Exploring the temples of Angkor

Exploring the temples of Angkor

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The best temples at Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Book here for a highly-recommended one day tour of Angkor temples

There is no doubt that the region of Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. For more than 500 years it was the centre of the Khmer empire and still today it is the spiritual heart of Cambodia. That the national flag has the main temple Angkor Wat in its design speaks volumes.

The whole area stretches out over 400 square kilometres and has more than a thousand temples (in various states of disrepair). Shortly I’ll let you know what I think the best temples to visit around Siem Reap are. Preservation and restoration have become a priority at Angkor and it was only in 2004 that the site was removed from the ‘in danger’ section of UNESCO’s World Heritage List. But, as with many sites of this notoriety, the threat to its conservation is now coming from booming tourist numbers. There are now more than two million visitors to the Angkor site each year.

(If you’re after something a bit quieter, you should check out Beng Mealea temple.)

Angkor temples, angkor wat, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

I remember coming here in my younger backpacking days – maybe seven or eight years ago – and the tourist hub of Siem Reap, which services Angkor, was a sleepy little town. Angelina Jolie had just finished filming Tomb Raider and the bar she occasionally went to was the most exciting (and probably only decent) place to go in the evenings. Finding a good guesthouse for the night wasn’t a problem – finding any guesthouse was the challenge. But along the main roads into town you could see construction of hotels every few hundred metres. The boom was about to hit.

The biggest difference I notice on this visit, though, is at the temples. What were once undiscovered treasures have become standard stops on the tour bus circle. I remember previously going to some of the bigger sites and scrambling up steep ancient staircases to explore isolated nooks or empty crannies. Now those staircases are closed off and people queue to be allowed into the busiest parts – especially at the best temples.

Angkor temples, angkor wat, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

Angkor temples, angkor wat, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

This is not a bad thing, though. There needs to be a management plan in place to protect these ancient wonders. They should be shared with the world but done in a sustainable way that doesn’t damage the buildings that hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people spent centuries to build with such an astounding mix of grandeur and tiny intricate details.

If you only have one day to explore the Angkor site, there is a pretty standard list of temples you should see. They’re the most famous for a reason and are not worth missing. Any extra days you have can be used to explore some more outlying options.

A great way to see all of the best temples is with one of the local tour guides. They know where to go and they’ve got a wealth of information. If you’re interested, I would suggest checking out this option:

A one day tour of the Angkor temples in a small group with an expert guide

If you’re still keen to go by yourself, don’t worry. I’ve out together a bit of background information for you. Here are Angkor’s best temples.

Angkor Wat

The biggest and most spectacular of all the temples at Angkor. It’s also said to be the largest religious monument in the world. It has a moat and an outer wall that stretches for 3.6 kilometres. Within the walls there is a large area of empty space with a long path to the main temple. Along the sides of the temple are detailed bas reliefs mainly showing epic Hindu stories. You can climb to the top of the central towers and look out over the whole site from there.angkor wat, angkor temples, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

angkor wat, angkor temples, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

angkor wat, angkor temples, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

angkor wat, angkor temples, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

The Bayon

The Bayon is best known for the massive stone faces carved into the sides of its towers. Although it’s unclear exactly how many there once were, it’s estimated there were about 200 of these faces. Although not nearly as large as Angkor Wat, this temple is much more condensed and you’ll need to walk through some dark and tight passages to see it all. At time it feels like you might get lost on the lower levels before you find stairs to the top.

the bayon, angkor temples, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

the bayon, angkor temples, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

the bayon, angkor temples, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

The Baphuon

There’s no so much the need for exploring at The Baphuon as there is the need for climbing. It’s a tall temple with steep staircases on each side (although you can’t access them all). The Baphuon has been the subject of many years of restoration work but is now in a fairly good condition. From the top you get a great view over the ancient city of Angkor Thom, of which The Baphuon is a part.

the baphuon, angkor temples, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

the baphuon, angkor temples, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

the baphuon, angkor temples, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

Phimeanakas

Phimeanakas is quite close to The Baphuon and is also a part of Angkor Thom. It’s not as large as The Baphuon but has a similar design. And once again there’s a steep staircase to climb if you want to go to the top. This is a temple that can be enjoyed from the ground, though. It was built at the end of the 10th century and would once have had a tall tower at the top.

phimeanakas, angkor temples, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

phimeanakas, angkor temples, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

Thommanon

This is a small temple that you can see in about ten minutes or so. The most important features are not the overall design but the carved decorations. They are in a relatively good condition and give you a sense of how things would have looked at some of the less-preserved sites.

thommanon, angkor temples, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

Chau Say Tevoda

Right across the road from Thommanon is Chau Say Tevoda. It is a similar size and has a similar design. A lot of restoration work has gone into improving Chau Say Tevoda and it’s easy to access and doesn’t take too long to see. It’s best to consider both these temples together, to understand their position in the ancient city.

