Angkor Wat is one of the top temples in Angkor Wat Archeological Park

The Top Temples Of Angkor Wat And Beyond

Angkor Archeological Park, one of the most important archeological sites in Southeast Asia, was the seat of the Khmer Kingdom in the 9th to the 15th centuries. Mostly buried in the jungle, these temples were ‘officially’ rediscovered in the 19th century. Today, many are still wrapped up in ancient tree roots, adding an enchanting charm to their spiritual and historical significance. This post covers the top temples of Angkor Wat Archeological Park, including the magnificent Temple of Angkor Wat itself, the Temple of Bayon, with its massive, serene faces in the ancient royal city of Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, which was featured in the movie Laura Croft: Tomb Raider, and more.

This spectacular park, which extends over 154 miles² (400 km²) is located in the northern province of Siem Reap.

My post on the top temples of Angkor Wat is updated as of January 2023.

The Top 3 Temples Of Angkor Wat Archeological Park

Temple of Angkor Wat

The Temple of Angkor Wat is not only the most visited temple in the Angkor Wat Archeological Park, it’s also the most visited temple in Cambodia.

It’s reportedly the world’s largest religious monument by land area, yet despite its massive size, there’s a powerful feeling of feeling of balance, peace, and serenity here. In fact, as I passed through the main gate, I could feel it’s significance in my gut and the hair on my arms unexpectedly stood up. I’ve never had that happen at a temple before.

Its grandeur will surprise you, and no photos really do it justice. It’s one of those places you really must visit in person.

Angkor Wat, built in the early 12th century as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu, later became Buddhist as religious beliefs in this area changed. This means you’ll see statues and carvings that are both Hindu and Buddhist. In the 14th century, the temple was abandoned, conquered by forces from modern day Thailand.

The five towers of this cultural wonder symbolize the peaks of Mount Meru, considered the home of the gods in Hindu mythology.

Angkor Wat is one of the top temples in Angkor Wat Archeological Park
Angkor Wat

The park opens at 5AM, so it’s very popular to visit early to see the stunning view of the temple reflected in the lake at sunrise. The Angkor Ticket Office is open from 5 AM to 5:30 PM, so if you want to arrive early, it’s best to buy your ticket the night before. Tickets for the next day start selling around 4:45 PM. You can also buy your ticket online (link above) and either print it or show it from your mobile device for entry. 3 and 7 day passes are also available for purchase.

Angkor Wat sunrise, one of the top temples in Angkor Wat Archeological Park
Visiting Angkor Wat at Sunrise

My Angkor Wat sunrise photo above may look serene, but the edge of the lake was rimmed with hundreds of others all trying to get the perfect photo. It’s actually a bit intense! Plus everyone was a bit cranky after getting up at 4 AM to get here!

Monks inside Angkor Wat,  one of the top temples in Angkor Wat Archeological Park
Angkor Wat Early Morning

It’s best to visit Angkor Wat in the afternoon, but a quick stop after sunrise allows you to see monks enjoying a few moments of early morning, pre-tourist solitude. After this, it’s best to visit nearby temples and return in the afternoon.

Angkor Wat

When you arrive in the afternoon, allow yourself plenty of time to explore the inside and the grounds outside. Expect to spend 2-4 hours here, depending on how much detail you like to see.

How To Get To Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is about 4-5 miles (6-8 km) north of central Siem Reap (where most of the hotels are). See the section below on ‘Getting Around’ for more details on transportation options.

Bayon Temple & The Royal City of Angkor Thom

Another one of the top temples in Angkor Wat Archeological Park is Bayon Temple. It’s located in the heart of ancient royal city of Angkor Thom, built by Jayavarman VII, King of the Khmer Empire.

There are actually several temples in this ancient city, but the most notable and most visited is Bayon Temple.

The Temple of Bayon was built as a Buddhist Temple in the late 12th or early 13th century. In later years, however, it became a Hindu temple, so contains statues and imagery of both religions

Bayon Temple is one of the top temples of Anchor Wat
Bayon Temple

The beauty of this temple lies in its details, like the upper towers with the massive stone faces carved into them. There are 54 towers, each designed with 4 giant, serene, but smiling faces. One for each cardinal direction. Not all remain, although there are over 200.

Some say the faces are of Jayavarman VII, a deified version of himself. Others think they are faces of Buddhist or Hindu deities (possible altered later).

Bayon Temple is one of the top temples of Anchor Wat
Bayon Temple

Some say the 54 towers represent the 54 provinces here at the time of construction, providing 54 pairs of eyes to watch outlying subjects. The 54 towers may also mirror the 54 days of the lunar calendar.

Bayon Temple

The lower levels of the temple are equally fascinating with intricately detailed scenes of Khmer life as well as many scenes of battle.

