When we first traveled to Thailand in the year 2000, we met an American traveler on the train to Chang Mai. He spoke of a “mystical temple in Cambodia that was completely deserted”, And how he walked around for days exploring in solitude. That temple was Angkor Wat.
Angkor Wat’s days of solitude and mystery are long gone. When touring Angkor Wat today, you will be sharing it with thousands of other people. But that’s not to say you shouldn’t see it. Angkor Wat is still an amazing ancient city that attracts people for a reason. It is spectacular.
How to Visit in Angkor Wat
Located just 6km (3.7 miles) from Siem Reap, Angkor Wat is Cambodia’s Number 1 tourist attraction.
Where once it was abandoned and looted of precious pieces, it is now a thriving attraction. 2.6 million people visit Angkor Wat each year.
It’s difficult to escape the crowds of Angkor, so we suggest spending a few days to lessen the chaos and to be able to take your time exploring the temples.
To help you plan your trip, we are going to give you a highlight of the must see temples of Angkor Wat and some suggestions for things to do.
Best Way to Visit Angkor Wat Temples
The best way to see Angkor Wat is by hiring a private driver.
We hired a private tuk tuk which is very reasonable at $25 for the day rather than joining a tour. With a private driver we could dictate where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see.
Plus we were able to stay one step ahead of the crowds.
You can also hire a private driver in an air conditioned car for about $60 a day.
There are tour buses and hot air balloons that lift off over Angkor Wat as well.
Best Angkor Wat Tours
Angkor Wat Tour with Balloon Ride and Khmer Lunch – The best way to take in the scope of Angkor Wat is to see it from Above. This Angkor Wat day trip includes lunch, a tour of the ancient city and a tethered hot air balloon ride.
Angkor Wat Vintage Jeep Tour – Take a vintage Jeep tour in a former US Army Jeep – M151 “MUTT”. Feel as if you have stepped back in time as you explore these ancient temples with your English speaking tour guide and driver.
Private Driver with Air Conditioned Car – Visit Angkor Wat in Style with a private English speaking driver in an air-conditioned vehicle. Includes Angkor Wats most popular temples and sunset at Phnom Bakheng
Temples of Angkor Wat
There are more than one thousand temples to see at Angkor Wat and everyone has a favorite. But to help you get started, here are a few of the more famous temples of Ankor Wat that you must visit.
1. Sunset at Phnom Bakheng
One of our favourite experiences at Angkor Wat was watching the sunset from Phnom Bakheng (Bakheng Hill). It was our first view of Angkor as we went for sunset the night before our planned tour of Angkor.
Be warned, it is like Grand Central Station on Bakheng Hill, but it is worth it. Arrive early to grab your position to watch the sun go down over the temples.
It makes for incredible photo opportunities. Once the sun goes down, the hot air balloons go up!
There is a limit of 300 people for sunset, so arrive early to make sure you are one of them!
- Avoid the crowds – If you want to avoid the 300 people for sunset, you can come here for sunrise instead. You are above the complex, so you can capture a mystical view of Angkor as the morning fog burns off.
2. Reflection Pools of Angkor Wat Temple at Sunrise
Sunrise has become an extremely busy time to photograph Angkor Wat, but it is worth getting up early to see the reflections of the temples in the pond.
The Reflection pond is located in front of the main Angkor Wat Temple. You will have to get their early to save your spot, and once you have found it, don’t move!
I am talking about not even stepping away from the water’s edge or someone will lurch in front of you. It’s a dog eat dog world for photographs, and if you leave and empty spot, someone will go in front of you ruining all your hard work getting that prime location.
Gates open at 5:00 am, and I would suggest going at 4:00 am to be first in line.
Avoiding Crowds at Angkor Wat
If you don’t want to fight the crowds for sunrise and missed sunset the night before, you can always go to Bakheng Hill for sunrise.
If sunrise isn’t important to you, we suggest going into Angkor Wat from the other gate to explore as many temples as possible while the crowds huddle around the moat.
