In this Angkor Wat guide, I’ll give you the best itineraries for 1, 2, or 3 days so that you can have the perfect trip. Nate & I immensely enjoyed our time at Angkor Wat and I believe that is because we had a clear cut plan for the day which we asked our tuk tuk driver to follow. I wrote this Angkor Wat guide as a resource for those planning to visit this humongous temple and don’t know where to start.
What you’ll find in this Angkor Wat Guide
I’ll give you a detailed description of each temple we visited along with information on how to get there. Lastly, our Angkor Wat guide will cover practical information such as: ticket prices, dress code, what to pack, where to eat, and transportation options.
Planning your trip
I’ll be honest, I had no idea that visiting Angkor Wat would be such a surreal experience. Nothing prepares you for what you will see when you visit an ancient Cambodian temple amidst the lush forest ringing with insects.
A tilted structure made up of carved stone being crushed under the weight of gnarled roots from a thousand year old silk tree is just about the most fantastical thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
Here, reality gets blurred with the chimeric.
The most homaged photographs cannot fully capture the living beauty of Angkor Wat. Within the crevices of every block of stone, a dark history lies here.
In this Angkor Wat guide, I’ll give you the full low-down on which temples are the best to visit, tips for saving money & making the most use out of your time.
Angkor Wat is the common phrase used to refer to the entire City of Angkor, however this fallen city is actually home to over one thousand temples. Angkor Wat is by the far the most popular temple out of the bunch, however there are many more temples to visit that are equally just as beautiful.
The History of Angkor
The temples of Angkor span over four hundred acres and date all the way back to the 9th century. From the temple with the many faces (Bayan) to the temple located in the middle of a swamp (Neam Pean), the city of Angkor is filled with dozens of awe-inspiring temples that will leave you stunned
Angkor Wat Guide – Practical Information
If you are spending more than one day in Siem Reap, I highly recommend getting a 3 day pass because it’s completely worth the extra money. Not only were we able to see a large majority of the most famous temples, but we had the most memorable experience in all of Southeast Asia.
The price of admission to the City of Angkor nearly doubled in 2017. Prices are in American dollars, which is the primary currency of Cambodia. The new prices are as follows:
Angkor Wat pass information:
- 1 Day Pass: $37 per person (only valid the day of)
- 3 Day Pass: $62 per person (valid for seven days from when you bought your ticket. You can use your ticket pass to visit the temples on three separate days)
- 7 Day Pass: $72 per person (valid for one month from when you bought your ticket. You can use your ticket pass to visit the temples on seven separate days)
Angkor Enterprise Ticket office
Address: Street 60, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
Note: This ticket allows you to visit all temples of Angkor, except for Beng Mealea and Phnom Kulen. An additional fee will be charged to enter these two temples.
If you hire a tuk tuk driver, they will first drive you to the ticket office where you can purchase your ticket. No need to worry about how to get to the ticket office, as your tuk tuk driver will know exactly where to go.
When you purchase your ticket, they will take a photo of you which will be printed on your ticket. Make sure to keep your ticket within reach and in a safe place as they will ask for it at every temple entrance.
Tip: You can print out this Angkor Wat Itinerary for your tuk tuk driver so that you won’t have to remember the order of the temples you want to visit.
How to Get There
There are a couple different transportation options when it comes to visiting the temples of Angkor. We’ll review the pros and cons of each transportation option along with pricing.
Renting a bicycle from your hotel or hostel is the cheapest way to get to the city of Angkor. A bicycle rental costs $1 per day or up to $8 for a high quality mountain bike. Since it’s a long ride, I recommend investing in a comfortable bicycle.
You can hire a tuk tuk driver for a half day or full day. The price is typically $15 for a full day (near the city center) and $20 if the temple is extra far away. You can find tuk tuk drivers pretty much everywhere along the side of the road in Siem Reap. Tip: Pub Street is a great place to find a driver.
A Tuk tuk can hold up to 4 people comfortably, so you can always split the cost between friends. This is a great way to visit many different temples in one day without exhausting yourself on a bicycle. Luckily, you don’t have to worry at all about directions because your tuk tuk driver will know exactly where to take you.
