Angkor Temples: Where to begin?!?!
March 28, 2016
Angkor Temples Archaeological Park is located about 6 km to the north,from central Siem Reap.
Before coming here I quickly looked for some information about what I was going to visit. So, where to begin with Angkor Temples?!?! The city where the temple was built, Angkor, is located in modern-day Cambodia and was once the capital of the Khmer Empire. The population might have been over 1 million people and I got surprised to find out that it had been the largest city in the world until the Industrial Revolution. There is no greater concentration of such a wonderful architecture anywhere on earth. Angkor Temples were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992.
Starting from the world’s largest religious building, Angkor Wat continuing with one of the world’s weirdest temples, Bayon and ending with the riotous jungle that surround Ta Prohm. All are global icons and have helped Cambodia to gain the status of capital Temple of Asia. In this post you will follow me on my loop exploring the most popular temples of Angkor.
I’ve been to Cambodia by myself (110 days around Southeast Asia) while my girlfriend Romina was exploring the incredible country of Japan with her dad. I chose to get around Angkor for 2 days, renting a bike for 5$AUD per day. Taking my bike into the historical park was a perfect way to discover the temples and I didn’t have to pay anything for it. Before taking the decision to hire a bike remember that you will have to cycle at least 30km per day or even more.
DAY ONE: First at all, what did I carry with me and my new toy called bike? A small backpack (15 L) with a bottle of cold water, all my personal stuff (like money, cards, wallet…) and my camera Nikon 3200. I drank lots of water while cycling. PS: try to avoid April, I went there in that month and I found not easy to ride a bike under 40°C.
I started from Siem Reap in the early morning and after 6/7 km I arrived to Angkor Archaeological Park and finally I stopped at the first temple.
Prasat Kravan: this is a small 10th-century temple consisting of five reddish brick towers on a common terrace. Reading my Angkor temples book I discovered that the temple is oriented to the East and surrounded by a small moat. Its exterior is striking for its classical lines and symmetry. The central and the south tower have superstructures which take advantage of false perspective by simple means of diminishing tiers.
After about 20 minutes spent in this temple I followed the main road to get another temple area.
Banteay Srei: It’s cut from stone of a pinkish hue and includes some of the finest stone carvings anywhere on earth. Dedicated to the Hindu god of Shiva, its architecture has made the temple extremely popular with tourists, and has led to its being widely praised as a “jewel of Khmer art”. At the time of my visit this place wasn’t too much crowded and it was easy to take some beautiful pictures.
Ta Prohm: This was the next temple in my first day exploration. Ta Prohm is a temple of towers, enclosed courtyards and narrow corridors. Unlike most Angkor temples, this one has been left pretty much in the same condition in which it was found. The photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the surrounding jungle have made it one of the most popular Angkor temples. For this reasons it was crowded, full of people from every part of the world. The hot weather was destroying me and I stopped here for 1,5 hours drinking cold water and having a light lunch with fresh fruit. This site impressed me; here the nature reclaimed the temple making it even more mystical! Ta Prohm became famous also because of Tomb Raider movie.
After this stop I’ve been to other less popular temples named Pre Rup and Mebon Oriental before stopping by to another lovely site.
Ta Som: The King dedicated the temple to his father Dharanindravarman II and the temple consists of a single shrine located on one level and surrounded by enclosure laterite walls , it was left largely un-restored, with numerous trees and other vegetation growing among the ruins. Another interesting temple cancelled from my bucket list, it was great to wander and looked at it from all different angles. I loved it! There is a nice tree growing over the eastern gate with great photo opportunities.
The day was already hot and I needed to stop few times during my tour because I had to restore my body with cold water. It was 2 o clock when I arrived to the last temple of the day.
Preah Khan: This is a genuine fusion temple, the eastern entrance is dedicated to Mahayana Buddhism and all the other cardinal directions are dedicated to Shiva. It’s one of the largest complexes at Angkor, but at the time of my visit it wasn’t crowded, so, lucky man!
My first day was over and I went back to Siam Reap after 2 hours cycling from my last stop. It was a full busy day getting around some of the most beautiful temples and exploring this amazing sites. I couldn’t stop taking pictures and admiring its beauty and art. I finished my day eating great local food in the guesthouse, I went to bed early, tired but happy.
DAY 2: My alarm woke me up at 4:30 in the morning, my goal was to watch the Sunrise at Angkor Wat, so I started cycling as fast as I could to get there early. When I arrived there it was full of tourist, it was still dark and we were all waiting for the sunrise, even if the sky was cloudy.
