Cambodia - Getting to know the Angkor Temples

Until it began to disintegrate in the late 13th century, Angkor was the largest pre-industrial city in the world, home to over a million inhabitants. Angkor Wat and its surrounding temples are just the core of the vast settlement that was capital city of the old Khmer empire from the 9th century to around the 15th. More of Angkor's ancient districts are being discovered under nearby jungle every year, as archaeology techniques grow more sophisticated. 

Cambodia Angkor Temples Travel Guide

The A-listers

  • The most famous of all the temples, Angkor Wat covers an impressive 200 hectares, and comprises courtyards, galleries, towers and a central temple surrounded by a thick retaining wall, and an imposing moat that is nearly 200 metres wide. Many visitors aim to visit at sunrise to capture one of the most iconic Angkor photos; hang around until after breakfast, and you’ll experience this breath-taking complex with far fewer crowds. 
  • Easily identified as ‘the-one-with-the-faces’, Bayon is a three-tiered pyramid temple that sits at the exact centre of Angkor Thom. Its most distinctive feature being the multitude of huge smiling faces carved into 49 towers (there were originally 54) that stare down from all angles.
  • A temple left in much the same condition as when it was found, Ta Prohm is arguably the most photogenic and atmospheric temple of the entire Angkor site. Enormous fig tree roots and gigantic creepers can be seen breaking through the walls and strangling stone carvings. Make an early start if you want your photos to be crowd free.

Escape the crowds

  • Located 25 miles east of the main group of temples, Beng Mealea is the size and scale of Angkor Wat, but utterly swallowed by the jungle, its collapsed ruins as yet un-restored. Rock-hopping is permitted in some areas, and as you clamber over piles of moss covered sandstone blocks, ducking between hanging vines, it’s easy to imagine what it must have been like for early explorers.
  • Another temple complex that was abandoned for centuries to the forests, the 10th century capital of Koh Ker is a two hour drive from Siem Reap, but well worth the journey. Densely packed with temples and shrines, the highlight is Prasat Thom, a sandstone pyramid 55 metres wide and seven tier high.
  • The Roluos group of temples date back pre-Angkor, and are thought to be the earliest permanent temples built by the Khmer people. The highlight of the group is Bakong, a gracefully restored, peaceful temple complex surrounded by a tree-lined moat. For sweeping views across the surrounding countryside, climb to the peak of the five-tier central pyramid.

Temple photography tips

Be patient: find the shot you want & wait for a gap in the crowds. Capture the temples from a different perspective: sit down, get up high… get up close and focus on the intricacy & detail of the architecture.

Don't forget to take plenty of camera film/memory cards! 

If you wish to use a video camera at the temples, you will often need to obtain a permit at the entry gates. Your guide will help you with this (cost not included).

What about those crowds?

Our experienced guides understand the importance of minimising the impact of crowds. Along with their exceptional knowledge of each temple, they know how best to avoid the bus-loads of visitors, accessing the temples via lesser-known approaches, and at the quieter times of the day. This helps us ensure that every day you spend at Angkor is second-to-none.

Angkor's 1,000 or so temples were originally dedicated to the Khmer gods, with many converted to Buddhist worship in later years. Today, the temples range from evocative piles of rubble in the middle of a paddy field, to the astounding Angkor Wat itself, which is the largest single religious monument in the world. Many of the larger temples have been beautifully restored, and are well cared for by teams of experts from around the world.

It is possible that the ruins of Angkor are more romantic today than when the great city was in its heyday. Over time, the weather has softened the sandstone blocks and carvings, which might have seemed surprisingly garish when they were freshly cut and brightly painted. The majority of the ruins are located amid forests and farmland to the north of the Tonlé Sap Lake, close to Siem Reap, and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Suggested itineraries

During any visit to the Angkor temples, we ensure your day(s) remain both flexible and personal. Having met with your guide, you will be able to discuss in detail what you are looking to achieve from your time at the temples. Whilst some wish to squeeze in as many temples as they can during their stay, others like to travel at a slower, more relaxed pace.

The following are some itineraries that our guides often recommend. They allow clients to see temples in a mostly chronological order and ensure that you will visit certain temples at the best time of day (the east facing Banteay Srei is simply stunning in the early morning light!) and from minimising the crowd numbers at the busier sites. We can also arrange itineraries that visit the further lying temples such as Koh Ker and Preak Vihear - camping can also be arranged for clients looking for a truly unique experience.

'How close to the Angkor temples can I get?'

Close enough to touch...
There are no restrictions. You are invited to walk over, through, under and amongst the majority of the temples you will visit. At certain times of the year, various temples may be behind rope, allowing essential restoration work to be carried out, but your guide will be able to minimise any impact on your visit.

300,000 labourers + 6,000 elephants

... built Angkor Wat, according to historians' estimates

Temple camping experience

Koh Ker and Beng Mealea are easily reached in a day-trip from Siem Reap, but if you require even more excitement, a night's temple camping can also be arranged, allowing you to explore the temples by torch light! Read more here...

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