Angkor, commonly referred to as “Angkor Wat,” is the humongous, impressive, UNESCO recognized temple complex in Northeast Cambodia. Dan & I had been wanting to visit Angkor for years, and we finally visited in February 2018 on our honeymoon! Of course, I had to write a post about our experience, so here you go! If you are thinking of going there on a honeymoon, I thought Angkor was a perfect mix of adventure, romance, and beauty!
SOME ANGKOR HISTORY
Whether you are planning to visit Angkor or just reading this post, it will definitely help to know a bit of Angkor’s background, which is much, much more than famous Angkor Wat (or the Angelina Jolie movie). Angkor, and Cambodia in general, is a bit over whelming, and, even the most well-planned trips will probably not leave you with time to soak in much of the history on-the-spot. I purchased a guide book before before I left, and our personal tour guide, Samath from Angkor Happy Tour, was pretty good about giving us history as we toured. Without prior reading and our guide, we would have be totally lost – literally and figuratively!
In brief, and while I am no expert, Angkor is a city comprised of many temples, and it was the capital of the Khmer Empire, flourishing as a great city between the 9th and 15th centuries. Angkor spans over 400 kilometers, and people still live in the Angkor complex today. Crazy!! Angkor is filled with numerous temples, some of which are in good condition and some of which are quite literally falling down. The more famous temples – or at least my favorites – are discussed below. You could spend days exploring all of the temples, and I recommend spending at least 2 days to see all of the main sites (although you can squeeze it into a day if you are really tight on time or spend much longer).
Angkor is located less than 10 kilometers from the city of Siem Reap – where you will want to stay when visiting Angkor Wat. Siem Reap is safe, relatively modern by Cambodian standards, and has everything that a traveler will need. I wrote a whole post on Siem Reap here.
Getting to Angkor from Siem Reap is easy and inexpensive – you (or your hotel) can easily hire a tuk tuk in Siem Reap to take you around Angkor. Rates are generally for the entire day at a set price, and your driver will generally wait for you outside of each temple and return you to your hotel at the end of the day. While this is super easy, for a guaranteed English speaking guide and an actual tour (and not just transportation), book ahead through one of Siem Reap’s many, many tour operators. We booked a private 2-day tour online in advance, but it seemed like you could probably book a tour easily once in Siem Reap.
There are also “big box” tours departing from Siem Reap daily, but I do not recommend these; Angkor Wat is already crowded enough, and you will miss the less popular temples!
Tickets to Angkor – yes, you need a ticket to entire the city – are sold at the Angkor Ticket Center. This is a large building just outside of Angkor and all tuk tuk drivers know where it is.
To buy tickets, enter the building and get in the shortest line you can find. There are lines throughout the building so do not get in the first few lines you see. Tickets are sold for 1, 3, or 7 day entrances. Most people opt for the 3 day pass, so that you can visit at night and in the morning. Credit cards are accepted and the agents take your photo upon purchase. Keep you ticket safe and handy, as you need to show it for entrance into each temple and to enter Angkor. I would even recommend bringing something plastic to keep it secure, as its made of paper and the tickets are not cheap, especially by Cambodian standards.
THE TEMPLES OF ANGKOR
Ah, Angkor’s temples. This is why you came and these are want you want to plan your trip around.
In organizing my trip to Angkor, most surprising to me was the massive size of Angkor and the number of temples to be visited! There are a lot; we visited 8 temples over 2 busy days and definitely did not seem them all! When planning our trip, I had a very difficult time finding specific information on which temples to visit, so I hope this helps future travelers. If you are going without a guide (who will have a pre-set itinerary), there are two traditional circuits, the small and grand circuit, and following one of these will get you to the highlights.
Angkor Wat – Angkor Wat is the name of the classic Angkor temple. Angkor Wat is the largest and most popular temple in the Angkor complex. You definitely know the one – the castle-esque temple with 3 lotus flower domes. If you only have time for one temple, this is the temple you must see! Angkor Wat is quite well-kept and huge. Plan to spend a couple of hours here, and I recommend going in the morning to beat the heat and the tour bus crowds. You will definitely want to explore the exterior from the front and back and make your way through the interior of the temple.
We actually visited Angkor Wat twice – once in the morning (around 7 AM) and again the next morning at sunrise. For our first visit (the 7 AM visit), we approached Angkor Wat from the less popular “back side,” i.e. the side opposite of the water, at our guide’s suggestion. This was pretty interesting as there were really not a lot of people (especially compared to the other “front” side) and we got some great shots with just us and Angkor Wat!
We then explored the inside of Angkor Wat, and the temple seemed to get more crowded by the minute!
By about 11 AM we had made our way through to the “front” of the temple and spent some time taking pictures and exploring the grounds. We saw some monkeys, and a number of people selling random things.
We returned to Angkor Wat the next morning before sunrise (really early for this girl!) and took pictures of the sun rising over Angkor Wat. This was spectacular and definitely recommended! Go very early to get a seat on the water. Our hotel even packed us a to-go breakfast tray to enjoy during sunrise!
Ta Prohm – This is the temple from Tomb Raider, and its most famous for the huge trees growing intertwined with the temple. Ta Prohm is probably the second most famous temple in Angkor. Since its basically a movie star, this temple is very crowded but, aside from the trees, Ta Prohm is a bit of a ruined state. I recommend going to see the trees, but definitely go very, very early if you want pictures without other tourists! We visited right after Angkor Wat, so it was pretty crowded!
