Which Temples To Visit In Angkor, Cambodia?
Angkor Wat, Cambodia is the largest temple complex in the world! As grand as it is, the Angkor Wat is just one of over thousand temples. On your visit to the ancient city, its definitely worth checking out some of the other mysterious jungle and root temples too! Like the Ta Prohm temple seen in Tomb Raider. Or even the massive Preah Khan Kompong Svay? Read on to know more!
In this blog post, you’ll find everything you need to know to plan a temple run in Cambodia. We’ve put together this list of temples to visit in Angkor, including the largest temple Angkor Wat! This guide includes details about doing a tuktuk tour from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat. Find bonus tips on how much time to spend at each temple to maximise your three days in Angkor Wat and the other monuments without getting “templed out”. Also find details on Angkor Wat ticket prices.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
The Angkor Wat is undeniably the grandest monument in Cambodia and also the largest temple complex in the world! Its magnificent structure and architecture has survived centuries of invasions, rain and natural disasters. Today, it is one of the top attractions in Cambodia as well as in South East Asia! The Angkor Wat is Cambodia’s main UNESCO World Heritage site and is considered as a Wonder of the World.
When was Angkor Wat built and what was it built for?
The temple of Angkor Wat, Cambodia was built in the late 12th century as a state temple by King Suryavarman II, in honour of the Hindu God Vishnu. Despite standing through eight centuries, this prodigious structure has survived with minimal damage. And, the Cambodian government has been working relentlessly to maintain the good condition of the temple.
The temple has multiple levels of enclosures and three main towers. The west facing temple has an artificial pond on either side of its entrance, with libraries on the outer corners of the ponds. It is almost impossible to not be overwhelmed by the sheer size and beauty of the monument!
Even today, its not uncommon to find a monk sitting inside one of the temple’s many corridors. They go about their worship and rituals despite hundreds of visitors walking around the courtyards and queuing up on stairs to the enter the higher enclosures.
Time to spend: It is easy to spend hours admiring the Angkor Wat, so its best to start early in the morning. That way, you can also catch the famous Angkor Wat sunrise behind the temple. You can also witness the beautiful Angkor Wat sunset.
Tip: For the best pictures, the popular spot is the northern pond. But it can get extremely crowded at sunrise. Just after sunrise, it gets deserted within minutes and you can comfortably capture the temple in all its glory! Here you can get the reflection of the Angkor Wat in the pond.
Which are the other temples near Angkor Wat?
The grand temple of Angkor Wat is only one of the many temples in the city of Angkor near Siem Reap. It is estimated that there are over 1000 temples in the area besides the temple of Angkor Wat. However, only a few are actually famous on the tourist circuits. Most hotels and operators stick to a specific plan and offer tours covering the small circuit, big circuit and the grand circuit of the Angkor Temples. But these plans may not always work to your advantage when you are interested in spending more time at specific temples. Or even if they do, how do you know which temples you MUST visit in Cambodia?
Here’s a list that you can keep in mind while planning for your Temple Run:
1. Prasat Ta Som
The Ta Som temple is a small jungle temple, about 12 kms from Angkor Wat. It had been neglected for a long time. But in the late 90s, it was finally decided to make it safe for visitors. The entrance arch itself is quite mesmerising and is followed by a walkway into the Sanctum. Parts of the temple continue to be scattered as rubble and covered in vegetation. However, the balusters lend a reminder of the effort that went into designing each window so intricately.
Time to spend: About 30 minutes to one hour. And its worth it!
2. Prasat Preah Khan
Preah Khan means “holy sword” and it is a very mystical temple. It is characterised by the enormous tree hugging the stone walls, the moss growing on the roof and pillars, and the faded red sandstone walls inside the temple. There is also a big linga structure inside the sanctorum. The Preah Khan Kompong Svay temple was built in honour of Hindu Gods Vishnu and Shiva and later became a Buddhist shrine.
Time to spend: Spend at least an hour here.
Tip: The best way to visit Preah Khan Kompong Svay is to enter the site from one side (east or west) and walk into the temple. Walk out the other side (west or east) and have your tuktuk driver meet you there.