This temple is large, actually larger than the structure at Angkor Wat, so expect to spend 30 minutes to an hour exploring its detail. Its interior is like a maze, with a lot of climbing and walking on very uneven ground.

If you have time and want to explore more, there are other notable sites in Angkor Thom, including the Terrace of the Elephants, the Terrace of the Leper King, Baphuon (below), and Phimeanakas.

Baphuon Temple

How To Get To Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom is about a mile (1.7 km) north of Angkor Wat.

Ta Prohm Temple

Ta Prohm, with the massive tree roots, is another one of the must-see temples of Angkor Wat. Built as a Buddhist Temple, it was dedicated to the mother of Jayavarman VII. The crumbling ruins with tree roots growing through the Temple itself is very atmospheric.

Today, however, it’s famous from scenes in the movie Laura Croft: Tomb Raider.

Ta Prohm Is one of the top temples of Angkor Wat
Ta Prohm Temple

This is one of the few temples in this region where inscriptions provide some information on its history. Reportedly, almost 80,000 people maintained the temple. This includes officials, assistants, priests, and dancers. Property here included many tons of dishes made of gold, as well as diamonds and precious stones, silk beds, parasols, and more.

Ta Prohm is one of the top temples of Angkor Wat
Ta Prohm Temple

You can no longer climb into its galleries, but you can explore the moss covered rubble and tree roots on the grounds. Expect to spend couple of hours walking around Ta Prohm.

Ta Prohm is one of the top temples of Angkor Wat
Ta Prohm Temple

Due to its looks and fame, this site gets very busy, so its best to visit early in the morning or late afternoon.

Ta Prohm is one of the top temples of Angkor Wat
Ta Prohm Temple

How To Get To Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm is 5 miles (8.2 km) northeast of Angkor Wat and 2.7 miles (4.5 km) east of the Temple of Bayon.

Other Top Temples Of Angkor Wat Archeological Park

If you still want to explore other temples in Angkor Wat Archeological Park, the ones below also consistently rank as some of the top temples to visit in this amazing park. They don’t get the same crowds as the temples above, so great for visiting in a little peace.

I, unfortunately, did not get a chance to visit any of these temples myself. If you do, please drop a note below on your thoughts.

Banteay Kdei

The Buddhist Temple of Banteay Kdei, also built during the reign of Javarayman VII in the 12th century, is within walking distance of Ta Prohm. Similar in design to Ta Prohm, this temple is smaller and not as atmospheric.

It’s name, Banteay Kdei, means “Citadel of Chambers”, also known as “Citadel of Monks’ Cells”.

How To Get To Banteay Kdei: Banteay Kdei is about a 15 minute walk southeast of Ta Prohm.

Preah Khan

Preah Khan, also built in the 12th century, is on the site of Jayavarman VII’s victory over the invading Chams (who were from a kingdom in what is now Vietnam). Its name, Preah Khan, translates to “Sacred Sword” in honor of this victory.

This temple, dedicated to the father of Jayavarman VII, is similar to Ta Prohm, also covered in jungle vegetation.

How To Get To Preah Khan: This temple is located just northeast of Angkor Thom.

Phnom Bakheng

Phnom Bakheng is a 9th century temple that honors Shiva. As it’s located on a hilltop overlooking Angkor Wat, the draw of this temple is its sunset views with Angkor Wat in the distance.

How To Get To Phnom Bakheng: Phnom Bakheng is located less than a mile (1.3 km) north of Angkor Wat, just south of Angkor Thom.

Other Key Temples And Sites Nearby

In addition to the top temples noted in Angkor Wat Arhceolgical Park, there are several others of interest nearby.

Banteay Shrei

The Temple of Banteay Shrei, a 10th century temple devoted to the Hindu god of Shiva, is located just outside Angkor Archeological Park.

It’s best known for the exquisite carvings in the red sandstone of the temple. This red sandstone has a pink cast, so it’s also called the ‘Pink Temple’ or ‘Lady Temple’.

Banteay Shrei is one of the top temples of Angkor Wat
Banteay Shrei

The carvings are so intricate, this temple is considered a “Jewel of Khmer Art”. Some say it’s the finest stone carving in the world.

Banteay Shrei is one of the top temples of Angkor Wat
Banteay Shrei

How To Get To Banteay Shrei: Banteay Shrei is about 18 miles (30 km) northeast of Angkor Wat. If visiting here, the Land Mine Museum (below) is along the way, so it’s perfect to pair the two together.

Landmine Museum and Relief Center

Sadly, millions of landmines still lie dormant in Cambodia, laid by the Vietnamese, the Cambodian Government, and the Khmer Rouge regime. In fact, it’s one of the world’s most heavily land mind countries.

The Landmine Museum And Relief Center, started by a local who once laid landmines in the area, helps fund cleanup projects. It operates on the small entry fee from visitors.