Bayon Temple – Bayon Temple is yet another favorite at Angkor Wat; its centrally located, in decent shape, and has over 200 preserved stone heads in the temple (this makes for some really fun pictures)! This temple dates back to the 12th century. To get tourist free pictures, arrive very, very, very early.
The South Gate of Angkor Thom – Way back when, Angkor was surrounded by walls and you had to go through a gate to enter the city. The South Gate at Angkor Thom is the most well-preserved (if not the only) one of these gates remaining – at least in some of its former glory! We stopped off here to take a few pictures. Cars still use this gate to enter and leave the city, so take note (we waited for a while to get this picture without cars).
Srah Srang – Srah Srang was my very, very favorite stop on our tour of Angkor Wat! Srah Srang is a reservoir dug in the 10th century. There is a small overlook on the reservoir with lions and palm tress that make for beautiful pictures! While the overlook was not crowded or large, it was so beautiful. We stopped here early in the morning and got the best pictures – highly recommended!!
Banteay Kdei – Banteay Kdei is a temple near Srah Srang. This temple was not nearly as crowded as Angkor Wat or Ta Prohm, but it is still pretty cool. Built in the mid-12th – early centuries, Banteay Kdei is in good shape. We spent about 30 minutes exploring the temple and getting some amazing, uncrowded pictures! Definitely stop here if you are into photography without the crowds.
Banteay Srei – Bantrey Srei is probably the most well preserved temple in Angkor and it was one of my favorites, set amongst lotus flowers and vibrant green rice fields. Bantrey Srei is well known for its pristine carvings and pink coloring. However, Banteay Srei is located about 25 kilometers from the other temples in Angkor, making it less than convenient, especially on a bike or tuk tuk. Accordingly, I only recommend this temple to those with limited time if you have a car and, if you do have a car, pair it with a visit to the best restaurant, The Hut, and a visit to the floating villages.
Despite its distance from town, Banteay Srei gets a lot of visitors, mostly to the its very well preserved carvings and its pinkish facade. Its also a box tour favorite. Definitely go in the morning for the best pictures! And, while its a bit out of the way, Banteay Srei has decent facilities, including ample parking, clean WCs and a gift shop.
Phnom Bakheng – Phnom Bakheng is another popular temple on the tourist circut, this one located on top of a rather easy to hike hill. Many, many people visit Phnom Bakheng to watch the sunset from the top, which is limited to 300 people nightly. To reach Phnom Bakheng, you need to walk up a gravel road to the top of the hill, which honestly was not difficult. Alternatively, you can hire an elephant ($20 USD each way, although I would not recommend this). If you want to watch the sunset, go by 4:00 PM at the latest to ensure you get access to the top. We made it to the top and got a ticket, but we left before sunset in favor of our hotel pool. You can see the top of Angor Wat from Phnom Bakheng, and I imagine that it would make for a nice sunset, especially on a clear, non-hazy day!
Ta Keo – Ta Keo is a “mountain” temple made of sandstone – meaning its very vertical and you have to climb some of the steepest steps in the word to reach the top! I did it (in my Supergas) and it was scary!! Aside from the steps, this is one of the less popular temples in the complex (so you can get good pictures!) and Ta Keo offers beautiful views from the top! This is another non-main temple that you can visit to get good non-touristy pictures.
FOOD AND DRNIKS IN ANGKOR.
Being a city, Angkor is home to several tourist restaurants and a number of local restaurants, or roadside stands. The tourist restaurants are generally open for breakfast and/or lunch only (everyone heads back to Siem Reap for dinner) and reservations are not required. Plan to stop in one of these restaurants for lunch; everyone stressed that we should avoid the roadside stands.
There is no food or drink sold inside any of the temples. However, hawkers are posted outside of many of the temples selling drinks, souvenirs, and snacks. Bring cash – you will want a lot of water when touring the temples.
There are no restrooms in any of the temples. However, there are restrooms outside of many of the temples, especially the more popular ones, which are free to tourists. The ones I visited were western, clean and had toilet paper and soap.
WHAT TO WEAR TO ANGKOR WAT
See my post on What to Wear to Angkor Wat, coming on Tuesday!
STEAL OUR TRIP
Angkor: Temples generally open from 5:30 AM – 7:30 PM, with Angkor Wat opening at AM and Phnom Bekang open for subset. 1-day pass – US$ 37; 3-day pass – US$ 62; 7-day pass – US$ 72. Tickets are valid 10 days from purchase. Pay by cash or credit card. A photo is taken for the ticket on purchase.
Happy Angkor Tour: The tour company that we used to tour Angkor Wat and the Floating Village over 2 days. Our guide was Samath and our driver was Mr. Srom. We paid $163 total for the 2 days guided tour of Angkor and the Floating Village, pick up and drop off at our hotel, and the tour (including water and cold wash clothes after each temple). Totally worth the money!!
ON A BUDGET
Aside from the ticket price, Angkor, and the surrounding area, is definitely a budget travelers dream. Cheap food, drinks, and accomodation are readily available, as are lots of other travelers in the same situation.