Exploring the temples of Angkor

The temples at Angkor are one of the largest temple complexes on earth and there’s much we still don’t know about the ancient race that built these magnificent monuments.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


One day itinerary for Angkor’s best temples

There is no doubt that the region of Angkor around Siem Reap 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 around Siem Reap and has more than a thousand temples (in various states of disrepair). It’s impossible to see everything in a short visit – but in a moment I’ll give you my guide for how to make the most of limited time.

Jump down to my one day itinerary for exploring Angkor’s temples…

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

My general thoughts

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.

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 the 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.

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

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

This is not a bad thing in itself, 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.

Visiting Angkor’s temples

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, there are a few great options here that I would recommend:


If you’re still keen to explore by yourself, don’t worry. If you can get hold of some transportation, then just follow the map I’ve put together below and you’ll be able to see the highlights. I’ve also put together a bit of background information about each of the stops for you.

Here are Angkor’s best temples on a one day itinerary:

Temple 1: 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.

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

Angkor Way 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.

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

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

Temple 2: 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.

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

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.

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

Temple 3: 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).

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

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.

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

Temple 4: 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.

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

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.

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

Temple 5: 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.

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

Temple 6: 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.

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

It’s best to consider both these temples together, to understand their position in the ancient city.

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

Temple 7: 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.

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

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.

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

Temple 8: 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.

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

Unlike many of the other large sites, which have been restored, this has been largely left to show the effects of time.

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

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.

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

Temple 9: 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.

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

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.

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

I hope you find this useful. I know it can all seem a bit overwhelming at first but it’s quite easy to explore Angkor in just one day using this itinerary.

Of course, you will get more out of it if you use a professional guide and I have some recommendations here:


I would also suggest spending some extra days seeing some of the other temples like Beng Mealea, if you have time.

Despite the issues with overcrowding that you’ll find these days, this is one of the most impressive collection of archaeological sites in the world and you should make the best of it while you’re here. Enjoy!

[needtoknow label=”Where is Angkor?” type=”fa-globe” copy=”The temples at Angkor are just outside the city of Siem Reap, about 150 kilometres east of the Thai border and 250 kilometres northwest from the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.
You can see the main temple Angkor Wat on a map here.” id=1 status=checked] [needtoknow label=”How do you get to Siem Reap” type=”fa-car” copy=”Siem Reap is very well-connected once you are in SE Asia. There are cheap flights from most of the nearby hubs. If you are already in Cambodia, then a bus may be the easiest option.
I would recommend using Baolau to compare your options and book something. It’s definitely worth having a reservation confirmed because it can get very busy!” id=2] [needtoknow label=”When is Angkor open?” type=”fa-clock-o” copy=”The main archaeological park of Angkor is technically open from 0500 – 1800 but this is mainly to allow people to come in early to see the sunrise. Most of the temples don’t open until 0730 and then close at 1730.” id=3] [needtoknow label=”How much does it cost to visit Angkor?” type=”fa-usd” copy=”As of 2017, the prices have increased – but I think it’s still very good value for what you get.
A one day pass is US$37. For a three day pass, it is US$62. And for a seven day pass, it costs US$72.
If you buy one of the multi-day passes, it doesn’t have to be used consecutively.
There is no discount for concessions but children under 12 are free.” id=4] [needtoknow label=”Are there tours to Angkor?” type=”fa-info” copy=”Yes there are! And you’ll certainly get a lot more out of your visit if you go with a guide.
To spend the whole day at the temple complex, I would recommend using this small-group tour.
If you would like to experience the sunrise, then I suggest this morning tour.
For a different perspective, you could go on this bicycle tour through Angkor.
And I would also suggest something cultural in the evening like this local food tour of Siem Reap.” id=5]


There are some absolutely beautiful places to stay in Siem Reap so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding somewhere nice.


Close to the city centre, Bokre Angkor Hostel has comfortable beds and a nice common area with a pool and terrace.


With a lovely garden and pool, The Urban is great value and has really friendly staff.