The sun came out and it wasn’t one of the best sunrise, luck of colours and light. Anyway, I started my visit to the world’s largest religious building and my first impression was clear: there was so much to see and to do, maybe too much! I stayed at this site for about 2 hours. It wasn’t so hard to understand why Angkor Wat is the ultimate expression of Khmer genius, it’s the heart and soul of Cambodia and for this reason it’s on their national flag too. Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple-mountain and the later gallery temple. It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology. Within a moat and an outer wall 3.6 kilometres long are three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. At the centre of the temple stands of towers. Unlike most Angkor temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west; scholars are divided as to the significance of this. I just thought one thing: Breathtaking.
The day was getting really hot and with my wonderful bike I have been to another beautiful temple.
Bayon Temple: This temple is inside Angkor Tom which was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire and it covers an area of 9 km². This temple is made of 54 Gothic towers decorated with 216 enormous smiling faces of Avalokiteshvara that show more than a passing resemblance to the great king himself. After my tour I thought that this majestic construction built more than 1000 years ago was an unbelievable feat of engineering! Read more about Bayon temple here.
As you can see in the map at the top I had also been to other temples in my loop and I finished my day after 9 hours with my bike and my camera. I spent 2 incredible and amazing days around Angkor temples. I know that it wasn’t enough but I was running out of time! The temples contained within the Angkor Park are some of the most archaeologically significant in the world. Visiting them opened to me a window into a world I couldn’t even imagine. If you are enough lucky to make a trip to Southeast Asia, please go to Siem Reap and enjoy all the temples of Angkor. It will wonderful by bike and maybe you will be impressed as much or even more than me.
How to get there, best time and cost
There are many options to get around there:
By bike: well maintained bikes can be hired through various guest houses for 5/7$AUD per day. It’s the cheapest, and for me the best, way to get around.
By motorbike: renting a motorbike is prohibited for foreign visitors in Siem Reap, though it is permitted anywhere else.
By Tuk Tuk: it can be arranged through guesthouses, offering space for one, two or three travellers. It costs around $20AUD for the main Angkor temples, and more for outlying temples. They usually speak a basic english and they will wait for you outside every temple during the tour. Add 5$AUD extra fee if you want to see sunrise at Angkor Wat.
High season runs from November to March, when the weather is usually fair. From late October to November, the country is still lush after the rainy season and there are fewer tourists.
You have to pay a ticket that costs 40$USD for 3 days entrance. The ticket booth is on the road from Siem Reap to Angkor, you will find it easily. Angkor Temples is an astonishing top destination in Cambodia and even in whole world.
- First of all getting around by bike is a great way to explore some of the most popular temples. It’s cheap, it’s easy to find a bike, the road is flat and clear and why not?! It’s a great way to work out.
- Wear comfortable shoes with good soles. Due to humid the paving at the temples is slippery.
- Don’t forget some cold water even if you will find a lot of vendors on the way and outside every temple.
- One day at Angkor? Sacrilege! Everyone should visit this place once in his lifetime because there are no words to describe the wonder that this place is.
- Avoid the hassles that are everywhere.
- Make sure you bring your camera because you can find beautiful spots in almost every step you take. Ask before taking pictures, there is a balance between being respectful and getting great pictures.
- My last tip: This is a Must-see of Cambodia. Don’t get stuck with the thing that ruins your day, life is too short to be wasted in your crap. Smile and be positive because there are so many beautiful reasons to be happy, one of those is travelling.
Author of this post: Davide
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Really helpful. I am currently planning a trip for March/April.
So are you allowed to take a bike into the temple? And did you cycle all the way from Siem Reap to the temple in the morning? That’s great advice about renting from the hostel. I think I will look into doing the same.
Absolutely, I rented a bike from Siem Reap and get in the temples area early in the morning. If a say early means…really really early and before sunrise! I think you need 45 minutes more about to get from the city to Angkor Wat, where the sunrise is stunning! Thank you so much for your comment!
I was in Angkor six years ago and I still think that is the most beautiful place that I ever meet. I love your tips, very useful. Great post!
Thanks for your comment! I spent just 2 full days around all the temples and I knew that it wasn’t enough but I was running out of time! Incredible life experience! 🙂
Great post, Cambodia is so beatiful. Angkor Wat is really a wonderful.
One of my favourite place in South East Asia…:-D thanks for your comment!!
Great post. I’m going here in November and it wouldn’t have even crossed my mind to hire a bike but I’m definitely going to cycle it now!
I think I’ll have to go for the Sunrise at Angkor Wat too.
Well Gary, hire a bike is one of the best option to explore all Angkor area! The other option is to rent a Tuk Tuk but you will spend more money and you don’t have the same “freedom” as renting a bike!
Enjoy your time over there and let us know…. 😀
Such an amazing place. Definitely on my bucket list for sure.
Can’t wait to go back there, great things to discover in every corner!! 😀