below. You can climb to the upper level for a good view over the surrounding forest and towards the towers of Angkor Wat. With the elevated view, it’s also a popular Angkor sunset spot.
Constructed: Late 10th century.
Best time to visit: Anytime, busier at sunset.
Time needed: 30 minutes.
Pre Rup map coordinates: 13.434964, 103.921170
Banteay Kdei Temple and Srah Srang
On opposite sides of the road, you have a monastic complex temple, Banteay Kdei, and a large rectangular Baray (reservoir), Srah Srang.
Banteay Kdei and Srah Srang Highlights:
At Banteay Kdei, meaning the Citadel of Monks' cells, you'll feel slightly unsafe amongst the chaotic ruins. It’s a lot quieter than many of the other temples which makes it well work the effort to explore.
This former Buddhist monastery is a stark contrast to the solid buildings of Angkor Wat but the lack of restoration here gives it a magical feel, just mind your head!
Srah Srang across the road offers a good waterside spot to watch the sunrise, without the crowds. There are very few temple remains here today with the landing platform flanked by naga balustrades and guardian lions.
The tiny island you can see in the middle of the lake was used by the king as a tranquil place for his daily meditation.
Constructed: Late 12th to early 13th century.
Best time to visit: Anytime.
Time needed: 40 minutes to 1 hour for both.
Banteay Kdei map coordinates: 13.430001, 103.898648
Saras Srang map coordinates: 13.430314, 103.903648
Phnom Bakheng Temple
Just outside the southern wall of Angkor Thom, this was the first temple built at Angkor and is still the highest today.
Phnom Bakheng predates Angkor Wat by two centuries and sits proudly upon a natural hill and overlooking the jungle for miles in all directions.
The gentle climb up is worth it for the views here alone as there is not so much to explore in terms of the temple structure. You'll need a decent zoom to get a clear shot of five towers of Angkor Wat which is over 1 km away across the jungle (above).
Constructed: Late 9th to early 10th century.
Best time to visit: Anytime before sunset when it gets very crowded being the ultimate vantage point. Maybe look for other sunset locations as numbers allowed up around dusk are now limited due to the ongoing restoration works.
Time needed: 1 hour including the walk up and down.
Phnom Bakheng map coordinates: 13.423818, 103.856490
The Best Small Temples at Angkor
If you’ve got more than 1 day to visit the temples at Angkor then it’s great fun to go and explore the smaller ones. They often get overlooked by most visitors and therefore tend to be quieter, great if you are not a fan of the crowds.
For us personally, exploring the more far-flung Angkor temples made the whole experience extra special. At times we felt like we were the first ones to step foot into these places of worship for a very long time.
The temples below are on the route to the east of Angkor Thom often called the ‘Big Circuit’.
1. East Mebon Temple
Very similar in appearance to Pre Rup, this mountain-style temple rises 3 levels above the ground. Look out for the Elephants still proudly guarding the corners of the remaining ruins here.
Built: the 10th century.
Best time to visit: Anytime.
Time needed: 20 minutes.
East Mebon map coordinates: 13.446652, 103.919793
2. Ta Som Temple
The tree growing over some of the ruins acts as a nice alternative to the famous Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider Temple) but this feels like a much more intimate and quieter version.
There are many Deva, the Hindu term for a deity, carvings here still in great condition. Also, don't miss the smiling faces beaming out above the main gateway.
Built: the 12th century.
Best time to visit: Anytime.
Time needed: 1 hour.
Ta Som map coordinates: 13.464613, 103.913942
3. Neak Pean Temple
To get to this small temple you cross a long walkway over a Baray (lake) which adds to the rather dramatic setting. What remains of the temple might be a slight anti-climax but the small island surrounded by water gives it a very different feel to any of the other Angkor temples.
Neak Pean was originally constructed for medical purposes. People would come here to bathe in the waters and rebalance themselves, thus curing any diseases. It is the only temple at Angkor which you can't walk through and explore up close.
Constructed: the 12th century.
Best time to visit: Anytime.
Time needed: 30 minutes.
Neak Pean map coordinates: 13.463296, 103.895003
4. Prasat Kravan Temple
This is a nice quick stop after the might of the bigger Angkor temples. It was reconstructed by archaeologists in the early 20th century and is the only temple here with brick bas-relief.
The temple faces away from the road so make sure you walk around to see the impressive carvings depicting Vishnu inside the towers. They look stunning in the sunshine.
Constructed: Early 10th century.
Best time to visit: Quiet anytime but afternoon for the best light.
Time needed: 20 minutes.
Prasat Kravan map coordinates: 13.419771, 103.900225
5. Chau Say Tevoda & Thommanon Temples
Chau Say Tevoda temple is a great example of what restoration work can achieve at Angkor. Take some time to read the info boards on the way in to fully appreciate the work that has gone into what you see here today.
Thommanon temple just across the road is a small temple built roughly the same time as Angkor Wat, which is reflected in the well-preserved tower structures found here.
Constructed: Early 11th - 12th century
Best time to visit: Anytime
Time needed: 30 minutes.
Chau Say Tevoda map coordinates: 13.446104, 103.877485
6. Ta Keo Temple
One of the plainest looking temples at Angkor with a lack of carvings but the steep steps up to the top present an interesting challenge. It's quite a climb and unfortunately, the views are not so great from here, just a lot of jungle.
You wouldn't be missing too much just viewing this one from the main road if I’m being brutally honest.
Constructed: Late 10th to early 11th century.
Best time to visit: Anytime.
Time needed: 20 to 30 minutes.
Ta Keo map coordinates: 13.444691, 103.882553
How to Get to Angkor Wat and the Other Temples
Angkor Wat and the other breathtaking temples are easy to reach during your visit to Southeast Asia. The nearest place to eat, sleep, shop and party close to the temples if the Cambodian city of Krong Siem Reap.
Bus, Taxi or Car
Siem Reap is on the main highway which runs between Bangkok (400 km west) and Phnom Penh (320 km south). The road is numbered 6 in Cambodia and 31 in Thailand.
The bus ride from Bangkok to Siem Reap is 8 to 9 hours and tickets start from $24 USD. It's a 6-7 hour bus ride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and tickets start from $15 USD.
We would suggest using 12GoAsia via the box below as you don't need to print the tickets and can jump right on board with no worries.
Siem Reap does have a local airport so it's possible to fly from many cities across Southeast Asia directly to the Angkor temples and save yourself some serious time
If you're coming from elsewhere in the world then you'll need to catch a connecting flight locally.
Top Tip: We would suggest using 12GoAsia via the box below as you don't need to print the tickets and can jump right on board with no worries.
Fight times to Siem Reap:
- Phnom Penh - 45 minutes
- Bangkok - 1 hour
- Ho Chi Minh City - 1 hour 10 minutes
- Hanoi - 1 hour 45 minutes
- Singapore - 2 hours 15 minutes
- Luang Prabang - 1 hour 45 minutes
Searching via the box above will also show you some good local flight options and prices.