Visiting this famous temple complex can be really overwhelming if you’re not sure what to expect before going! Use this little Angkor Wat guide to get a quick rundown on its history and layout.
One of my favorite travel memories is visiting Angkor Wat (or should I say Angkor, as Angkor Wat is only one part of the whole park). Even though I was running on four hours of sleep and intense heat exhaustion, I was still conscious enough to be amazed at all I saw.
I had a few specific things I wanted to do (Angkor Wat at sunrise, smiling Buddha faces in Bayon, tree roots in Ta Prohm). However, I really didn’t know that much about this former Khmer capital beyond its place on UNESCO’s World Heritage List and the New Seven World Wonder’s List of Runner-Ups.
I was pretty unprepared for what to expect. Now it’s on my list of places to return so I can properly soak it all in without the exhaustion and sleep deprivation. I read somewhere that you really should visit over the course of a few days, and I agree. If you spend a good amount of time in Siem Reap, definitely plan out a small itinerary over 2 or 3 days to enjoy the park without tiring yourself out.
Quick Tips for Visiting Angkor
Where to Stay
You won’t actually stay in Angkor but rather nearby Siem Reap. We stayed at Happy Guest House, which is still one of my favorite hostels ever. The hosts were just so kind, the food was so good, the rooms were absolutely lovely, and our tuk-tuk driver was freaking amazing. Check here for prices + availability and check here for my review
When to Go
Of course, you want to go for sunrise if it’s the right season! It really is a breathtaking site, even if you’re with a huge crowd of other people.
In general, though, stay away during the hottest parts of the day. I’d start with the sunrise and then leave by lunch. We were absolutely dragging by the time we left.
Seriously Stay Hydrated
Water. Lots and lots of water. Way more water than we drank. Part of our problem was how dehydrated we were.
What to Wear
Dress conservatively. Knees and shoulders covered. I wore a t-shirt and a pair of those elephant pants. It was not a cute look, so there are no photos of me on this blog haha.
Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire, Cambodia’s predecessor (802 AD-1431 AD). It was a Hindu-Buddhist empire that ruled over most of mainland Southeast Asia. Check here if you want more on its history.
- Jayavarman II (founder): 802-835
- Yasovarman I (est. Yasodharapura, Angkor’s first city): 889-915
- Suryavarman II (united kingdom): 1113-1150
- Jayavarman VII (greatest king): 1181-1219
- Jayavarman VIII: 1243-1295
How to Visit Angkor
Hire a tuk-tuk.
Hopefully, you have a fantastic driver as we did at our hostel. He was awesome. If you go with a tuk-tuk, simply ask his or her advice on what to see. You can also hire one for one day, two days, three days, or four days from Klook, if you’d rather plan ahead.
Do a Cycling Tour
If you’re really feeling crazy, try one of the cycling tours there are! Here are some to get you started, but you can always ask your hostel about booking one too:
- Bike the Temples – This tour sounds absolutely insane to me, but if you’re up to it, it’s a 9-hour tour from 7 am – 4:30 pm. It’ll take you from Siem Reap along the river, to Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple, the Elephant Terrace, Lunch, Ta Prohm Temple, and some villages. Check here for prices + availability
- Sunrise Cycling Tour – Starting from 4:30 am and ending at 2:00 pm, you’ll see the sunrise at Angkor Wat, walk around the temple, have breakfast, explore the park, and then have lunch. Check here for prices + availability
This isn’t my favorite option just because it’s not as eco-friendly as the tuk-tuk or cycling, but I get that some people might need it due to health concerns. You could hire a private car or you could book this custom tour.
A Little Angkor Wat Guide
Angkor Wat – The Temple
This is the grandest Khmer temple and the one you’ll see photographed quite a lot. Built in the 12th century, it’s peculiar for a temple as it is oriented to the West. Because of this, the sun will rise behind, not in front of it. We got here for the sunrise before making our way around the park. You will be joined by lots of other tourists, so the sunrise at Angkor Wat isn’t necessarily “avoiding the crowds.”
Angkor Thom – The Capital
The main capital of Angkor is Angkor Thom, which could have once held one million people.
- Bayon Temple: Known for its giant smiling faces. Over all there are about 216 smiling faces across 54 towers, either depicting Avalokiteshvara or a combination of King Jayavarman VII and Buddha.
- Baphuon: Represents Mount Meru (a sacred Hindu site). Features giant reclining Buddha. Much of putting the temple back together was lost in war.
- Five Entrance Gates: There are the north, south, east, and west gates as well as an additional gate along the east wall, called the Victory Gate. Each gate will have a face of Avalokitesvara.
- Phnom Bakheng: Located hilltop, it’s actually under construction at the moment :/.
- Terrace of the Elephants: Has a line of elephants along the east side. Jayavarman VII used it to welcome his returning army after their victories.
- Terrace of the Leper King: Named after a 15th century statue of Yama, the god of death, because moss began to cover it while it also began to discolor, looking like someone with leprosy. It is also believed that Yasovarman I had leprosy.
Big Circuit – North + Further East of Angkor Thom
- East Mebon: Three story temple mountain with five towers built in the 10th century. Known for its elephant statues.
- Neak Pean: It’s made up of a tower in the middle of a large pond surrounded by four smaller ponds.
- Pre Rup: Temple mountain similar to East Mebon, good for viewing the sunset.
- Preah Khan: Jayavarman VII’s capital before Angkor Wat was complete. A little less touristy compared to its neighbors.
- Ta Som- Built in the 12th century in dedication to Dharanindravarman II. One of the temples that is still not restored, so you can see lots of vegetation growing around it.
The Little Circuit – East of Angkor Thom
- Banteay Kdei: Monastic complex sta ill in a state of repair.
- Prasat Kravan: Smaller temple made of five red and symmetrical towers dedicated to Vishnu in the 900s.
- Sras Srang: Terrace leading to the pond.
- Ta Keo: Incomplete temple, can reach the top level with steep stairs.
- Ta Prohm: This is by far the most famous of the Little Circuit temples. This is where you can trip over massive tree roots as the trees are intertwined in the architecture. You may also recognize this as the Tomb Raider temple. It was definitely my favorite probably for the trees alone…
There are two other sections technically a part of Angkor Park, the Roluos Group and the Outlying Temples, both of which are much farther out.