If you want to be driven around with air-con, you can rent a private car for the day. A private car costs between $35-45 depending on which agency you book through. A travel agent in Siem Reap can help you schedule a pick up time and date.
Not an option but I’m listing it here in this Angkor Wat guide, because it’s important to understand why. Tourists are not allowed to rent scooters or motorbikes in Siem Reap. The cops will either confiscate your bike, pressure you for a sizable bribe, or all of the above. It’s not worth the headache and trouble, so unfortunately this is not presently a transportation option.
Note: I purposely excluded elephants from this Angkor Wat guide because the elephants are treated very poorly. For this reason, I would encourage everyone to opt for a tuk tuk instead. If you want to hang out with elephants, I recommend checking out the Cambodian Wildlife Sanctuary near Siem Reap.
There are lots of food vendors who set up shop around the temples perimeters. Freshly sliced fruit such as mango, papaya, watermelon, and pineapple typically sells for $0.50- $1.
Some other common goods include fresh coconut ($1) or a bag of chips ($1). We opted for the local food eaten by tuk tuk drivers and were happily surprised. Nathan ate a coconut broth noodle soup with slices of chicken for only $2.
Quite often, tuk tuk drivers will ask you if you want lunch and will drive you to an expensive (and poorly managed) restaurant that serves subpar food to tourists. My advice is to skip the restaurant altogether and opt for local food.
Lastly, there are plenty of vendors selling cold beverages, however the prices are usually triple what you would normally pay. A small bottle of water is $1 and a big bottle is $2.
What to Pack
- Water bottles
- Shawl (optional for women)
- Your tickets (people sometimes forget these!)
- Cash (to buy lunch)
- Comfortable shoes (lots of walking and climbing)
The dress code for women is a little bit more strict than it is for men. Women must have their shoulders and knees covered. Women wearing revealing clothing will not be allowed to enter the temple.
Nate wore shorts and a t-shirt and was fine. I wore pants and a shawl across my shoulders. The dress code is enforced throughout the temples of Angkor.
Now that we’ve covered the basics in this Angkor Wat guide, let’s move on to our exciting itineraries!
Angkor Wat Guide – 1, 2, & 3 Day Itineraries
Day 1 – Morning Sunrise at Angkor Wat
If you have only one day to spend visiting the temples, it’s prudent to start your day off as early as possible to visit the majestical Angkor Wat. Somerset Maugham wrote about his trip to Angkor Wat, that he “never seen anything more wonderful.”
I would have to agree that the City of Angkor is the best thing I’ve seen in my life.
Considered the most culturally salient temple out of the bunch, it makes sense that this would be the #1 temple you see if you’re short on time. In this Angkor Wat guide, we’ll discuss the history, our experience visiting the temples during the off-season, along with the best tips for avoiding crowds.
The History of Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is a temple festooned with ornate hand-carvings and a history so rich you could almost slice it through the air. Built in 1112, this temple is still frequented to this day by monks who carry out religious ceremonies.
What makes the temple of Angkor Wat unique are the thousands of intact asparas (female deities) hand carved into the walls. Outside the temple, a bas-relief highlighting stories from Buddhism extends for half a mile. Angkor Wat is surrounded by an impressive moat and visitors have to cross over a stone causeway to enter the temple grounds.
Our Sunrise Experience
We set our alarm clocks for 4 AM and were out of our apartment by 5 AM. Our tuk tuk driver rushed us over to Angkor Wat just in time to catch the last leg of sunrise, and it was gorgeous.
As the sun peaked over the scalloped towers, the sky shifted from a dusty blue to a chalky grey. Gradually the clouds were highlighted with tinges of pink and orange. The lighting was soft and pale against the sandstone temple which was perfect for taking pictures.
The morning breeze rolling off the Siem Reap river cooled the air and made walking around the temple a very pleasant experience.
Tips for Avoiding Crowds at Angkor Wat
I’ve included this section in my Angkor Wat guide because I know it’s a very important topic to many. From what I experienced, if you try to have a positive attitude… you’ll have a pleasant experience.
A lot of visitors grumble about the crowds, but there’s no absolute way to avoid them. In my opinion, it’s better to just make the best out of the situation and enjoy your time visiting the temple. I will however give you some tips for avoiding crowds.
