Typically famous for Angkor Wat, the ancient town of Angkor is situated in northwest Cambodia. Whilst Angkor Wat may be the jewel in its crown, the Angkor complex comprises 72 temples and was the former capital of the Khmer empire from the 9th to the 15th century.
Today, Angkor Wat is a UNESCO Heritage Site and stands as one of the largest religious sites ever created. It is THE must-see Cambodian attraction and one of the most popular tourist spots in the world!
Although Angkor Wat should be on every traveller’s bucket list, tourist hotspots can be disappointing. Overcrowding, substandard guides, pickpocketing and the feeling of being ‘templed out’, can result in an exhausting and expensive trip that you’d rather forget.
To get the most out of your visit, we’ve outlined everything you should know, including the best time to visit Angkor, how long to spend there and how to avoid the feeling of déjà vu when you’re temple touring!
Angkor Map & Resources
A Guide to Angkor Wat, Cambodia
History of Angkor and Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat was built in the early twelfth century and was originally constructed as a Hindu temple to express the king’s devotion to the Hindu deity, Vishnu. The temple was created as a physical representation of human interaction with the gods. Each of its spires depicts the ‘mountains of eternity’ and is surrounded by a moat representing the ‘eternal waters’ of life.
Spread across 400 acres of land, Angkor Wat (also known as the “City of the Temple”) was discovered by Westerners in the 19th century. Once the overgrowth was cut back, restoration efforts began.
Whilst Angkor is now a tourist haven, littered with temples and countless ruins to wander around, during its peak, Angkor was a varying civilisation with its ruling kings standing at the very top of the society. Many of the inhabitants helped to build these grand temples as well as farming the surrounding lands, designing reservoirs and building roads that would connect the city to each of the surrounding Cambodian towns. Rice farming was one of the principal occupations and many Khmer people would fight to defend Angkor against neighbouring attackers.
During the 13th century, when London had a population of just 100,000, Angkor was home to one million people! This made Angkor one of the largest cities to exist prior to the modern period and offers tourists over 400 kilometres of land to explore!
Temples of Angkor
The size of the archaeological park is overwhelming for the first-time visitor, with the main temple Angkor Wat spanning over a kilometre!
Good to know! Many often refer to ‘Angkor Wat’ as the name of the entire temple complex, however, this actually refers to the main temple only.
Whilst Angkor Wat may be the biggest temple, the site of Angkor has countless other magnificent religious sites for tourists to visit. Depending on how long you have to visit Angkor, there’s plenty to see so you’ll get your money’s worth. Here are the top five temples we recommend.
1. Angkor Wat – The Most Famous
No trip to Cambodia is complete without seeing this spectacular temple. It’s the largest in Angkor and one of the best preserved in the ancient city.
Surrounded by a huge reservoir and consisting of three galleries and five tall towers, visitors are also treated to a series of carvings on Angkor Wat’s internal walls that depict scenes from ancient Hindu epics.
With so much to see, and Angkor Wat having near to 2.6 million visitors every year, the site is an absolute must-visit for anyone visiting Cambodia.
2. Ta Prohm – The Jungle Temple
The crumbling Buddhist temple of Ta Prohm is most famous for the huge tree branches and vines engulfing its structure. The roots of the trees envelop the site and provide visitors with spectacular scenery and multiple impressive photo opportunities!
For many, this temple is known for being the site where director, Simon West, chose to film a scene for the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Visitors will quickly be able to identify the structures Angelina Jolie roams around once they visit the site – the film is very true to the temple’s current state.
As for the history of the temple, very little is known other than that it was built in 1186 AD as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. It is one of the few temples in the ancient city that has Sanskrit stone inscriptions that document the temple’s inhabitants and the people who lived here.
3. Preah Khan – The Royal Sword
As one of Angkor’s largest temples (covering around 56 hectares of land), Preah Khan is made up of rectangular galleries with a maze of long corridors and tall trees surrounding its grounds. With so much nature engulfing the walls, this temple is similar to Ta Prohm but with a significantly smaller number of visitors.
With a large moat surrounding the temple, the site is accessed through the main entrance, to the east of the ancient town.
4. Bayon – The Temple of Stone Faces
Another iconic temple in Angkor is Bayon, famed for the smiling stone faces that are edged into the stone. The 200 giant faces are known as the “face towers” and are said to depict the everyday lives of Khmer people as well as represent a variety of heroic historic tales.
The soft morning light illuminates the face carvings, meaning that the best time to visit is in the early morning.
5. Banteay Srei – The Art Gallery of Angkor
Whilst this may be a small temple (and not on the list for most travellers!), it’s well worth a visit and is considered to be the ‘art gallery’ of Angkor.
