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Angkor Archaeological Park
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrAngkor is Southeast Asia’s premier archaeological site, dating back from the 13th century and brimming with ancient Buddhist temple ruins which number in the hundreds, and are spread over a 1000 square kilometre area. This was the ancient capital city of the Khmer Empire and, at its most prosperous peak, was home to approximately 0.1% of the world’s population. Angkor was an ancient metropolis of colossal proportions, and even though inhabitants have now dwindled to the hundreds (mostly farmers), the sheer size and distance between major temples makes the area as impressive as ever.
Nowadays, Angkor is a hub of tourist frenzy, hosting an estimated three million visitors a year. Angkor Wat is the main, largest and most famous temple; the one everyone comes to see. Yet within just a few hours of landing in Siem Reap, the closest tourist town to the ruins, one quickly understands just how many temples stand here today. Not only are there hundreds upon hundreds of temples in different state of disrepair, but more are still being discovered every year.
How to best plan your visitA word of caution: a visit to Angkor Wat and its temply neighbours must be approached with an almost military-style precision. It is easy to get carried away with sightseeing excitement here, yet it is also very easy to get completely temple-ed out after just two days. Moreover, this is one of the most visited sites in all of South-East Asia; not only will you have to contend with major decision making of your own (one could not possibly see it all!), but you'll also have to deal with excessive crowds, anywhere and at any time.
The reward for taking on such a massive task will be a priceless experience in one of the world's most magnificent places.
Do dress appropriately, no matter how hot it is. These are religious sites, revered by locals, so a minimum of decorum (long pants/skirts and covered shoulders) is a must.
If you are like 99% of visitors, you should be more than satisfied with spending two full days of temple sightseeing. Anything more than that, and Angkor runs the risk of seeming a little repetitive. Only archaeology buffs and historians tend to stretch out their templeathon for a longer period of time.
Most Renowned Temples
Angkor WatAngkor Wat: the main temple and highlight of the park, for most people. This is the largest and most stupendous temple, set in the heart of a forest clearing, surrounded by a moat and boasting a scenic Western perspective. Three hours are usually enough for most visitors, as both crowds and heat can get a little much. The idea is either to do this first, or leave it ‘till last. But perhaps it matters not, as Angkor Wat is incredibly impressive no matter how many other temples one has seen.
Angkor ThomAngkor Tom: this complex of distinctive temples is just down the road from Angkor Wat and, collectively, requires a lot more time to explore at length. This complex is newer than Angkor Wat and became the capital city after the Khmers kicked out the Vietnamese invaders. The entrance drive, with its long rows of statues and impressively carved rock-entrance, is an absolute splendour. Within the complex, you’ll find the revered Bayon Temple, with striking bas reliefs depicting gods, goddesses and mystical figures. The Bayon style architecture is quite different to that used in Angkor Wat and is equally outstanding. There are at least a dozen temples (some of them rubble heaps) to explore within the Angkor Tom complex.
Combining these two temple complexes in a single, long day of sightseeing is the most popular option. While many people choose to come back into Siem Reap town for a relaxing lunch and maybe even a power-nap in between, there are many others who stop by one of the many food stands plying the route between the two temples, and take a long rest there instead.
Ta ProhmTa Prohm: Cambodia’s Tomb Raider Temple, depicted and made famous by the Angelina Jolie action film, is the most visited temple in Angkor, second only to Angkor Wat. The exceptional state of ruin of Ta Prohm, with its tree-root encrusted temple walls, makes for a most iconic photo op. One should not need to spend more than two hours here, as the temple is outlandishly beautiful but quite small in size. Ta Prohm is located just east of Angkor Tom and is usually regarded as its continuation and considered a single attraction.
Banteay SreiBanteay Srei: These are more commonly known as the ‘outer temples’ and located about an hour’s drive north of Siem Reap. On the way, stop at the Cambodian Landmine Museum for an incredibly touching history fix. Once at Banteay Srei, you’ll notice a most unusual quietness and relaxed vibe. Even though these temples are incredibly beautiful, there are many visitors (mostly on organised tour groups) who do not make the pilgrimage here. This is what makes a visit to Banteay Srei arguably the most relaxing of all at Angkor. The complex is the best organised of all, with detailed tourist info centre, clean toilettes, cafes, restaurants and even shaded seating spots.
Banteay Srei is at least two centuries older than Angkor Wat, surrounded by a moat and set amidst splendid natural surroundings. A visit here usually takes a little longer, as not only are there striking temples to admire, but also walking tracks in which to indulge in a leisurely stroll. The temples were constructed of red sandstone, which was particularly apt for carvings and bas-relief creations, many of which are very well visible still. The main temple is much smaller, of course, than Angkor Wat, yet if anything its diminutive size can be an asset. Taking sight of the entire complex, from afar, is simply amazing.
A trip to Banteay Srei ought to be the most relaxing half-day trip you’ll probably make in Siem Reap, and even more enjoyable if you combine it with a visit to Ta Prohm on the way back to Siem Reap, leaving the two larger ‘Angkors’ (Wat and Tom) as a day trip of their own.
