A TWO DAY GUIDE TO ANGKOR WAT
Siem Reap is a gateway to the ancient world.
With history dating back to the year 802, it’s somewhat hard to believe Siem Reap was a sleepy town in the Cambodian countryside until the world found out about Angkor Wat.
I say somewhat because you can’t ignore or overlook the Khmer Rouge’s reign. Tourism was nonexistent in Cambodia for a reason.
That all changed, of course, when Tomb Raider was released.
Guides offering tours of Angkor will regale you with tales of what filming the movie was like- not enough hotels in town for the cast and crew, barely restaurants or bars to go out to. It’s a very different scene from what Siem Reap has become today.
If visiting Angkor isn’t on your travel bucket list, it should be.
The temples, not to be mistaken as one, were constructed in the 12th century by the Khmer people.
The area of Angkor is full of thousands of buildings and temples, it’s an impressive experience for even those less impressed by history, and truly spiritual for those who awed by the past.
Once, Angkor served as the country’s capital and largest city. Temples are a mix of both Buddhist and Hindu monuments.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of walking through what used to be the heart of the Khmer empire, a place that is still the spiritual heart of Cambodia today.
Dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, restoration has been ongoing at Angkor Wat- really, only beginning to ramp up in 2004.
Imagining the creation of the temples you’ll see in Angkor is enough to leave anyone awestruck.
Each temple is truly a masterpiece.
Short on time when visiting Angkor?
As was I.
I only had two days to see the best of Angkor, and even at that, really only spent two mornings seeing temples.
When I visited in early April, it was the hottest time of the year in Cambodia and simply too hot to consider seeing more or staying longer. By the time late morning rolled around, I was more than ready to head back to my hotel and spend the afternoon in the pool or relaxing in one of Siem Reap’s air conditioned cafe.
How to See the Bet Temples: A Two Day Guide to Angkor Wat
The first thing you need to know is that Angkor is not the kind of place you can just rock up to. You need to do a bit of planning, especially if you want a guide or to see sunrise at Angkor Wat.
Things like reserving a tuk tuk in advance of your sunrise visit and ensuring you have tickets in hand will help you maximise your time and make the most out of your time in Angkor.
I opted not to have a guide because I did a fair amount of research ahead of visiting and had constructed a route for both days that was a bit different from the typical tourist path. Also, an attempt to save money.
I haven’t shared the nitty gritty details of each temple’s history here, but this website is awesome for getting an in-depth overview of each place you’ll visit. Be sure to read up before you visit, cell service isn’t great throughout Angkor.
And, yes- you need to hire a tuk tuk (or car/van driver).
Angkor is a massive complex, some people bike from temple to temple (which feels like it’d be pretty difficult in the heat), but you definitely can’t walk- the temples are simply too spread out.
Day 1: Bayon, Terrace of the Elephants, Ta Prom, Angkor Wat
On my first day, I left my hotel at 6:30 am to head to the Angkor ticket office. About 20-30 minutes from Angkor Wat, it’s a critical first stop in acquiring tickets for your visit.
Tickets in hand, we headed toward Angkor and our first stop.
Bayon Temple: Best known for the massive stone faces carved into the sides of towers, it’s estimated there were originally over 200 of these faces.
Bayon is further back in Angkor, which meant it’d be easy to see Ta Prom and Angkor Wat on the way out. Most tour groups doing the reverse route for the small circuit.
Sure enough, getting there around 7:30 am meant there were few people exploring alongside me.
This temple was spectacular, a definite can’t miss. The detail on the carved faces and wall patterns took my breath away.
A short walk from Bayon, you can also visit Wat Preah Ngok before leaving the area. It’s a large pyramid overlooking a temple, worth a quick look before heading to your next temple.
Terrace of the Elephants: This wasn’t a stop per se, but something we slowed down to view as we drove past. Terrace of the Elephants was formerly used by the king as a viewing platform so he could see his returning army. Be mindful of the monkeys here, there are lots.
Ta Prohm: Easily recognised by most visits because of its feature in Tomb Raider, large vines cover the ruins of Ta Prohm.
Similar to Ta Prohm, it’s also worth stopping at nearby Preah Khan. You’ll see 500 year old trees interwoven into the temple walls, and beautifully carved buddha icons.
Angkor Wat: The biggest and said to be most spectacular of all the temples at Angkor, it’s also the largest religious monument in the world and one of the new 7 wonders of the world.
Angkor Wat has a moat and other wall that stretches over 3.6 kilometers. Within the walls, you’ll find a large garden and the main temple.
It’s impressive before you even enter the temple itself.
I say ‘said to be the most spectacular’ because this wasn’t my favourite temple. I much preferred some of the quieter temples I visited. Although, this also could be because I visited those in early morning when it was cool outside, instead of near mid-day with the sun beating down hard overhead. Don’t get me wrong, I found Angkor Wat impressive- it just wasn’t my absolute favourite temple of all the beautiful ones I saw.
Day 2: Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Preah Khan Temple, Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon (skipped Pre Rup because it’s similar to East Mebon)
On my second day, I had an early wake up planned to see sunrise at Angkor Wat. I’d also planned to hit more of the temples on the ‘grand circuit’ given their proximity.
I’d wanted to also visit Banteay Srei, further north from the Angkor complex but felt too tired late morning to make the trek up there. Known for boasting some of the most intricate stone carvings in all of Cambodia, Banteay Srei would be worth visiting if it’s not too hot, you have an air conditioned car or simply more time in Siem Reap.
Sunrise at Angkor Wat: I’ve shared my tips for sunrise here, but I’ll say this much- you can’t miss this experience. It’s unbeatable.
Preah Khan Temple: One of Angkor’s larger temple complexes, I loved wandering Preah Khan in the early morning without many people around. Guarded by lion statues, the temple name translates to ‘holy sword’. Some legends even claim thousands of servants (I’ve heard upwards of 100,000) serviced the temple’s royalty.
Neak Pean: This temple is unique in that it’s located in the middle of a lake, and has a long, beautiful wooden walkway to the shrine. It’s the epitome of picturesque.
Ta Som: As with other temples on the ‘grand circuit’, little restoration work has been done on Ta Som. This was another one of my favourite temples to wander, less crowded than Ta Prohm, but still boasting native vegetation overtaking some of the temple walls. It’s a temple I’d best describe as, uniquely beautiful.
East Mebon: Stopping here was an impromptu decision on my way back to the hotel. I’d heard the views from the top would be some of the best I’d find, given my temple route, so I decided to check them out. East Mebon ended up being one of my favourite stops- loved the stone steps, gorgeous elephant carvings and as expected, views from up high.
Have you ever visited Angkor? Which temple was your favourite, or which temple would you want to see first on a trip to Siem Reap? Would you add anything to this two day guide to Angkor Wat?
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