Visiting the Angkor Archaeological Site, or as more people call it, Angkor Wat, is the number one thing to do for travelers in Cambodia. Over 1,000 temples and ruins that are 1,000 years old cover the forest landscape. If you only have 1 or 2 days in Siem Reap to go and visit the temples, it is tough to know what temples to dedicate your precious time to. This article covers the 5 best temples see visit at Angkor Wat.
There are numerous ways to navigate Angkor Wat. You can sign up with a tuk tuk guide and have him drive you around. You can research your own route and take bikes or a tuk tuk. Or, you could sign up with an organized tour through your hotel or another company. I hired a tuk tuk guide through my guesthouse for two days. I saw 18 temples while completing the small circuit and the grand circuit, both commercialized routes through the park.
Selecting the 5 Best Temple at Angkor Wat
While it was the easy decision, my tuk tuk tour lacked efficiency. A handful of the temples I spent precious time seeing were not that spectacular; they just happened to be on the same planned route as the main attractions. The ideal way to maximize your experience and time here would be to handpick all of the temples you absolutely need to see and then create your own route. Who has the energy and will to do that though?
Here are 5 temples you cannot miss at Angkor Wat. I have ranked them in order of my preference. There are other temples that are bigger and more well-known, perhaps even more spectacular, but I found some of the smaller and less famous ones to be more unique and fun to explore.
Bayon is the temple of faces. The upper level has several towers built around the main temple in the middle, each with four giant faces carved into the stone blocks comprising them. On the ground-level, a maze of narrow corridors and hallways with support pillars are fun to explore. All in all, Bayon had everything I was looking for: unique architecture, grand size, and not too many tourists.
Known as the Tomb Raider temple, Ta Prohm is the second most famous temple I saw on my trip. Mostly crumbled in ruins, the temple has dozens of massive trees growing up through the walls and main areas of the grounds. Surrounded by mossy, ancient walls, the interior complex is divided into several areas easy to get lost in. Ta Prohm felt the most mystical and captivating to me, mainly due to the roots and trees intertwining with the stone and the collapsed areas of the temple. Unfortunately, it is also very popular and hordes of tourists (especially huge groups of Chinese tourists), were shouting and yelling the whole time. I bet if you went to Ta Prohm at sunrise instead of Angkor Wat, which is what everyone does, it would be nearly empty.
By the far the largest and most grand temple, Angkor Wat is the main attraction in the entire park. The sheer scale of its outer wall, inner gardens, and central structure is amazing. At most times of the day, it is swarming with tourists, even at 5 AM for sunrise, which is when I visited. I didn’t put this as number one on my list because it lacks a certain mysterious feel that the other temples have. No mossy walls, less intricate carvings in the stone, nearly no loose stones or visible ruins, etc. In short, it’s gigantic but it’s not as cool or authentic feeling as other temples.
I stopped at East Mebon on my way to see the sunset at Pre Rup along the grand circuit. It definitely is not one of the temples people hype-up, but as I climbed the stairs to the huge rampart with elephants at each corner, I actually though it was cooler than a lot of the big names. Statues of elephants, singha (guardian dog/lions), and naga (7-headed serpents) are found on the outer wall. The square foundation was the largest and most solid I saw on my visit, and once inside, the temples in the middle are massive. Don’t miss this one on your visit to Angkor Wat.
If seeing the biggest, baddest temples is your priority, Phimeanakas is not for you. It’s a small, somewhat hidden temple through the trees located next to Baphuon Temple. It was also one of the few temples I was not allowed to climb on and explore. Despite these things, Phimeanakas is mystical. Entirely overgrown with moss all the way up to the top and seemingly ignored by most tourists, it has the true eerie feeling of an ancient, abandoned city.
Temples that didn’t quite make my top 5
Out of the 18 temples I visited, there were a few other ones that stood out to me that didn’t quite make my top 5:
- Baphuon Temple – this temple has the most epic path leading up to its central area. Hundreds of feet on a narrow bridge past trees and ponds take you into the grounds.
- Ta Keo Temple – Ta Keo had the steepest stairs and most layers to climb. If you want to climb to the top of a multi-layered temple using your hands and feet, be sure to stop here.
- Pre Rup Temple – Pre Rup is a common place for tourists to watch the sunset at the end of the day. The temple itself is an impressive platform with a great view of the surrounding areas. However, I didn’t understand why sunset over the forest was so popular when you could see the sunset over temples elsewhere.
Keep in mind, I only saw 18 of the hundreds of temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park. To watch short, sweet video of my time exploring the Khmer ruins, check out my video from the Angkor Wat Archaeological site here.
If you have your own favorites or more information on Angkor Wat, please feel free to comment below!
You can subscribe to my blog here and be sure to follow me on social media