The reason you want to book more than one day at Angkor (besides the massive amount of things to see), is the time wasted for that sunrise photograph. (that is if you are like Dave and I and need that postcard-perfect shot.)
If you have a second and third day you can see a lot of temples while the rest of the crowds are watching sunrise!
On our second day, we skipped sunrise at Angkor Wat’s reflection pool and drove as far out as we could. We checked off a lot of the top temples of Angkor Wat before all the other tourists arrived.
Whenever we saw a tour bus coming our way, we hopped in the tuk tuk and drove on to the next one!
3. Climb up to the Top of Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat itself is the largest religious building in the world. It is 900 years old, built between 1110 and 1150 by King Suryavarman II.
For a structure build in the 12th century, it is very well preserved and a breathtaking sight.
Angkor Wat is the most famous image of the ancient city of the Khmer empire. Its five main towers jut into the air as high as 66 meters from its 1.6km long base.
The climb is steep and a little scary, but well worth the view. We climbed the tower at the end of the day when the crowds were less.
We found that there was a huge queue in the morning but into the afternoon it tapered off.
4. Ta Prohm
Ta Prom temple was featured in Tomb Raider and is one of the most recognizable sites of Angkor Wat.
We witnessed the strength of Mother Nature first hand as it overtook the temple complex over the centuries.
Left in its original state, vines and roots twist trough the complex breaking apart solid rock as trees rise through its roof far into the air.
5. Angkor Thom
The most impressive temple to see at Angkor for us was Angkor Tom.
Two rows of imposing statues of 54 Gods and 54 Demons line the causeway leading up to the temple.
This was the image that I saw on a travel show years earlier that enthralled me, and I couldn’t believe that I was standing right in the center of it all.
Over the years, the temple had been heavily looted and heads of the statues stolen and missing, but great efforts are being made in restoration, and some of the Demons and Gods remain intact.
6. Bayan Temple
Bayan Temple is scheduled to be restored by 2022 and it is one of the most impressive temples of the complex.
What makes it so striking are its 54 stone temples containing 216 faces of Avalokiteshvara. (The bodhisattva – enlightened being of compassion)
7. Ta Som
Ta Som is another impressive Khmer temple built by King Jayavarman VII in the 12th century.
Like Ta Phrom, it too has been overgrown with trees and it feels as if Mother Nature has swallowed it up by a large Banyan Tree.
8. Preah Khan
Preah Khan is one of the most significant temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park.
It is a linear temple complex and what I remember most was having fun ducking in and out of its corridors.
Like Ta Prohm, it too has a feeling of the jungle taking over.
9. Banteay Samre
Trying to stay ahead and away from the crowds was always our main focus. We asked our tuk tuk driver to take us off the beaten path and a visit to Banteay Samre let us explore its moat and tiered walkways free from crowds.
It’s known for its large windows and doors.
10. Banteay Srei
Further out from Banteay Samre is Banteay Srei, the Citadel of Women. This is a Hindu Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Banteay Samre is known for its magnificent stone carvings and intricate artwork of floral motifs divine carvings on the wall.
It is worth driving out of the main complex to view this compact temple made of pink limestone known as Angkor’s art gallery.
We hired a private tuk tuk to explore Angkor Wat, so this was an easy place for us to explore being able to cover a lot of distance. Banteay Sri is 20 km from Angkor Temple.
11. Terrace of the Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King
Terrace of Elephants is not only contains sculptures of elephants, you’ll see a five headed horse, Hindu dancers and buddhist warriors.
The Terrace of Elephants was built by King Jayavarman VII and was used as a platform or processions and parades.
12. Srah Srang
A lovely stop is the thousand-year-old water reservoir Srah Srang. It is also a good spot for sunrise that is a bit more tranquil than the Reflection Pool.
The temple Banteay Kdei is close by and a good place for sunrise. If you start your day here, you can catch sunrise and then head directly to Ta Phrom Temple to beat all the crowds.
