10 Must-See Temples in Siem Reap, Cambodia
A two-day tour of the Angkor Temples.
Earlier this year, I spent over two weeks traveling through Southeast Asia. My trip started in Cambodia, and I was immediately fascinated by the history, culture and friendliness of the locals I met.
My initial interest in visiting Siem Reap stemmed from my desire to see Angkor Wat, the main temple that is said to be the largest religious monument in the world. Little did I know, Angkor Wat is one of over 1000 temples in the area. Siem Reap sits on the former Capital City of the Khmer Empire, which ruled Cambodia from the 9th to mid-15th century. At that time, Siem Reap was known as Angkor, which means "city" in Sanskrit.
The Angkor Temples are some of the most beautiful man-made structures I've ever seen. While some temples are now unfortunately no more than piles of rock, many are restored monuments that take your breath away as you walk through and imagine what life was like in Cambodia all of those years ago.
While I wish I had time to explore every temple in Angkor, two days was not enough to see them all. In this post, I'll outline my 10 must-see temples, as well as provide some tips to help you plan your own Siem Reap adventure.
Day 1 Temples
1. Angkor Wat
The most famous and largest of the Angkor Temples, Angkor Wat was the Capital Temple of the Khmer Empire. It was built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II.
We spent about 3 hours exploring Angkor Wat our first morning. We recommend arriving early and watching the sunrise over the temple. Take your time admiring the detailed carvings and Sanskrit that depict stories of Cambodia's history as well as battles between gods and demons.
After Angkor Wat, ask your Tuk Tuk driver to stop by one of the restaurants off the side of the road and order Amok. Amok is a traditional curry dish served in a coconut with rice.
2. Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm was by far my favorite Temple. It was built in the 12th century and is now completely overgrown by trees. It was also one of the filming locations of Tomb Raider.
3. Ta Keo
In 975, the construction of Ta Keo was started by Jayavarman V, whose father built Pre Rup. It's possibly the first Temple built entirely of sandstone and is worth a quick climb up the stairs. We only spent about 20 minutes there and it was worth the stop.
Thommanon has a similar asthetic to Angkor Wat, and is said to have been built by the same King. It has a single tower and the walls are covered with carvings of the female divine, know as Devatas.
5. Victory Gate
The Victory Gate isn't technically a Temple, but rather one of the five gates that allows you access to Angkor Thom, a walled city of Temples. Have your Tuk Tuk driver pull off after you cross underneath, and walk up the right side of the gate through the jungle to catch an incredible view.
6. Angkor Thom (The Bayon)
The Bayon is the center temple of Angkor Thom, built by King Jayavarman VII. It's highly decorated and in a style called baroque, which is vastly different from the classic style of Angkor Wat. The Bayon is covered in 216 similar giant faces. While not confirmed, some say that every face belongs to Jayavarman himself.
Day 2 Temples
7. Preah Khan
I fell immediately in love with this temple as I walked in and saw the rows and rows of corridors. In my opinion, Preah Khan was the most spiritual temple that we visited, and I felt like I had to whisper as I slipped through the doorways and admired the green and red tinted walls. If you only have one day to explore the Angkor Temples, I highly recommend adding this one to your list.
8. Neak Pean
This was a quick visit, but not one to miss. Neak Pean is an island temple that you access through a boardwalk over the water. It was originally built by Jayavarman VII for medical purposes because he believed that entering the pool of water would cure disease.
9. Ta Som
After eight temples, I wasn't super impressed with my first glance of Ta Som. I walked straight through the temple and out the back door, thinking this would be a pretty quick stop. As I turned around towards the back of the temple, I was met by a massive strangler fig tree that rivaled Ta Prohm's overgrown exterior.
10. Pre Rup
As Day 2 is coming to a close, ask your Tuk Tuk driver to take you to Pre Rup to watch the sunset. Stop at the stand across the street to buy a can of Angkor Beer (or your drink of choice) and start your ascent to the top. Pre Rup is believed to have been a Crematorium for the Kings and there is no inside access, but grab a spot on the side farthest from the entrance to watch the sun set over the temples.
Getting There & Where to Stay
+ Fly into Siem Reap Airport and arrange for a Tuk Tuk (SE Asia's version of a taxi) to pick you up. Most hotels and Airbnb's are happy to set this up for you, just ask ahead.
+ Siem Reap has a small downtown area that's very walkable, but you'll need transportation as you explore the Temples. We recommend renting a Tuk Tuk each day for about $15-20 USD.
+ We wanted to live like the locals in Cambodia, so we stayed in an Airbnb outside of the tourist area. Our Airbnb was closer to the Temples, but if you want to have quick access to restaurants and nightlife, I recommend staying downtown near Pub Street.
TBP Insider Information & Tips
> You’ll most likely need a travel visa to enter Cambodia. You can purchase an e-Visa to print out and place in your passport before you arrive.
> About a month before you leave, visit a travel doctor/clinic to pick up any preventative medications or vaccines.
> For iPhone users: Upon arrival, you can buy a SIM card through vodaphone or mobiphone and pop it into your iPhone (I always use the back of an earring to pop the original one out). After a simple set up, you can use data without racking up a crazy phone bill.
> People in Cambodia are extremely friendly and very patient. I recommend following their lead and being prepared to wait a bit longer when in line, at restaurants, riding in a tuk tuk, etc. Being impatient or raising your voice in any situation is looked down upon.
> Morgan and I have heard that Haven is the best restaurant in Siem Reap, but were unfortunately unable to visit ourselves. Haven is a training restaurant that helps underprivileged young adults learn the skills needed to break out of the poverty cycle. We recommend making a reservation on their website in advance.
>The cost of entering the Angkor city is $20 per day, $40 for 3 days and $60 for a week (USD).
> Monks are not supposed to come into physical contact with a woman, so be mindful of your distance when exploring the temples.
> Most places in Siem Reap will take USD, but they won’t accept any money that has a tear in it.
> The Angkor Temples are open from 5am - 6pm. Start early to avoid the heat and the crowds.
> For one day tickets, you’re allowed to enter Angkor Wat to watch the sunset the night before. This is definitely something to take advantage of if you aren’t able to explore for more than a day. You can hire a Tuk Tuk driver from the downtown area and plan to get to the ticket booth around 4-4:15. That way, you can make it to Angkor Wat to watch the sun set, which usually happens between 5:45-6pm depending on what month you visit.
> Make sure to cover up your knees and shoulders while exploring the Temples. I was once turned away from a temple for wearing tight leggings, so loose options are always best.
> Sunscreen & Bugspray!
> Be careful crossing the streets. A best practice is to find locals that are also on their way across and follow closely in their footsteps. The cars and bikes will stop as you walk across, but not while you're standing on the side waiting for them.
>At night, head to the night market for dinner and go out on Pub Street after. My favorite bar in Siem Reap is called Angkor What?.
> Treat yourself to a foot massage after a long day of walking around temples. They only cost about $4 USD.
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