The mid-century design of Viroth’s Hotel fits well with its large pool and vertical gardens.


Although it’s slightly out of town, Zannier Hotels Phum Baitang is incredible with bungalows set amongst lush gardens (and a huge pool).


This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

48 thoughts on “Exploring the temples of Angkor”

  1. 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, 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.

        • 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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. :))

    • 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.

    • 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.

  4. 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 or visiting less visited, less touristy temples such as Koh Ker.
    Happy travels!

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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.

    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)

  8. 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!

    • 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!!)

  9. 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

  10. 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.

  11. 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 🙂

    • 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.

  12. 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?

    My personal favourites were Ta Prohm and Bayon!

  13. 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

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

    • 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.

  16. I’m still at Siem Reap as I type. Love the place and the people. I was at awe to find out that the Angkor Wat and temples are ran by a Vietnamese company and all the money after paying the local staff and maintaining the temple goes to Vietnam. $37/day per thousands of visitors per day…I just feel saddened that the corrupted government doesn’t place their people first.

    I also strongly recommend visitors stay in smaller boutique hotels, which are owned by locals.

    Another interesting fact is that Cambodia exports rice, cashew and a lot more food to Thailand and Vietnam. These are repackaged in those countries and export out to the world. I guess it’s nothing new and happens everywhere, but just sad that the province areas in Cambodia still has no power and water.

  17. So neat to know this place was sleepy not too too long ago. We visited in 2012, meaning it already took off. I wonder what it looks like these days. Different I imagine, with more development. Pinned and Tweeted.


  18. Just wanted to thank you for this article. I visited in 2004 and this brings back great memories. I didn’t have a very good camera with me, and it was in the film days, so I don’t have many pictures! Ironic as I do a fair bit of professional photography these days…

    But I also now realise how lucky I was to have gone round when I did. I spent three days exploring the temples and some of the quieter ones I had totally to myself and I don’t remember any sectioned off areas or modern-additions to cater for fat tourists like staircases! So I had that sensation of being like a proper explorer.

    In Angkor Wat itself I spent an hour chatting to some local monks (they wanted to practice their English and I decided they needed to listen to Faith No More and Nirvana on my CD Walkman…). We actually sat in an area high up in the temple looking down upon the landscape chatting away. Great times. I wonder how easy it would be to have a similar experience now? Would still go again in a heartbeat of course.

    • That sounds like quite an incredible experience. Not only would it be hard to find Angkor Wat without the crowds, I doubt there are many people who need to practice their English! I think it would be impossible to have a similar experience these days – although, you never know, because there are still quite a few temples in the broader Angkor region that aren’t that busy. But there’s no doubt there’s been a big change and the focus is now on mass tourism. I’m glad I went there before the crowds really came… but I would still like to go back again even now and continue to explore some new parts of the site.

  19. how to go from seim reap to angor wat and back to seim reap air port for back journey to bankok after a whole day tour at ankgor wat a narration is necessary

  20. HI I enjoyed your angkor wat Blog, however I felt it would be more attractive if there were the odd photo with you actually in those locations. The poictures look a little clinical, not really like the ones a traveller would take. did you plan it that way?? Its just an observation, it would be more appealing if we saw you actually in some of those locations you talk about. I hope this is ok to say. I will certainly go there though.

  21. Hi Michael,

    Very informative article. Is it possible to visit all said temples in one whole day? We only have 1 day in Siem Reap and we are planning to visit it all. Thank you.

  22. Hi Michael, Nice article. Just want to share my experience with you, Been to Angkor before mass tourists, all but too short. Never went back because of the crowds, till last Christmas ’22. An opportunity arises that I will be in the area, tourism has not recovered fully in Asia like Europe after Covid, and the Chinese were not allowed to travel. Made a quick decision to go to Angkor, it was the best decision, and hardly anyone was there (sorry for the locals whose lives now depend on tourism). Better than the first time.
    Lesson learned, make the most of little windows of opportunity in this age of mass tourism.


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