Chau Say Tevoda, angkor temples, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

Chau Say Tevoda, angkor temples, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

Ta Keo

This is one of the oldest temples at Angkor and is believed to be the first built entirely of sandstone. It’s a five-tiered pyramid with steep staircases on each side. There are no decorations, which makes it seem slightly large than it is. It would once have had a large moat around it but that no longer exists.

ta keo, angkor temples, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

ta keo, angkor temples, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm is one of the most popular temples for tourists in the Angkor region because of the atmosphere created by the trees and plants which have been left to grow in it. Unlike many of the other large sites, which have been restored, this has been largely left to show the effects of time. It was used as a set for the Tomb Raider movie and that’s only increased its popularity. There’s no climbing involved but it’s easy to get lost amongst the trees and piles of rubble.

ta phrom, angkor temples, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

ta phrom, angkor temples, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

ta phrom, angkor temples, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

Banteay Kdei

Banteay Kdei has a similar design to Ta Prohm but is smaller and is being restored to remove most of the trees and rebuild the collapsed parts of the structure. It’s easy to walk through and not lose your way – you can pretty much just go in a straight line. It gives a good sense of how these single story but complex temples were laid out.

Banteay Kdei, angkor temples, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

Banteay Kdei, angkor temples, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

Banteay Kdei, angkor temples, cambodia, siem reap, visiting angkor, best temples

If you would prefer to see the temples with a guide, I recommend this tour

Where should you stay in Siem Reap?

If you’re looking for a budget option, I would suggest the Onederz Hostel which is clean and modern.
For something affordable but comfortable, Central Privilege Hotel is a great place.
For good value luxury, you should try the Moon Residence and Spa with a pool and large rooms.
And if you want to really splurge for somewhere incredible, have a look at Phum Baitang.

UNESCO world heritage siteThis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For more info click here.
You can see all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites I’ve visited here.

43 Comments
  • Best temples to see at Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia – Time Travel … | Tour Cambodia | Mar 21, 2013 at 11:04 am

    […] posted here: Best temples to see at Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia – Time Travel … Useful […]

  • My Favorite Travel Posts of the Week: March 20, 2013 | Tripologist | Mar 21, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    […] Of all the places I’ve ever been, the temples of Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia are some of the most breathtaking. This article from Time Travel Turtle does a great job showcasing some fantastic pictures from the area along with a great description of how the temples have changed over the years: Exploring the Temples of Angkor […]

  • zoomingjapan | Mar 21, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    Wow! This was a very interesting post. Love the photos!
    I’m only used to Japanese temples. This is completely different.
    I’d love to travel there and see it with my own eyes!

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 26, 2013 at 6:08 pm

      The Cambodian temples are VERY different to the Japanese ones. They’re not nearly as well looked after but there’s something very exciting about exploring the ruins.

      • Byrnzie | Feb 8, 2015 at 6:15 am

        Michael, is it possible to visit Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm, etc, in one day? I’ll have three days there this month, and plan to see the main Angkor sites on the first day, the Rolous ruins on the second day, and Beng Mealea on the third day.

        • Michael Turtle | Feb 21, 2015 at 5:48 pm

          Hi Byrnzie – sorry for the slow reply, I’m not sure if you have been on your trip yet?
          You can definitely and very easily see all three on the same day – in fact, you can see all the ones I’ve mentioned in one day (and still have a bit of spare time, believe it or not!)
          I’m really glad to hear you’re going to check out Beng Mealea too – it was one of my favourite.
          Have a great time.

  • LandLopers Picks of the Week | Mar 24, 2013 at 3:27 am

    […] Exploring the temples of Angkor […]

  • Jennifer | Mar 25, 2013 at 6:32 am

    Did I spy a hot air balloon over the temples?

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 26, 2013 at 6:18 pm

      Good spotting! If you want to see the temples that way, you can. I didn’t look into it, though, so not sure how expensive it is.

  • Laura @Travelocafe | Mar 26, 2013 at 3:44 am

    Last year I have been in Angkor. It is truly an amazing place. Great presentation.
    Laura @Travelocafe recently posted..The Blue Microphone Mikey Digital – Our ReviewMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 26, 2013 at 6:22 pm

      Thanks! It’s hard to do the scale justice, though.

  • Charles | Apr 10, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    Very interesting article and great photographs. I also spotted the hot air balloon. Angkor Wat is simply breathtaking and there are temples literally everywhere. Get there early and see the sun rise. It’s something that you will remember for the rest of your life.

