A top 5 temples Angkor Wat Itinerary:
Angkor Wat is 6 kilometres from Siem Reap and is one of the most phenomenal (and famous) temples complexes in the world. Along with its neighbour, the stunning Angkor Thom, it overshadows the 100s of other impressive temples in this area of Cambodia.
Ideally you need 2 days or more to really get a sense of the temples. These are our top 5:
Angkor Wat is simply spectacular. It’s not a cliché to say it’s unforgettable. Set in a square layout, the complex consists of a moat, 4 gateways, 2 causeways, 2 pools and the temple itself. Due to the scale (and heat) of a temple visit, make sure you see: the astonishing 800 metre long sections of sculptures along the outer walls and the central tower of the inner temple. Seeing the sunrise reflection of Angkor in one of the pools is a must do for many visitors. It’s beautiful, but crowded. Try visiting 90 minutes after sunrise – when the throngs have left and before the influx of morning visitors to see the temple in a more peaceful environment.
Tip – try and make Angkor Wat the last temple you see if you’re staying for more than one day – otherwise the other temples will be an anti-climax.
We preferred Angkor Thom to Angkor Wat. It’s huge (a whole city rather than a single temple), less crowded and equally spectacular. Like Angkor Wat, it’s also moated, has surrounding walls and 4 astonishing gateways – our favourite is the must see Victory Gate, but the South Gate is also awe inspiring. Angkor Thom has its own temples and monuments including the iconic Bayon – which we’ve decided deserves its own place on our list – other must sees are Baphuon, the Royal Enclosure and the 350 metre long Terrace of the Elephants. You could easily spend half a day exploring Angor Thom.
Tip – we suggest using transport within the walls (bike or tuk tuk) as the site is massive.
The mesmerising temple of Bayon is our favourite monument in Cambodia. It’s has 54 towers, and 216 massive faces of Avalokiteshvara. From a distance it looks like a jumble, but as you enter and climb up the levels you experience the multiple heads close up. There are always 5 or 6 at eye level either in profile or head on. It’s magical.
Tip – with all the steps, corridors and carved faces at play, it’s very easy to miss the sculpture panels along the sides of the temple. There are 1.2 kilometres of intricately carved bas reliefs – far more than at Angkor Wat.
If Ta Prohm weren’t atmospherically overgrown by jungle, it would be far less popular. Architecturally, there are better temples nearby, but the crumbling ruins (dwarfed by trees and strangled by roots) are quite simply otherworldly. Tomb Raider was filmed here and it feels very Indiana Jones.
Tip – it’s a long, hot walk from the car park so bring water. Ta Prohm is quieter first thing in the morning when everyone is at Angkor Wat.
The well preserved temple of Preah Khan is often quiet and it’s possible to have the long vaulted corridors and sculptures to yourself if you visit in the midday heat. Preah Khan covers a large rectangular site and contains precessional walkways, impressively tall, double layers of columns and even some tangled tree roots (in the style of Ta Prohm) which encase the walls near the East Gate. We found it an incredibly quiet and peaceful place to wander through the corridors and take in long perspectives.
Tip – make sure you travel there via Angkor Thom. As it’s impossible to see its gates too many times.