I probably wouldn’t make the trip out here to see this on its own, but if you’re visiting Banteay Shrei above, it’s worth a stop to learn more about the history here and how Cambodia is still recovering.

How To Get To the Landmine Museum: This museum is just south of Banteay Shrei, on the way from Siem Reap.

Visit The Ancient ‘Lost City’ Of Mahendraparvata

I did not visit this site either, but for the true history lover, this is an option. The ancient city of Mahendraparvata, is a former Khmer capital. Possibly once as large as Phnom Penn is today,

This city, which dates back to the 8th and 9th centuries, was quite sophisticated. Much more sophisticated than researchers originally thought.

Laid out in a formal grid, it included temples, palaces, and a water management system, all for a sizable population. Don’t expect anything as grand as the temples in Angkor Wat Archeological Park, though. This is still under excavation.

The scope of the city, discovered buried in the jungle, was not fully understood until its hidden detials were scanned and ‘discovered’ by laser from the air.

How To Get To Mahendraparvata: Located 28 miles (45 km) northeast of Siem Reap, which is about a two hour drive. It is best to arrange a profession tour to see this city, especially due to the unexploded land mines in the area!

How To Get Around

The best way to visit the temples of Angkor Wat (and nearby) is via local tuk-tuk or rickshaw. There are several ride hailing apps in Siem Reap where you can book a tuk-tuk, rickshaw, or taxi: Grab, PassApp, Tada or WeGo Taxi. This is great as independent tuk-tuk drivers are notorious for ripping off tourists. I would only book through an app, possibly your hotel if they convince you they are honest. Some only accept cash, while others accept cards.

Renting a bicycle for the day to see several sites within the Archeological Park is also an option, depending on how much heat you can handle. Highs usually hover close to 90 F (32 C) with high humidity year round, so it’s super steamy.

I’ve read mixed information on foreigners renting motorbikes here. Several places mention that you must hold a Cambodian license to drive here. Other places say you can rent a motorbike with an International Driving Permit, which you need to get from your home country. If you do find someone to rent you a bike, make sure to examine it fully in advance, as if there are issues, or any damage, you may be held liable. It’s also very possible that police will stop and fine you for not having a Cambodian license.

Ranting a car is said to only be possible if you hire a Cambodian driver as well (with a Cambodian license). This will mean also paying for their room and board during your trip. I personally would stick to public transportation.

Staying In Siem Reap

The best place to stay when visiting the temples of Angkor Wat is Siem Reap, which is about 3 miles (5 km) south of Angkor Wat. The old town of Siem Reap is lively and welcoming, with friendly locals and a mix of French colonial and Chinese-style architecture.

There are also museums, cultural performances, many cafes and pubs, with food ranging from traditional Khmer to international, as well as many hotels and hostels to accommodate the 2-3 million tourists that arrive here annually (pre pandemic). Some of the key sites and things to do include the following.

Visit Pub Street

Pub Street is full of cafes and a lively nightlife scene with pubs open all day, until early morning. At around 7 PM the streets are blocked off to traffic, making it even more charming. Don’t miss wandering along Pub Street.

Night Market

This lively market is full of handcrafted Cambodian goods and many food venues, making exploring here a perfect evening. It’s about a 5-minute walk from Pub Street.

Aspara Dance Performence

For a more cultural experience, book an Aspara dance performance. According to Hindu mythology, Asparas were beautiful women sent from heaven to entertain the Gods and Kings

Street Food

Cambodia’s street food is not as famous at Thailand’s or Vietnam’s, but it is good. A food tour would be a great place to start to sample its variety. And if you’re really brave, you can try the deep fried spiders, crickets, and red ants!

Festivals In Siem Reap

Cambodia has the most holidays of any country in the world, but a few are noteworthy for tourists.

Water Festival, or Bon Om Touk

The most noteworthy is the annual water festival, which celebrates the reversal of the flow of water in the Tonle Sap River that occurs after monsoon season (the only river in the world known to go both ways). It is a time of thanks for the the rivers here, that offer water for farming and fishing.

This festival is usually in November and lasts 3 days, although varies annually based the lunar calendar. In 2023 it will be November 26-28th. During the day they celebrate with boat races on long boats on the river (seriously long boats).

image

At night, there are fireworks and people dance under water from sprinklers and hoses.

Visiting Angkor Wat during the Annual water festival is a perfect time to learn more about the culture here.
Water Festival Siem Reap

Khmer New Year, or Choul Chnam Thmey

Khmer New Year is also a three day event, starting with the first new moon in April. As many businesses close, however, this is not the best time to visit.

To Learn More About Cambodia

To learn more about visiting Cambodia, see the Cambodia Travel Guide. In addition to the top sites to visit, there’s information on how to get around, safety, common scams, logistics, and more.

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

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