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 16, 2013 at 11:01 pm

      Everyone seems very interested in this hot air balloon! Looks like I should have found out more about it. Although I imagine it’s not a cheap ride!

  • Apol of Wanderful Together | Jun 1, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    drained my energy going around Angkor Wat… maybe because we biked to 6 temples a day before that. I found Bayon most interesting though, only amongst the temples we saw… where were you standing when you took the photo with the balloon?

    Still so much to see when we go back here! We only saw Bayon inside Angkor Thom.

    Love the blog! so neat. :))
    Apol of Wanderful Together recently posted..Stilts & Stairs: Traditional Houses in CambodiaMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jun 4, 2013 at 3:49 am

      It can be exhausting seeing all the temples, can’t it? It’s hot and there’s a fair bit of climbing – plus you have to get between them all.
      The balloon photo I took from the top of the central part of Angkor Wat.

  • Mathew Duong | Aug 24, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    Amazing photos. Angkor is the highlight in any Cambodia itinerary. Thanks for sharing your wonderful experiences with us.
    Mathew Duong recently posted..Hanoi Car HireMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Aug 27, 2013 at 6:59 pm

      I think it’s the highlight for most people going to Cambodia – and for good reason! Although there is so much else to see in the country, I always feel a bit sorry for people who fly in, see some temples, and then leave.

  • northierthanthou | Jan 5, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    These are really fantastic shots. It must have been very cool in person.

  • Chris | Jan 28, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    Nice post!
    Angkor is no doubt one of the wonders of the world.
    I actually work for an adventure travel website which connect travelers with cool things to do in Asia. If you’re back there soon, email me and we might be able to get you to try some stuff. Stuff like cycling temples in Angkor (https://www.adventurehoney.com/Experience/1-day-angkor-cycling-tour-1270) or visiting less visited, less touristy temples such as Koh Ker: (https://www.adventurehoney.com/Experience/1-day-trekking-near-siem-reap-in-koh-ker-1271)
    Happy travels!

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 28, 2014 at 5:30 pm

      Great tips – thanks! I will definitely let you know if I’m ever back and hopefully some other readers find the links useful.

  • Best temples to see at Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambo... | May 8, 2014 at 2:02 am

    […] EXPLORING THE TEMPLES OF ANGKORMichael TurtleThere is no doubt that the region of Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. For more than 500 years it was the centre of the Khmer empire and still today it is the spiritual heart of Cambodia. That the national flag has the main temple Angkor Wat in its design speaks volumes. The whole area stretches out over 400 square kilometres and has more than a thousand temples (in various states of disrepair). Shortly I’ll let you know what I think the best temples to visit around Siem Reap are. Preservation and restoration have become a priority at Angkor and it was only in 2004 that the site was removed from the ‘in danger’ section of UNESCO’s World Heritage List. But, as with many sites of this notoriety, the threat to its conservation is now coming from booming tourist numbers. There are now more than two million visitors to the Angkor site each year.(If you’re after something a bit quieter, you should check out Beng Mealea temple.)  […]

  • gabrielle | Aug 12, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    just came back sunday from a wonderful trip to all the sites you describe and discovered your blog when looking for further information for my own blog and more insight. loved your pics and text. will keep reading about your travels. thanks and good luck to you.

  • Chuck Kuhn | Oct 3, 2014 at 9:46 am

    Just got back from 6 weeks in Vietnam and Cambodia. I bought the 7 day past for Angkor Wat, and visited all the temples possible. Also the many villages out side Siem Reap. You presentation is excellent and will help me sort out ALL the temples for identication. Tks
    Chuck Kuhn recently posted..Photo A Day 2014My Profile

  • Frank | Dec 21, 2014 at 10:28 am

    Very good post and I used it for our recent trip to Angkor. Your photos are fantastic. Update: Ta Keo was undergoing massive restoration when we were there (Dec 2014) and many parts of the temple were under scaffolding. Banteay Samre doesn’t get a lot of people – I really recommend a visit. Same goes to Ta Som which was a favorite small temple. A Very detailed roundup of all the temples: http://bbqboy.net/ancient-angkor-and-the-top-10-temples-of-angkor-wat-archaeological-park/. Always interesting to compare notes with other travelers.

    What is amazing is how there is such variety. From temples covered in moss or by tree roots, to massive temple-mountains, to others that look like stone cities. Angkor is amazing and worth several visits.
    Frank (bbqboy)

  • Belen | Jan 2, 2015 at 10:55 am

    I wanted to thank you for this information. We has just one day to visit the temples, and we needed to make a selection of the most important temples to visit besides Angkor Wat (of course!). We organised ourselves to visit all these temples, and they were simply AMAZING! Obviously we were exhausted by the end of the 9 hours visit, but it was worth it… Thanks!

