Often referred to by travellers as Angkor Wat, Angkor Archeological Park is the name given to the enormous complex of temple ruins surrounding the town of Siem Reap, Cambodia. Built between the 9th and 15th centuries, Angkor was at the heart of the Khmer Kingdom, which dominated Southeast Asia for many years. Sometimes put forward as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’, this UNESCO World Heritage site covers an area of some 400 square kilometres and absolutely lives up to its reputation as an utterly unmissable and jaw-dropping sight.
How to see the temples of Angkor, Cambodia
Once you’ve got to Siem Reap, northern Cambodia, and found a hotel, guesthouse or hostel, there are a number of options for tackling the temples of Angkor, with one-day, three-day, or seven-day passes. My advice would be to take your time. There are an enormous number of temples and, while many people talk of getting ‘templed-out’ in Southeast Asia, the ones here really are worth spending some time on.
Getting around the temples of Angkor
There’s also a range of transport on offer for visiting the temples of Angkor, Cambodia: book a tour and driver, hire your own rental car, hire a tuk-tuk driver for the day or ride bicycles. I found it was good to do a combination. The temples are really spread out so, for some, hiring a bike just isn’t an option. It also gets very hot and humid so cycling every day might get exhausting. Two days I was there I hired a tuk-tuk driver and the last day I cycled. Cycling was a great experience and a good way to explore the temples at your own pace. Riding along the shaded, tree-lined pathways connecting the temples of Angkor Thom, closer to Siem Reap, was an experience in itself and, while sweaty and tiring, its well worth trying for a day.
What temples to see at Angkor
It would be impossible to go into much detail about the temples of Angkor here. There are whole books dedicated to them. Any guide or even the tuk-tuk drivers will also be able to lead you in the right direction, although do some research of your own beforehand to avoid being shortchanged in terms of what you want to see. The big three ones, that get the most press, are: Angkor Wat, created to be the embodiment of heaven on earth and is one of the largest religious buildings in the world; Ta Prohm, whose tangled mass of crumbling walls and thick, snaking tree roots are a wonder to behold; and finally the Bayon, with its enumerable serene faces looking out over the four compass points. Angkor Wat is so enormous it deserves to be seen more than once: sunrise, sunset and then a good few hours to marvel at the endless murals and climb its towers.
It’s not all about Angkor Wat
Don’t underestimate the smaller temples of the Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia. They all have something unique to offer. Some rising, as if from nowhere, hidden in amongst the jungle. Some quiet and peaceful, well away from the crowds of their more famous siblings. Some with spectacularly intricate carvings and stonework depicting religious scenes and figures, showcasing the magnificence of Khmer art. There is something for everyone: you feel your attention waning but then the next temple has something new and different to offer and conjures up thoughts of endless time and the people that built these incredible edifices and lived their lives among them.
What to do in Siem Reap, Cambodia
There is more to Siem Reap, northern Cambodia, than temples and there are many fantastic ways to enjoy your evenings and relax after a gruelling day of sightseeing, in the blazing sun. There are bustling markets, boutiques, massage parlours, fantastic restaurants and lively bars selling cheap beer. It’s the perfect place to unwind, stock up on souvenirs, and contemplate the enormity of the unique treasures that Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples have to offer.