- Go in the off-season – Although Cambodia is extremely hot this time of year, the crowds are halved during the month of April.
- Stand in the right spot – There are plenty of crowds gathered around the lily ponds, but this is too be expected. As long as you manage your expectations and go into the temple fully-aware that Angkor Wat will be congested, you can have a good time. To avoid the crowds, you can watch the sunrise from the Southside in which there is another lily pond with not very many people there. Since the Northside is more popular with photographers trying to get the perfect angle of the sun rising, it is packed to the brim with people and can make for a very irksome experience. However, if you’re standing on the Southside you won’t have to worry about people bumping into you or getting in the way of your shot.
Directions: After Angkor Wat, continue towards Bayon temple. Bayon is known as the temple of faces for good measure, almost every piece of stone covering the temple is decorated with hand carved visages with a tranquil smile.
Just a quick tuk tuk ride away from the popular Angkor Wat, is the stunning Bayon temple. Located in Angkor Thom, Bayon is one of my favorite temples out of the bunch. Known as the temple of faces, almost every piece of stone covering the temple is decorated with hand-carved visage with a tranquil smile. These poised and stoical faces are located in all directions and radiate a mysterious glow. To this day, 200 faces have endured the collapse of towers.
Where are all the buddha heads?
These faces stand alone as the sole witnesses, and are testament of the horrors endured by the Khmer people. In the 1970’s, the Khmer Rouge pillaged the city of Angkor and decapitated almost every Buddha head in all of the temples.
Since the tranquil faces are are not the face of Buddha, but rather of a bodhisattva named Avalokiteśvara, they remain unscathed. The sole Buddha statue that was once housed in the temple of Bayon was destroyed centuries prior by the Hindu monarch Jayavarman VIII.
Bayon is “as but a muddle of stones, a sort of moving chaos assaulting the sky.” These are the words of Maurice Glaize, a scholar of Angkorian architecture.
As soon as I stepped foot inside this temple, my senses were overwhelmed by the height and grandeur of the towers depicting hand-carved faces. The space between the various towers is tight, and it felt as if I were walking through a maze of observant eyes and tight-lipped mouths.
As Nate & I continued towards the outer wall, we noticed a stone wall covered in bas reliefs. These carvings depicted the routine life of Khmer people as well as historical events. Large fish swimming in a river, women cooking in open fires, men carrying spears, Chinese merchants, and elephants. The preservation was so intact, they appeared as though they had been carved yesterday.
The grand baroque style of architecture used to craft Bayon makes it stand out as a Khmer treasure that has luckily been restored back to its former eminence. A definite must-see if you visit the temples of Angkor!
Short Circuit – Baphoun, The Terrace of the Leper King, The Terrace of the Elephants, The Twelve Prasats
I’ve included the short circuit in this Angkor Wat guide because it’s a great trail. Granted that you have 2-3 hours remaining, you can easily tack this onto the end of your day. If you continue along the short circuit, you can end your day with a bang by visiting a cluster of temples.
Short circuit Trail
Along a wooded area, our tuk tuk driver dropped us off at a dirt path. We followed this path which winded its way from one temple to the next. I won’t go into full detail about each temple, but I highly recommend checking this out if you have time to spare.
My favorite part of the short circuit was the The Terrace of the Leper King. This shrine featured a maze of walls seven meters high covered with hand-carved images of celestial nymphs known as Apsaras. This route makes for a nice little stroll through nature and there are usually not too many visitors around.
Day 2 – Infamous Tomb Raider Temple
Known as “the jewel of Khmer art,” Banteay Srei is praised for its miniature architecture. This uniquely crafted temple is located 16 miles away from the other grouping of Angkor temples. Banteay Srei is a very beautiful temple located in the forest along the river. The overall construction and theme was devised not my monarchs, but by a ayurvedic Doctor and astronomer named Yajnavaraha.
History of Banteay Srei
Built in 967 CE, Banteay Srei is dedicated to Shiva (The Supreme Being in the Hindu religion). It wasn’t until 1914, until the temple was rediscovered. A French art thief named André Malraux tried to leave Cambodia with four Khmer hand-carvings from the Banteay Srei temple, but was arrested.