13. Pre Rup
Pre Rup is a large complex that is worth climbing up to see the views. One of its draws is its large lion statues.
It hasn’t been restored and that is what makes it worth the visit. We tend to love seeing the more crumbling ruins.
What to Wear When Visiting Angkor Wat
Like most temples in Southeast Asia, Angkor Wat has a dress code and you must dress respectfully. Have your shoulders and knees covered.
We suggest lightweight clothing that is flowing and breathable.
A hat is a great idea and have good sturdy walking shoes. The temples are uneven and you will be climbing up a lot.
It was hot hot hot when we visited Angkor Wat. Make sure to cover up so you don’t get sunburn and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
Best Time to Visit Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is open year round, so you can visit it at any time, but there are better seasons than others.
The best time to visit Angkor Wat is from November to February as this is the dry season. However, it is also the high season so you are going to have the most tourists to deal with.
From May to October is the rainy season so you will be dealing with rain and mud.
April is the hottest time to visit.
If you can go on the shoulder season just before high season or just after, that will be your best chance for decent weather without the crowds.
How Long to Visit Angkor Wat
When visiting Angkor Wat, you will need to purchase the Angkor Pass. You have a choice of days to visit Angkor Wat, but we suggest three days for the best opportunities. One day feels like not quite enough.
Choosing your Angkor Wat Tickets
- one-day pass costs $37 USD
- 3 Day pass costs $62 USD
- 7-day pass costs 72 USD
Even if you have had enough after two days, it is cheaper to get the 3 day pass than purchasing two separate days.
If you want to make the most of your time, buy your pass at 5 pm so that you can go to see the sunset from Angkor Park. From 5 pm onward your ticket will be valid for the next day.
Since sunset from Phnom Bakheng is limited to 300 people, you have that evening and have it included in your day package.
But note, you will be taking a chance as only 300 people are allowed up Phnom Bakheng so go straight there once you purchase your pass.
Where to Stay in Angkor Wat
- Jaya House – Ultimate Luxury on the Siem Reap River makes for a quiet oasis from the hustle and bustle. Swimming pools, rooftop bar, spa, 6 minutes from town.
- Park Hyatt Siem Reap – This luxury hotel is close to nightlife in Siem Reap. Amenities include a pool, fitness room, free internet, fine dining.
- Angkor Elysium – Affordable hotel with a dash of luxury. Includes swimming pool, free WiFi, Free Breakfast, concierge and modern rooms with flat screen tvs.
- Seam Reap Palace – Affordable yet elegant hotel close to downtown attractions. Swimming pool, gym, free airport shuttle.
- Tara Angkor Hotel – This is a convenient location making for a great base to explore Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.
- For more Angkor Wat Hotels check rates and Availibility on Booking.com or TripAdvisor.com
How to Get to Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is located just 6 km from Siem Reap in Cambodia.
There is an international airport that you can fly into. There are regular international flights to Siem Reap from Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City and Vientiane.
You can compare flights from your city with SKYSCANNER
From Phnom Penh
To get to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh, you can take a bus or hire a private driver. It is a 4-6 hour drive and will cost approximately $75.
Bus is your cheapest option, offering economy and luxury VIP buses.
There are flights from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap once a week and you can take a ferry if you are looking for something different as well.
How to Visit Angkor Wat From Bangkok
From Bangkok, you can take a direct bus that will take you through the border without switching buses. Check with Nattakan and Giant Ibis for direct buses from Bangkok.
How to Get to Angkor Wat from Siem Reap
Angkor Wat is just six km from Siem Reap and hiring a Tuk Tuk driver is the best option to get to Angkor.
We hired a driver for the day and they generally cost between $25 – $30 per day. We hired through our hotel and it’s the best option to make sure they show up on time.
How to Get Around Angkor Wat
- As we said, hiring a tuk tuk driver is the best way to get around.
- But there are now e-bike rentals to cover more distance than a bike.
- You can also hire private drivers and vans and you can book a tour.
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