As we tiptoed into the endless corridors, our eyes lit up with
wonder, our hearts beat a lil faster. This is it! We are here!
The Angkor temples, sometimes mistakenly called The Angkor Wat Temples (Angkor Wat is just one of the temples in the Angkor Archaeological complex), have been a source of mystery and inspiration for wanderlusters all over the world and we must admit they live up to the hype. When we recently flew to Asia to attend our friend’s Chinese wedding we knew we had to finally tick the Angkor Temples off our travel bucket list.
You’ll be surprised to know that the Angkor Archaeological complex consists of over 1000 temples. The temples range from stunning architectural marvels to ordinary edifices full of rubble. However most of the Angkor Temples boast of characteristic endless corridors, secretive passageways, narrow chambers, and intricate carvings. It’s tough to choose which ones to visit, so we thought we would put together a guide of how we conquered the ancient city of Angkor – our favourite bits, the Angkor temples that definitely need to be on your itinerary, and the ones you could possibly skip – the hits and the misses. But before that, a handy image outlining the map of Angkor and how the temples are laid out
We opted for the 3 day ticket and made good use of the tuk-tuk that was provided to us by our hotel and explored all the temples in the “Grand Circuit” (marked in red + yellow in the map above) and some that were around 30Kms from the main complex.
#1 Ta Phrom
Let us start with one of our favourite Angkor Temples – Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm is a popular temple on the tourist route because it was featured in the Tomb Raider film. But for once, it is worth every bit of the hype. Gigantic roots are intertwined with man made structures and crumbling stones crowd lengthy corridors – it’s the kind of place that made us want to play hide and seek with the sun and shadows. The magical stones made us wish we knew the stories embedded in them – the enigmatic tales we will never know.
VERDICT – Amazing. Go for It.
#2 Pre Rup
Pre Rup is one of the few Angkor Temples that is famous for an apparently unforgettable sunset. Don’t be sucked into the hype – sunset here is anything but spectacular! When we visited Pre Rup, we had imagined a sunset with the other temples in the foreground – this was not the case. Trees and dusty grasslands obscured the view. That said, the temple is quite spectacular, but that can be said for most of the Angkor Temples.
VERDICT – You can give it a miss if you are short on time
#3 Prasat Kravan
One of the smaller Angkor temples, Prasat Kravan was made in the 10th century. Its facade consists of symmetrical towers made of red bricks. The muted colour of the stone lends it an incomparable beauty. Prasat Kravan is usually the first stop of the ‘big tour’ of the Angkor temple complex.
VERDICT – Go for it!
#4 East Mebon
This temple is literally falling apart. Restoration work is in full swing here but the obstruction cannot dampen the sheer beauty of this temple. This massive three-tiered temple is dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. It is laden with intricate carvings and sculptures of guardian elephants and lions at gateways. It is easy to spend hours at East Mebon and not get bored.
VERDICT – Don’t miss it for the world !
#5 Ta Som
Of all the Angkor temples, the ones we liked best were the root temples. Ta Prohm is special, but the ‘Tomb Raider’ hype ensures it’s always crowded. The alternative? Ta Som – a small root temple that is equally special, if not more. The magnificent entrance alone is enough to make your heart skip a beat.
As one delves deeper into the temple one discovers untouched corners left to nature, secret crevices, and roots – oh those roots! At the furthest end of the temple are little kids selling souvenirs to visitors. We met a little girl, Persai, who could talk in 60 different languages (yep 60!) and endeared every visitor around by chatting to them in their native language. Her British pièce de résistance? “Lovely Jubbly missy ! How’s the Queen treating you these days? Want to take some gifts back for her ? They’re sure to brighten up the weather in Britain” 😉
VERDICT – Yes, yes, yes! This is our favourite Angkor temple. Just make sure you wear covered shoes – there is red sand everywhere.
#6 Neak Poan
A long wooden corridor over mush leads to this small temple amidst a small artificial lake. Neak Poan (literally ‘intertwined serpents’) is one of the less impressive temples of the Angkor region.
VERDICT – You could certainly give this temple a miss if you are short on time.
#7 Preah Khan
Preah Khan is one of the most fascinating in the Angkor temple complex. Preah Khan literally translates to ‘Sacred Sword’. In keeping with the name, this temple is littered with phallic symbols everywhere – lingas, giant serpents at both east and west entrance, and garudas holding ‘nagas’ (snakes). It’s majestic statues have been vandalised and disfigured over the years by various religious sects – these layers of history lend an impenetrable aura to Preah Khan Temple.
VERDICT – Don’t miss it. Preah Khan is one of the most mystical and photogenic temples in the Angkor Complex.
#8 Bayon and Baphuon
These 2 adjacent temples are overwhelming. Bayon is characterised by gigantic faces that are full of intrigue. It’s amazing how inanimate structures can give rise to a range of feelings – from intrigue to horror in the visitors. The enormity is stark and needs to be seen to be believed. Make sure you walk to the giant Buddha ensconced between the two temples.
VERDICT – You need to see these temples, especially Bayon
#9 Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is undoubtedly the most famous of the Angkor Temples. The colossal temple is the world’s largest religious monument, an impressive accolade. It is dotted with gorgeous balustrades, galleries, chambers, courtyards, corridors, and porches. Every area has elaborate carvings on the walls, representing mythological tales. Angkor Wat is, above all, a microcosm of a Hindu Universe.
The famed sunrise at Angkor Wat is every bit as spectacular as it looks. We have to say, the crowds are somewhat of a mood-killer. Thousands of people throng the temple grounds to witness the spectacular sunrise. Even so,there are more cameras than people – no kidding! We saw a guy trying to take photos from his DSLR, iPad, and iPhone all at once 😉 But nothing can obscure the sheer beauty of this temple. It might be crowded but one look at its dazzling architecture or the swishing sounds of monks’ robes as they go about their work will put all your doubts to rest.
VERDICT: Angkor Wat is gorgeous and lives up to the hype. The temple is bound to be overwhelming, so we suggest devoting an entire day to it.
#10 Banteay Srei
This temple is over 35 kms away from Siem Reap. The drive takes visitors through the Cambodian countryside – expect little children playing with abandon, farmers going about their work, and men and women making palm-sugar candy by the roadside.
Once at the temple, we couldn’t help gasping in disbelief. The intricately carved buildings, made from a delicate pink sandstone, resemble a tapestry. This miniature temple wouldn’t be out of place in a fairy tale
VERDICT – Visiting Banteay Srei is an experience. Go for it!
- Tickets cost $20 for 1 day, $40 for 3 days, $60 for 1 week (as of January 2014). More information here.
- If you buy a ticket after 4.45 pm, entry into the temples that evening is free.We bought a 3 days ticket and were able to visit the complex the evening before our ticket actually started
- The visiting times are 5:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. Banteay Srei closes at 5:00 P.M.
- Make sure you wear covered shoes. There is red sand and dust everywhere at the temples. Carry water with you since it gets very hot during the day.
Have you been to the Angkor Temples? Do you have a favourite? 🙂
Looking for a place to stay? We found a gem of a hotel in Siem Reap, highly recommended!
Seen the Angkor Temples? Make sure you read our list of Things to do in Siem Reap besides the Angkor Temples
Planning an itinerary for South East Asia? Our articles on Vietnam, Cambodia, and Malaysia will come in handy
Stuck on packing for South East Asia? Check out our Wears from Vietnam and Cambodia