3. Prasat Ta Prohm
If you have watched the movie ‘Lara Croft: Tomb Raider’, you will know what we are talking about! In fact, many locals and tourists call this the Ta Prohm Tomb Raider temple! The towering fig tree growing out of the decrepit walls and the lush forests all around are enough to turn the clock backwards into a lost era. The Ta Prohm temple has remained mostly in the same state as it was discovered. There is one carving of a dinosaur in the Ta Prohm temple which has made many archaelogists very curious! This was drawn in the 12th century.
For the last couple of years, the Archaeological Survey of India has been working to restore the dilapidated parts of the Ta Prohm temple making it much safer for visitors to explore it.
Time to spend: Devote atleast two hours to explore the ruins comfortably. Ta Prohm is a sunrise temple, so it is best visited in the morning hours!
4. Neak Pean Temple
In the vicinity of the Preah Khan Temple is an artificial island created by the Khmer dynasty. Called as Neak Pean Temple (“The entwined serpents”), it includes a small Buddhist temple built within a small pond on the island. The walk from the main entrance to the small island is enjoyable, the pathway is no more than 3 feet wide with shallow waters of the lake on both sides stretching far beyond.
You might also hear some soft, traditional Khmer music being played by the survivors of land mines sitting in a little tent over the water!
Time to spend: Half hour of your time is good for the Neak Pean Temple. But skip it if you do not have enough time for more interesting temples.
5. East Mebon
The legendary East Mebon, just a couple of kilometres away, is another must-visit. It is very close to the much larger Pre Rup temple and the design is also quite similar. Built in honor of Lord Shiva, it was once surrounded by a vast expanse of water. The red sandstone temple which is set at the top-centre of the three-tiered complex is still open for worship. There is a beautiful idol of Buddha inside, with incense sticks burning gently all day long.
The East Mebon isn’t in the best condition, when compared with other temples, but its definitely worth visiting.
Time to spend: One hour.
6. The Royal City of Angkor Thom
The Angkor Thom is the last capital city built by the Khmer empire. And you should NOT miss this! The entrance to the city is a tower with the face of the guardian entities, with a moat on either side. Once past the entrance, the lush green vegetation comes into view and in the midst of all this are the Bayon, Baphoun temples and other Royal buildings.
Phnom Bakheng is a small temple located on top of a hill, just outside the city of Angkor Thom. It is believed to be older than most other Angkor temples, and is often visited for its commanding views over the entire region (from where Angkor Wat and Tonle Sap are visible), and for the sunset.
It normally takes a good twenty minutes to hike to the top of the hill (you can see some ruined temples lost in the forest while climbing up – wow!) and another twenty minutes to get through the queue, since only a restricted number of visitors are allowed to climb to the top of the temple. Since the site is open for a little longer than most other sites, you can comfortably visit Phnom Bakheng in the evening on any day. There are many bargain street-stalls to buy from, at the base of the hill.
Bayon Temple and Baphoun Temple
These are the main temples located inside Angkor Thom. The carvings of the Bayon Temple deity on the 57 stone towers are beyond marvellous, for it is very hard to believe that something so detailed has stood for nearly a millennium! Each tower has four faces, each in one direction. The temple is chaotic, charming and very mystical. There are many steep flights of stairs leading down to different corridors and chambers.
Time to spend: Its best to devote atleast two hours to exploring the Bayon Temple and the Baphuon Temple. The Bayon Temple is one of the most crowded temples after the Angkor Wat. Yet, we would not suggest that you skip this for any reason!
The Baphuon temple is just next door to the Bayon Temple. There is a pathway across an ancient pond leading to the main temple complex. It is a much taller temple with multiple levels and a steep stairway to get to the top. However, it is definitely worth climbing. Comprising three tiers (levels), the temple was built in honour of Lord Shiva, but later converted into a Buddhist shrine.
You can also check out the Phimeanakas (“celestial temple”) inside the royal palace, the Terrace of the Leper King and the Terrace of the Elephants around the Baphoun.
After visiting the Bayon temple, it is best to take a small break before going into the Baphoun, since it can get tiring. But since the Baphoun has far fewer visitors, it can be explored more comfortably.