Built with fine sandstone, many of Banteay Srei’s walls are covered with floral designs as well as depictions of the Buddhist heroic story, Ramaya.
This temple is located further north than Angkor Wat but is definitely worth a stop on your tour. The carvings make Banteay Srei stand out and allow tourists to experience something different in a quiet and peaceful setting.
Best Time to Visit Angkor Wat
The best time to visit Angkor Wat is first thing in the morning. The ticket office opens at 5 am (very early!) so it’s best to get to Angkor at this time to make the most of your ticket cost (the tickets will be explained in the next section of this guide).
The best thing about arriving at Angkor in the morning means that you can watch the sunrise over the tips of the Angkor Wat temple. While this is undoubtedly a bucket list spectacle, it’s important to note that you won’t have been the only person to have had this idea! Prepare for crowds!
The other bonus with visiting at this time is that it’s much cooler in the early morning, meaning that you can enjoy exploring the site at a more comfortable temperature.
The weather is at its warmest from December to March and you’re likely to have the least chance of rainfall if you visit Angkor during this time. However, as you’re exploring the temples outdoors for most of the day, it’s actually better to visit when the temperatures are slightly cooler.
If you are in Cambodia outside this warmer period, do not worry! You’ll still be able to explore all the wonders that Angkor has to offer – just pack a waterproof jacket. As Angkor Wat is one of the most heavily visited tourist spots annually, there tends to be a constant flow of visitors across the entire year. It will always be busy but once you visit, you’ll understand the hype!
Practical Information for Visiting Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat Tickets
As discussed in the previous section, the Angkor site ticket office opens very early in the morning at around 5 am. The tickets are currently priced as follows:
- 1 day – approx. $37USD
- 3 days – approx. $62USD
- 7 days – approx. $72USD
At regular periods throughout the year, the ticket office runs offers on each purchased ticket, such as paying for one day and getting the second day free. This means that you can come to the site and explore as many temples as you like in one day, and then return the following day to see those you may have missed.
If this offer is live when you visit Angkor, we definitely recommend using it to its full advantage as there’s much more to see than just Angkor Wat! This is a great option for the money-conscious backpacker.
How Long Should I Spend at Angkor Wat?
The time you spend at Angkor depends on what you are looking for. If you are just interested in exploring Angkor Wat and a couple of the other temples, one morning should be enough time at the site. Usually, tour companies will offer to show you around five or six temples in one morning (between 5 am and 1 pm), so you can see a good number of temples and get a decent tour of Angkor.
However, if you have the time and want to see a few more temples, it is well worth spending more time at the Angkor site. If you have two days available (and are lucky enough to be in Cambodia when the 2 days for the price of 1 offer is running), you can spend one long day and the following afternoon exploring this beautiful site. With this amount of time, you are likely to be able to explore up to 10-15 temples across the complex (and maybe more!)
Travel Tip! If you have multiple days to spend at Angkor Wat, have a chat with your tuk-tuk driver or tour guide about the best order to approach the temples in. To avoid feeling ‘templed out’, it is best to start with the smaller temples and work up to the most impressive. This way, you won’t feel like you’ve already seen the best on offer.
Angkor Wat Opening Times
The Angkor site and more specifically, the Angkor Wat temple, is open every day between 5 am and 5:30 pm.
However, it is important to note that most of the temples at Angkor are only open between 7.30 am and 5.30 pm. The only temples that are open outside these times are Angkor Wat, Pre Rup, Phnom Bakheng temples and Sras Srang water reservoir. These are open from 5 am to 7 pm.
This means that it is well worth arriving early if seeing Angkor Wat is your main priority. It will be open first thing in the morning and even though you should expect crowds, they won’t be as intense as they are around midday in peak season.
Should I Visit Angkor Wat Independently or With a Tour?
It is recommended to visit the Angkor temples with a tour company or a local tuk-tuk driver. For the latter, you’ll see countless drivers offering tours where they will pick you up from your accommodation (mostly in the Siem Reap area), and drive you to Angkor, before spending the day touring the temples.
Most tuk-tuk drivers charge around the $15USD mark for a one-day tour (this doesn’t include the cost of the entry ticket but is the cost for one vehicle). The most common itinerary when opting for a one-day tuk-tuk tour includes early pick up from your accommodation (between 4:30 and 5 am!), before taking you directly to the ticket station, and then driving you to up to six temples across the Angkor site.
This option usually sees you being driven back to your accommodation in Siem Reap in the early afternoon (around 1 or 2 pm). However, it very much depends on the temples you’d like to see and how quickly you take to explore them.
Tuk-tuk drivers are very familiar with Angkor and its history, meaning they double up as great tour guides. This is why it is important to choose a reputable driver – they can make or break the experience! Visiting with a tuk-tuk driver also means that you have the flexibility to spend as much time as you want at each temple before being driven to the next one.