Even up to this day, there has been much looting at Banteay Sreiso so many of the original free-standing figurines of Shiva have been sold in the black market.
As soon as I entered Banteay Srei I have very impressed by the beauty of the Khmer architecture. The shrines of Banteay Srei are diminutive compared to the vastness of Angkor Wat. However, what it lacks in size it makes up for in detail.
Red sandstone relief carvings can be found on every lintel and pediment (horizontal beam and triangular arch over a doorway). These intricately carved stones depict images of Shiva and dancing female deities known as devatas.
Although partially roped off for conservation efforts, I was able to see every carving at Banteay Srei in very close range. Stone doorways without attached walls or ceilings lay strewn all around me like a forgotten maze.
Optional boat ride
Past the temple, there is a narrow waterway where you can pay a fisherman a small fee for a boat ride ($5 pp). I really enjoyed strolling down dirt pathways through ancient ruins and being surrounded by nature the entire time.
It costs about $20 per day for a tuk tuk to take you to this temple and back since it is located far away from Siem Reap. For a half day adventure, I grouped Banteay Srei and Ta Prohm
This Angkor Wat guide wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t include the amazing Ta Prohm on this scrawling list. Luckily, it just happens to be my favorite!
It’s not hard to see why Ta Prohm is the most favored out of all the temples of Angkor. One glimpse at its overgrown jungle tapestry and shockingly exquisite trees that seem to overpower the temple with their roots, and I instantly fell in love.
Fun Fact: Ta Prohm became infamous after its appearance in the Tomb Raider movie featuring Angelina Jolie.
History of Ta Prohm
Once a Mahayana Buddhist Monastery, this temple is especially salient because of its photogenic qualities. The silk cotton trees seem to defy physics as they delicately maneuver their arms between stones and yet everything remains standing centuries later.
Nate & I sat on a bench staring at one fascinating tree in particular that reached into the sky with long tendrils with its base completely interwoven into the temple facade. Tuberous roots stretched throughout the dirt crawling in every direction as if they were trying to escape.
We spent a couple hours wondering around admiring the relationship between stone and plant.
Our admiration grew continuously as every tree we discovered entwined with the temple seemed to grow bigger and more precariously positioned. The temple was completely at the mercy of the tree’s balance!
By far, Ta Prohm is my favorite temple out of all the temples we visited. I really enjoyed taking photos enveloped within the trees gargantuan roots.
You can start this itinerary at the comfortable time of 8 AM (or 7 AM if you’re an early bird and want to avoid the heat). We ended up finishing around 2pm in the afternoon. Since it was a half day, it only cost us only $15 for the private tuk tuk ride.
Day 3 – Temples of Angkor Off the Beaten Track
Hurray! An Angkor Wat guide that doesn’t just stop at Angkor Wat. Oh don’t you worry, there’s a lot more to see!
If you have more than one day to spend exploring the temples of Angkor, I recommend visiting five temples on your last day. Although I’m not usually one to advocate over exerting yourself during a trip, visiting the City of Angkor is definitely the exception to this rule.
Once you visit this majestic land of ancient temples, you’ll never want to leave. This itinerary is known as “The Grand Circuit” and rightly so, as it’s quite the trek! As these seldom visited temples are often overlooked by visitors, I’m happy to include them in this Angkor Wat guide. Enjoy!
Pre Rup was my introductory to the temples of Angkor. It was our first stop for the day and Nate & I were really excited to finally see an ancient Cambodian temple. Unlike its companions, Pre Rup is actually a Hindu temple and was built in 961 by the Khmer King Rajendravarman.
Nate standing in front of a sandstone staircase at the base of Pre Rup
I was greeted by an interesting entrance made up of laterite brick stones that lead me down a plank of wood and through a tiny doorway.
As I stepped down, I was confronted by the jaw dropping beauty of the Pre Rup. I cranked my neck up to look up and shielded my eyes from the sun.