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 2, 2015 at 7:48 pm

      Oh, that’s fantastic to hear, Belen. I’m so glad you found the post useful – and I’m even happier that you were pleased with them all. As you saw, there are heaps of temples there and it can be hard to know the best route to explore. This one I think you get to see all the highlights (but, yeah, it is exhausting!!)

  • KateB | Feb 19, 2015 at 3:36 am

    please, please tell me more…… I am heading to Cambodia in December, so any practical Info will be well received Also , my interest is to see Prek Toal Birds Sanctuary, have you seen it ?
    many thanks KateB

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 21, 2015 at 9:10 pm

      Hi Kate – no I haven’t been to the Prek Toal Birds Sanctuary. Is there anything in particular you wanted to know about travelling in Cambodia?

  • Belinda Patel | Mar 26, 2015 at 8:02 am

    Thank you for your postings and pic! Husband and I will be in Cambodia in couple of days and we can’t wait to see the temples.

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 12, 2015 at 1:04 pm

      I hope you had a great time. The temples are so beautiful and it’s great to be able to see a range of them in one or two days. Cheers!

  • Jesselle Santos | Jun 11, 2015 at 10:30 am

    Hi! This post is so awesome. I will be in Siem Reap on July. Can you help me to manage what are the temples can be visited for 2 full days 🙂 I want to plan it strategically 🙂

    Will wait for your response. Thank you very much 🙂

    • Michael Turtle | Jun 13, 2015 at 2:10 pm

      Hi Jesselle. I would recommend using this post as a guide for one of the days. Then, with a second day, have a think about which temples you enjoyed the most and plan the day accordingly. You could rent a bike or even a driver with a car and go and see some of the lesser-known temples a bit further away. It’s probably best not to plan your second day in advance.

  • Wesley | Oct 5, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    I have been to Angkor Wat myself a few months ago, incredible spot. I absolutely love the pictures you took, Michael. Which camera did you use?

    Here is my 10 cents: http://thebucketyears.com/travel/ultimate-guide-to-angkor-wat. My personal favourites were Ta Prohm and Bayon!

    • Michael Turtle | Nov 7, 2015 at 11:39 am

      Thanks, Wesley. I use a Canon 600D which is a fairly entry level camera but does a good job.

  • Magda | Jan 25, 2016 at 5:06 am

    I’m going to Angkor for the third time next week, and I came across your blog entry when doing some research. I have to say I’m shocked by the crowds you photographed. On my both visits (2004 and 2009) the place was so different. yes, there were people there, but I never saw queues like that. I hope I will be able to skip the madness by visiting the most popular temples outside of the schedule of the tour buses

  • Siem Reap Famous Temples – i-know-all.cf | Jan 28, 2016 at 7:17 am

    […] Best temples to see at Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia – There are thousands of temples to see around Siem Reap so where should you start? Here’s my guide to some of the best temples to visit at Angkor. […]

  • Siem Reap Top Temples – i-know-all.cf | Jan 28, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    […] Best temples to see at Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia – There are thousands of temples to see around Siem Reap so where should you start? Here’s my guide to some of the best temples to visit at Angkor. […]

  • Marc Mooney | Jul 5, 2016 at 7:23 pm

    Terrific presentation and a must read for anybody planning to go there. What is the name of the smallish temple that incorporates many of the ancient Hindu themes? I can’t remember the name and I don’t see it in your photo spread.

  • Angkor by Tuktuk – Cambodia 2016 | Blogodiary | Jul 25, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    […] Very valuable information about the best temples in Angkor you can also find here. […]

  • stephanie | Nov 18, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    I loved Siem Reap. I still feels like a cute little town, even though it is touristy, i still find that you can feel the cambodian life too.
    Bayon is my fav temple!
    x

  • Gregory L Kerr | Feb 21, 2017 at 8:56 pm

    Yikes…I might have been here back when you first came to visit. Things have changed so much over the last 10 years and now I focus on exploring the smaller temps further out of town and have enjoyed my alone time among the runes on Phnom Bo. Beng Mealeia is my fav but no longer is it a quiet place to visit. The Freedom hotel is still only $15 night and The Soup Dragon has the best food.

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 2, 2017 at 2:46 pm

      Yeah, I’ve got the same attitude as you. If you focus on the smaller temples and explore some of the other parts of the region, you can still have a great experience away from the crowds – probably just like it was ten years ago. But I find Siem Reap as a city so different now. It has lost the charm of discovering something new and feels like a huge tourist metropolis.

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