Time to spend: It normally takes atleast two hours to explore the temples, the palace and the terraces.
7. Prasat Bantaey Srei
The legendary Banteay Srei is about 40 kilometres away from the town, through the serene countryside. The temple walls were built with red sandstone originally. Over time, the elements of nature have softened the colour to more delicate hues of amber and pink. Its intricate carvings depict many stories from the era of the Mahabharata. Just like the Bayon, it is hard to believe that the sharp designs of every carving have withstood harsh effects of wind and rain. The intricate carvings of Banteay Srei.
It is observably smaller than the other Angkor temples, but it is often praised as the “Jewel of Khmer Art” and you can see why. This temple should definitely be on your list, even though it is outside the regular Angkor circuit.
Time to spend: Spare atleast an hour to explore the temple, which can get a tad crowded sometimes. It takes about 30 mins to reach the temple from the town.
8. Prasat Beng Melea
We saved the best and most legendary temple for last! A 60 km drive in the beautiful Cambodian countryside took us to the north-eastern Prasat Beng Mealea. It was mostly inaccessible for many years, until recently when a road was laid through the cleared jungles. It has far less visitors even now, and you can admire the ruins for countless hours! The interiors of Beng Mealea have been reclaimed from man by nature.
The lush green forests, the heaps of the rubble lying all around, and the thick moss growing over the walls will take you to a whole other era. Using the wooden walkways, ducking under branches, going into dark tunnel-like corridors and exploring the ruined stone paths – this is where the Indiana Jones in you comes out to play!
Time to spend: The whole trip will easily take a half day. So its best to plan your visit to Beng Mealea on a separate day. Preferably visit in the morning half.
There is a separate ticket to enter this site, and it is not covered by the Angkor Temple Pass.
Buy tickets to Angkor Wat, Cambodia and other temples
You will need to buy an Angkor Temple Pass to visit the Angkor temples in Cambodia. One-day (USD 37), three-day (USD 62) and seven-day (USD 72) passes are available at the counter in the centre of town. We got the three day pass for USD 62 (INR 4,500).
Entry tickets to Beng Mealea are separate (USD 5).
The three day pass is valid for 10 consecutive days from the date of purchase. Out of these 10 days, you choose a maximum of any three days to visit the temples. Similarly, the seven day pass has a validity of one calendar month, out of which you can use it on any seven days, to enter the temples.
The City Ticket Counter is known to all locals and you will not have any difficulty finding it. The ticket is issued with a photo of the visitors printed on it for identification purposes (not transferrable). You can choose to pay by Visa, Mastercard, cash, etc.
Tip: If you happen to buy the Angkor Wat tickets around 5 pm, you can enter the sites free of charge for that day and the ticket validity begins only from the next morning! Please be careful with the passes. If you lose them there’s a fine of USD 100 (INR 7,500).
How to visit the Angkor Wat and other Temples in Cambodia by tuktuk
Most hotels in Siem Reap offer packages to visit the Angkor temples. The distance from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat is 5 kms. Every funky Cambodia tuktuk that you will find on the street also has day-trip itineraries for you to pick from. Predominantly the day-trips are of these types:
1. Small circuit – USD 15 (INR 1,000):
This one covers the Angkor Wat, the Angkor Thom (including Bayon, Baphuon and the terraces), the Ta Prohm, the Phnom Bakheng and the Prasat Kravan (a tiny jungle temple).
2. Big/Grand circuit – USD 25 (INR 1,600):
In addition to the temples in the small circuit, you can also visit the Preah Khan temple, Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon and the temple of Pre Rup.
3. For an additional charge, the temple of Banteay Srei can also be added to the grand circuit! Add another USD 5 for catching the sunrise at Angkor Wat. You can ask your hotel to pack you a breakfast picnic so you can eat after the sunrise at Angkor Wat.
Tip: The visit to Beng Mealea, which is about 60 km outside the Siem Reap area, can cost USD 40 (INR 2,600) – but believe us, you cannot miss it! This normally includes a visit to the Bakong Temple too.
If you have more questions, or want to explore Angkor Wat, Cambodia with us, write to us or leave a comment below!
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Shishira & Navneeth