I didn’t realize this before going to Siem Reap, but Angkor Wat is only one temple that makes up the Angkor, Siem Reap area. In actuality there are approximately 50 temples and they all have different names. Angkor Wat is the most famous which why is easy to make that mistake. Although the phrase Angkor Wat does literally mean city of temples in the native Khmer language.
I also did not realize how spread out most of these temples are. I figured like in Europe, you could visit multiple sites in a short period just by walking to each. When I googled the distance between two temples that looked pretty close before my trip, I quickly realized that driving was going to be the way to go because the short distance I perceived on the map was going to be an hour walk.
Because there are so many options of temples you can visit in the Angkor Wat area, I've put together a list of the top 10 temples you should visit during your trip. Tons of pictures included below in this post! FYI, all pictures that relate to the temples are shown just above the text!
The Banteay Srei temple is one of the furthest temples from Angkor Wat. It was our first temple visit because it is pretty far north. The lady temple as its also called is known for its pinkish color and intricate stone carving detail. Even after hundreds of years, the details remain intact after all this time because of the good quality sandstone used. The red sandstone used is actually what gives it its pinkish shade. The temple is surrounded by a moat filled with colorful waterlily flowers making an already beautiful temple more stunning.
You can really see the pinkish color in the title picture shown above!
This temple is one of the bigger temples in Angkor. It’s actually similar to Ta Prohm which is famous for how the 500 year trees have grown into the structures. You’ll find yourself walking around Preah Khan in a bit of a maze of columns, fallen rubble, ancient trees and tons of carved buddha icons. This one wasn’t high on my list before actually seeing it, but I definitely would have missed out had I stuck to prior research.
Pronounced “neak pawn”, this was a temple that I was really excited to visit after doing some research before visiting. This temple is unique in that it is located in the middle of a lake and has a long and beautiful wooden walkway leading to the actual shrine. The walkway is lined by delicate trees and water. It is truly picturesque. Neak Pean is located just next to Preah Khan temple.
Pre Rup is a great place to catch the sunset. In comparison to the more popular spot to watch the sun go down, Phnom Bakheng, this temple is slightly less crowded and doesn’t have a limit to the amount of people they allow on it. Phnom Bakheng only allows 300 visitors on top of it, so if you don’t get there early enough you could miss out on the sunset. Choose Prae Roup instead because the top of the temple sits above the trees. Get there around 4. It does fill up and getting there early allows you to grab a better vantage point. Stake out a seat as high as can be on the front south side as the sun sets to the south west side.
The most popular and most well know of the temples, Angkor Wat is the largest stone building in the world, and one of the new 7 wonders of the world. It is also the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia because its the largest religious site in the world. This is the place to catch sunrise. It had been a lifelong dream of mine to witness a sunrise here. I was praying for good weather and no heavy cloud cover. The world heard my prayers because I witnessed the most stunning sunrise I’ve ever seen over the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat. It’s an art getting the best view of Angkor Wat for Sunrise - keep an eye out for my blog post to learn how.
After the sunrise, head straight into the temple. A line started to form pretty quickly to hike up to the top. They only allow 100 people at a time so don't waste time getting there!
This was another question I had in terms of what this temple was actually called. Because of some research I thought Angkor Thom and Bayon Temple were one in the same, but it turns out that Angkor Thom is the city name while Bayon is the temple. This temple is probably the second famous after Angkor Wat of all of the temples. Bayon temple is made of the carved stone faces. Literally there are giant stone carved faces every direction you look. One of the tourist pictures to snap here is the illusion of standing nose to nose with one of the carving. There are multiple opportunities to get one of these pictures - you’ll no doubt see all of the other tourists getting this same picture.
WAT PREAH NGOK
Just a short walk from the Bayon temple, you’ll find Wat Preah Ngok. It’s a large pyramid looking temple, but a fast visit. You can climb to the top of the temple and get a great view of the surrounding area.
A second temple that is just around the corner from the Bayon temple is the Baphuon temple. These 3 temples are the only exception to the non-walkable advice I gave you above. Really all of the other temples are pretty far apart, but these three you can hit easily together. Baphuon is more a photo op, but worth seeing especially since it’s so close to the other two.
This temple will forever now be known as the tomb raider temple because Ta Prohm is where Angelina Jolie filmed part of the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider movie. It is extremely unique because it is the one temple that really feels like a jungle. Giant silk-cotton and strangler fig trees have grown in between the stones of the temple and now have become part of the temple. It is definitely a sight to see!
Honestly, Banteay Kdei was a last addition to our tour. After seeing Ta Prohm, we simply didn’t feel we had enough of the Angkor temples before heading to the airport to leave Cambodia. Our tour guide stopped by Banteay Kdei since it was just a few minutes drive from Ta Prohm. I’m so glad we did because this temple was just a bit different than the other temples. It felt more like a ruin and less giant piles of fallen ruins. It was beautiful.
These temples are definitely what made me fall in love with Cambodia. The history, the craftsmanship, the culture. It's all incredibly beautiful. Hope this guide helps you get the most out of your next trip to the beautiful Cambodia!
Yours Truly // Shannon