Hundreds of red and dirt laden steps led up to a raised platform which housed three pyramid shaped towers. Including the floor and walls, the entire temple was constructed using red sandstone and bricks. The rich color still remains vibrant to this day and is best viewed in the late afternoon when the sun highlights the stones.
I climbed the stairs sideways (as they are very steep) and explored the top platform. Once I reached the top, I could see that the temple was surrounded by lush vegetation and there were even water buffalos grazing nearby.
I had a lot of fun climbing the steps and entering the passageways that are located all throughout his temple. There are no gates or railings atop the raised platform which gave this temple some extra edge. If you happen to take the wrong step, you can fall several meters down. I appreciate the authenticity even if it adds an extra layer of peril.
East Mebon is another magical looking Hindu temple in the city of Angkor. Similar to Pre Rup, East Mebon is made up of red sandstone and features three towers atop a raised platform. At sundown, both tamil style temples have a rufous glow that is breathtaking to look at.
One differentiator, is that East Mebon is surrounded by guardian Elephant statues. Lions statues also guard the entrances to the steps which lead up to the giant pyramid like structures ascending into the sky.
It’s hard to fathom how men and women placed each stone in its place without a crane or modern technology. Slaves and elephants toiled over this world wonder, and their perspired ichor can be felt all throughout the temple grounds.
East Mebon is not very big in size so Nate and I were able to walk around the entire monument. There are many beautiful hand-carvings all around the temple depicting the image of Indra on Airavata. Airavata is a white elephant who carried the Hindu God Indra on his back.
I really loved the ornate staircases leading up to the towers. Although difficult to climb, they were worth the amount of sweat and sunburns we acquired in order to be rewarded by such fascinating views. Lush greenery surrounded the entire complex and we spent some time admiring nature from atop the temple.
I really loved the stucco holes that decorated each and ever brick and added a fascinating texture to the facade. Saturated with a mysterious air, East Mebon is a lovely sight to behold from the top platform looking down at the main gate and central tower.
Although small in size, this temple is renowned for its ornate gopuram which are towering entrances entwined with overgrown strangler fig trees.
As soon as I approached this temple, I became giddy with excitement because the stone entrance containing a serene Buddha face was so beautiful. I entered through the stone corridor and out the other side which unfolded into a long clay dirt path flanked by banyan trees.
Buddhist vs. Hindu architecture
The dirt path lead to stone steps leading to more stone entrances that looked similar to houses without rooftops. On this grand circuit, this is the first Buddhist temple we saw for the day and the distinction was clear. The architectural style and feel of the temples were completely disparate.
At Pre Rup and East Mebon, I felt as though I were transported back to the charming temples of Delhi India. At Ta Som, it finally felt like a traditional Khmer style temple and my expectations were full-filled twofold.
Ta Som is partially restored, but a fair amount of laterite stones remain piled up inside the temple in large mounds. In the late 1990s, the World Monuments Fund dedicated their time to restoring the temple so it could be safer for tourists to walk through.
Entering the temple, I couldn’t help but feel apprehensive. I stared up at the parlous state of the corbeled ceiling made up of stone cinderblocks. The rays of sunshine bolted through the gaps and missing pieces.
Surrounded by four stone walls, the single shrine sits in the middle of rubble. Nate & I enjoyed the placid atmosphere and fascinating hand carvings all throughout the temple grounds. Our favorite part was walking towards the back gopuram entrance which had a massive tree tangled with the stone doorway.
Neak Pean, which translates into “entwined serpents,” has the most unique entrance in all of Angkor Wat. When we first stepped out of our tuk tuk, we were greeted by a picturesque marshland. Leafless trees jetted out of the water and birds chirped.
We walked down a beautiful wooden plank surrounded by wildlife and were in complete awe of our surroundings.
The sight is made even more magical because there are were monks visiting while we were there. Their bright orange robes contrasted against the green swamp and they smiled as they passed us.
The History of Neak Pean
Once you pass the marshland, there is a small sanctuary built in the middle of an artificial island surrounded by another body of water. The reflection of the temple and the clouds against the green water adds to the tranquility.
Built during the 12th century, this unusual temple is thought to represent Anavatapta which is a fabled Himalayan lake that houses an enlightened dragon.