Need more? Then get a hold of the ‘Siem Reap Angkor Visitor’s Guide’, which is printed and available free of charge from all hotels, hostels and guesthouses.
Banteay SamreThis mini-Angkor Wat is an absolutely delightful temple to visit if you have some more time up your sleeve. It shares the same age and architectural style of its much more popular cousin, yet due to its distance from Siem Reap receives far fewer visitors, which can make a visit incredibly enjoyable. Recently restored, the bas-reliefs and carvings are in wonderful condition and the central tower, although not as imposing as Angkor Wat's, is just as impressive. The red sandstone blocks used in the construction make this a striking site, especially at sunset. You'll find Banteay Samre about 30kms north-east of Siem Reap.
Pre RupAnother of Angkor's superlative sunset spots, this brick temple is just 5km from Banteay Samre and well worth checking out on a combined visit. This temple boasts a collection of pyramid like towers, which can be climbed and offer amazing views of surrounding landscapes. Pre Rup pre-dates Angkor Wat by at least two centuries and is not nearly as well preserved, but it is still immensely beautiful and the fact that one can climb to the very top makes it quite special. And yes, quite popular too.
Balloon ridesHot air balloon rides are advertised all over town, although do note that many fail to mention the fact that balloons do not fly over any of the Angkor temples (they are not allowed), but concentrate their ride on surrounding countryside. Although this is a beautiful attraction indeed, that minor omission of info leaves many to feel disappointed by the ride.
If you do want to do something unique, then head to the tethered hot air balloon station (just one kilometre west of Angkor Wat and hop on a German-made balloon, which goes up over 100m, is tied to the ground and grants spectacular views of the countryside AND Angkor Wat, albeit from a relative distance. Nevertheless, make this your first ever view of Angkor Wat and it is bound to blow you away. A tuk-tuk ride from town and back (plus waiting time) costs about $ 5.00 USD and the balloon ride is $ 18 USD , per person, for a 10 minute ride. Spots can’t be pre-booked and rides go up continuously all day long. To get here, simply ask any tuk-tuk driver, they’re all in the know!
TicketsThe Angkor Pass is an all encompassing ticket which allows you entry into all of Angkor’s temples. The ticket booth office is located just a kilometre before Angkor Wat and you’ll be required to buy the ticket just before your first temple visit.
Ticket prices are as follows:
1 day- $ 20 USD
3 days- $ 40 USD (the most popular option)
7 days- $ 60 USD
Please do note that multi-day tickets denote consecutive days, not days of visits, therefore a 7-day ticket will expire on the 7th day after purchase, no matter how many days you have spent temple seeing.
The tickets are non-refundable and non-transferable and, when you pay, do make sure you have US currency on you or you’ll be charged ridiculously high exchange rates for either local currency, or any other. A photo of you will be taken for the multi-day pass and a $ 100 USD fine will be charged should you be found without a ticket. Checks are numerous throughout the complex.
Purchasing tickets is a time consuming exercise and, because those sold after 5.30pm are validated the next day, you could pop over by tuk-tuk one later afternoon and purchase your ticket for the next day. This is a popular option for those short on time and with only a single day to sightsee.
TransportThere are various ways to get out and about and discover the treasures of Angkor.
By tuk-tuk- the easiest to organise and cheapest way to get around is by tuk-tuk. You’ll see hundreds meandering about Siem Reap town and you’ll no doubt be approached by hundreds more just as soon as you step foot in the tourist centre. Hire a driver for a whole day and you’ll have him at your disposal for a whole day. Many also double as ‘guides’, so pick one who speaks English well and you’ll get lots of info as well as convenient transportation. Negotiate and aim to pay about $ 15 USD a day and don’t bother booking one until you arrive.
By private car- Siem Reap is the land of air-conditioned Toyota Camrys and mini-vans, and this is certainly a much more comfortable way to go, although a day out will cost you about twice as much as by tuk-tuk. Much like the moto riders, drivers also double as guides. Choose to have a fully guided tour (about $ 50 USD a day), where the guide will come into the temples with you and show you around, or choose to simply pay for a car and driver, who will escort you from your desired temples but is not required to provide you with much info. This way you’ll spend about $ 35 USD a day.
By bicycle- A popular option among the young and fit, this would require you to rent a bicycle for $ 5.00 USD a day and use your pedal power to get you around. This is a fun but very hard slog, as distances are considerable and heat quite tiring.
Best time to visitThe area around Siem Reap and Angkor can get brutally hot and dry in summertime and this, coupled with widespread crop burning, can make the months of April, May and June utterly unbearable. From July, the torrential rains will start, which are not expected to ease until October and ought to make a walk around centuries-old cobble stones about as safe as riding a scooter in flip-flops.
The best time to visit Siem Reap and all the Angkor Temples? Between November and March!
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Author: Laura Pattara. Last updated: Apr 04, 2015