Many tour companies offer guided tours of Angkor Wat and this option may be better suited if you are travelling in a larger group with friends or family.
It is also worth noting that when visiting Angkor Wat specifically, you can also hire a local guide who will walk you around the temple and explain the history. Experts in their field, these guides will describe how the site was used by the Khmer people, offering more context for your visit.
These tours come at an additional fee and the price is agreed upon once you arrive at Angkor Wat. Anywhere between $10USD and $15USD seems to be the usual rate and is definitely recommended to get the most from your time at Angkor Wat!
Choosing a Tuk-Tuk Driver for Your Angkor Visit
Finding a knowledgeable tuk-tuk driver to take you around Angkor Wat can make or break your visit. Having an English-speaking driver will provide extra context for your visit and you’ll be able to better communicate your needs regarding timings and stops.
Trips to Angkor Wat are a service that practically every tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap will offer. However, you should take care when choosing a driver. Ask your fellow travellers if they have had a good Angkor experience with a certain driver and ask in our Facebook community for personal recommendations.
Staying Safe at Angkor Wat
As with any popular tourist site, there are some general risks associated with carrying valuables. Although it’s not frequent, pickpocketing can happen. To avoid becoming a victim, only bring the essentials. Any expensive or valuable items should be kept in a secure cross-body bag and kept close to you at all times.
Make sure that any expensive camera comes with a strap and can be kept close to your body. Being vigilant is always recommended but it should not deter you from enjoying the experience. After all, for many, a visit here is a once-in-a-lifetime activity!
What to Pack for a Trip to Angkor Wat
When visiting Angkor Wat, there is a dress code that all tourists must adhere to. Both men and women must cover their shoulders and their knees. This means no short skirts, shorts or off-the-shoulder tops.
For women, it is possible to wear a shawl over the shoulders, however, these can slip, making a shirt the best choice. You can remove shawls and long-sleeved shirts in the comfort of your tuk-tuk or tour van but make sure that you’re in the appropriate attire when you get out. Angkor employees are situated around the site to enforce the dress code when needed.
If you’re visiting Angkor Wat, you should make sure that you bring the following:
- Some snacks – there are some local stores but there isn’t a huge selection!
- Pack your camera
- A hat
- A handheld fan if you want to keep cool!
- Comfortable walking shoes
Good to know! It is essential that once you have purchased your entry ticket, you keep it in your possession at all times. At every entrance across the site and at the gates of each temple, you will be asked to show your ticket to gain access.
Getting Around Angkor
The best way to travel around Angkor is by tuk-tuk. At approximately 400 square kilometres, the Angkor complex is not easy to explore on foot!
Using a tuk-tuk driver to transport you between temples is the best choice. Not only will the driver pick you up and take you back to your hostel or accommodation, but they will also transport you to the top sites and give you plenty of time to explore each one. Their local knowledge means that they have insight into which temples are busy and when. They can also take you to good spots to find snacks along the way.
This option gives you increased flexibility as you can either pay for a package (around $15USD for five or six temples *not including the cost of the ticket*) or give the driver a time frame and ask them to take you to as many temples as possible!
Alternatively, some people opt to travel around Angkor using a bicycle. Whilst this may give you more freedom, do remember that you’ll be on your feet exploring for most of the day and getting on a bike will be hot work! If you’re seeking a more leisurely experience at Angkor, tuk-tuk is best.
Eating at Angkor
When it comes to food at Angkor Wat, there isn’t a huge selection. As the site of Angkor is so vast, any food stops will have to be properly planned into your journey. Therefore, you should agree this with your tour provider or tuk-tuk driver in advance.
Most of the temples do have a few local stalls dotted around the entrances where you can purchase coffee, water, crisps and the usual confectionary snacks.
We recommended bringing some snacks with you just in case there isn’t anything that takes your fancy on the day. With a long day of exploring lined up, having enough snacks is always a smart idea!
Places to Stay Close to Angkor Wat
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Siem Reap is just a 15-minute drive to the Angkor ticket site, making it an ideal place to base yourself.
Depending on your budget and accommodation preference, there are several hostels in the area, each with easy access to tour pick-ups/tuk-tuk drivers that can take you to visit Angkor Wat.
Below are three great hostel options in Siem Reap:
- Onederz Siem Reap – around $14USD per night
- Mad Monkey Hostel – around $23USD per night
- Lub D – around $17USD per night
No trip to Cambodia is complete without making a stop at the magnificent Angkor Wat and exploring all the beautiful temples that the complex has to offer. With over 70 temples across the site, it’s certain to be an unforgettable trip on your backpacking adventure!
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