The remedial water is suppose to be able to cure any illness. Sculptures of snakes are present all throughout the temple which verify that the hypothesis is most certainly accurate.
There is also a Balaha horse floating inside the pond next to the shrine. All in all, this temple was one of my favorites mainly because of the walkway up to the shrine.
It is very different than the rest of the temples of Angkor so it ascended high onto my list. Lots of beautiful views all around as we were surrounded by nature. This temple is very small and can be visited under thirty minutes.
Nate & I were lucky enough to view Preah Khan at sunset which added to the already charming atmosphere. Since we arrived quite around 5:30 PM, we were the very last visitors to enter the temple before it was closed. As we walked down a dirt path surrounded by trees, I could hear monks chanting in the distance. The sun was descending and the red tinge of the light casted an orange glow behind the temple.
Preah Khan is a fallen city. Once a bustling Buddhist University with over 100,000 servants, Preah Khan has been left in ruins. Dust covered stones lay strewn all over the temple grounds. Instead of being unsatisfied with the dilapidated condition of the temple, we were in complete awe of its sheer beauty.
What is fascinating are the doorways and partial ceilings that remain standing to this day. How they are able to levitate in such a ruined condition is unfathomable. Especially if you consider their weight, it makes the entire project and original undertaking a very hard to believe process.
The perfect sunset
Green vines peaked through the crevices illuminated by the mandarine glow of the sun and sparrows cawed. I could hear the birds fluttering through the temples, but I never saw them.
At this point, we were the only people walking around the temple. We felt as though we were walking amongst specters. The light darkened and the stones were shadowed in a thick gloom.
We walked from room to room getting lost in the labyrinth of corridors and doorways that led into a thicket of overgrown brush.
At one point, we stopped for a breath and looked up only to see a towering Silk Cotton tree growing on top of the temple. Its massive gnarled roots were steeped into the stones, yet each miraculously remained in place.
As we exited the temple, we spent a good amount of time admiring the balustrade that lead over the moat to a dirt road. The bridge was flanked by dozens of male figurines which appeared to be holding up the crossway with their hands.
These statues are actually Asuras which are a type of Hindu demigod. The majority of the Asuras statues at Angkor do not have heads as they have been decapitated by looters. In addition to this loss, over one thousand images of Buddhas were removed after Jayavarman VII passed away. Hindu deities were outfitted into the crevices and remain visible to this day.
Nate & I took a couple selfies in-front of the Asuras statues that still had their heads, and then took off in our tuk tuk back to our hotel for some iced tea and a long awaited nap.
You can start this itinerary at an unusual time in the middle of the afternoon if you want to avoid the crowds. For example, we started our trip at 12 PM and we were back by 6:30 PM.
Note: Your tuk tuk driver will drop you off at the entrance of Preah Kahn and then meet you on the other side (i.e. the exit).
Watch our Angkor Wat Guide video
In this Angkor Wat Guide video, we take you along for the journey as we visit the temples of Angkor. Nate & I actually filmed this on my birthday so it was an extra special day for me.
Temples visited in this vlog include Pre Rup, East Mebon, Ta Som, Neak Pean, and Preah Khan.
Can’t view our Angkor Wat Guide video? Click here to view on Youtube.
Useful Articles & Resources
Along with our Angkor Wat guide, we’ve also published other Cambodia articles that you might find helpful for your upcoming trip.
- Read our Guide to Cambodia
- Read our Guide to the Cambodian islands: Koh Rong Samloem
- Read our article about Living in Kampot Cambodia
- Read Cambodia Cost of Living: It’s Not As Cheap As You Think
I hope you enjoyed our Angkor Wat guide and found it useful when planning your visit to Siem Reap. We created this comprehensive Angkor Wat guide because we felt there wasn’t enough information out there regarding trip planning. Hopefully, our tips and advice will make your trip to the city of Angkor a pleasant experience.
If you have any questions or comments about our Angkor Wat guide, feel free to reach out to us. Lastly, if you enjoyed our Angkor Wat guide, and would like to find out more helpful tips for an upcoming Cambodia trip, head on over to our Youtube channel.
What ‘s your favorite temple at Angkor? Leave a comment below, we’d love to hear what you have to say!