Angkor Wat is an ancient city in Cambodia, the “capital temple” was built in the first half of the 12th century by King Suryavarman II, and saw the Khmer people flourish into the most prominent military, religious and social civilization in Southeast Asia.
In the 15th Century C.E. the Khmer Empire fell and the grand structures within the Angkor Wat complex were reclaimed by the jungle for several centuries. With impressive monuments, massive water reservoirs and unique stone carvings that exhibit a range of Khmer art from the 9th to the 14th centuries, it’s no surprise the West have been captivated by the ancient city since the mid-1800. Although the archaeological park is packed with tourists year round it’s a must see for anyone visiting Cambodia. This travel guide to Angkor Wat archaeological park has information about the must see temples, how to get around Angkor Wat and the cost.
Top Things to See
Angkor Wat – or “Capital Temple” is the largest and best preserved in the Angkor complex and is where the historic site gets its name. Originally constructed as a Hindu temple it was dedicated to the god Vishnu, the ‘preserver of the world’. Angkor Wat combines two types of Khmer temple architecture: the temple-mountain and the later galleried temple. The central temple complex has 2,600 feet of bas-reliefs carved in sandstone on the outer wall, depicting famous battles and Buddhist scenes. The level of detail in the reliefs is amazing, it’s very easy to get lost in the beauty of the carvings and spend hours studying their stories. Angkor Wat is the most famous temple in Cambodia, with its image displayed on everything from restaurant walls to beer, it differently draws a lot of attention. Starting at 5:30am with the sunrise, thousands of people flock to the temple to admire it’s beauty as the sun jets out from behind the temple mountains. Although you have to become a Sardine to visit Angkor Wat it’s walls are literally masterpieces and the experience of visiting a wander of the world is definitely worth the tight squeeze.
Prasat Bayon – Built by King Jayavarman VII around 1190 AD, this temple stands in the center of Angkor Thom. Don’t be surprised if you get the feeling of being watched when you explore the ruins, as Bayon is protected by over 2000 stone faces of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara carved on the 54 towers. It’s my second favourite complex to explore behind Ta Phnom, as it’s built like a maze with dim lighting, low crumbling ceilings and narrow passageways that are connected in a way that make each of the three levels imperceptible.
Ta Phnom – has been left in much the same condition in which it was re-discovered in the 19th century. Ancient trees tower over the ruins their leaves filtering the sunlight away from the moss filled walls that are slowly being smothered by the muscular embrace of the root system creating a dynamic relationship between nature and art. The Ta Phnom ruins are the ultimate Tomb Raider fantasy as you can explore numerous towers with close courtyards and narrow corridors, so come early to avoid the mid-day crowds.
The Angkor Archaeological Park (A World Heritage site) offers three types of tickets: a one day pass – $20USD, a three day pass – $40 USD (valid for a week) and a seven day pass – $60 USD (valid for one month).
TRAVEL HINT: When you buy your Angkor day pass the ticket counter will take a photo of you, brush your hair before arriving and smile for the best photo result. Haha!
Best way to get Around
Unfortunately admission cost isn’t the last time you’ll part with Jackson’s while visiting the park. Angkor Wat archaeological Park occupies over 162.6 hectares and is home to more than 45 temples, if you want to explore more than one temple you should forget the leisurely stroll you had in mind, even the trek from Siem Reap is 7km. To get the most out of your day pass your going to have to hire a set of wheels!
Tuk-tuk: Tuk-tuks and hired drivers are one of the most popular means of transport for getting around Angkor Wat as it allows you to see more temples in a day. The drivers charge by the kilometer, so the park has been separated into two routes: The small circuit and the big circuit.
The Small Circuit includes several major and minor temples. The circuit runs for seventeen kilometers, starting as Angkor Wat. The small circuit visits three major temples: Angkor Thom, Ta Phnom (temple from tomb raider), and Bayon, and some of minor and less crowded temples such as the Baphoun, The Terrace of the Leper King, the Twelve Prasats, and Spean Thma before returning back to Siem Reap. This circuit generally costs around $15 USD for two people, or $17 USD to watch the sunrise which can be best viewed from the Angkor Wat moat (pickup 5am).
The big Circuit is a twenty-six kilometer extension of the shorter Small Circuit loop, taking in a few more sites such as Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som and the East Mebon and numerous monuments. The big circuit is highly recommended for anyone spending three or more days in the archaeological park. The big Circuit generally costs around $25 USD for two people.
Electric Bike: If your looking for an Eco-friendly way to explore Angkor Wat than an electric bike or E-bike is the way to go! Electric bikes can be rented from Green E-bike in Siem Reap for $10 USD for 24 hours.
The E-bikes run on batteries and there are free charging points around town so you don’t need to worry about running out of petrol. The E-bike is the perfect way to travel independently around Angkor Wat and explore the archaeological park slowly and thoroughly in your own time.
TRAVEL HINT: If you plan on visiting the park for two days hire a tuk-tuk for the first day and do the “big loop” as this loop has a larger distance to travel. On your second day rent an electric scooter for the small loop as this is closer to the main entrance.