by Sean Nolan
Angkor Archeological Park is made up of an estimated 1,000 temples, shrines, and urban developments covering over 1000 square kilometers of lush Cambodian jungle and swamps – making Angkor the largest religious complex in the world.
Over 2 million tourist flock to Cambodia each year to see the ancient temples which were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992. According to officials, it would take over 7 days to fully explore the entire Angkor area.
We only had a days time to visit the Temples, thankfully there are 2 Tourist routes to choose from when visiting Angkor; The Small Tour Circuit or The Grand Tour Circuit.
Angkor Archeological Park
Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
Website: Tourism Cambodia
We opted for the (more popular) Small Circuit Tour, that takes you to 3 of the main temples and a few smaller complexes.
• Angkor Wat
• Angkor Thom
• Preah Ngok Shrine
• Terrace Of The Leper King
The Small Tour Circuit can be accomplished in half a days time (6-8 hours) and is recommended for first timers and tourist on limited schedules.
First things first.
Learn the Visitors Code Of Conduct— Violators may be asked to leave the park.
• Dress Code – Showing too much skin is inappropriate. A comfortable pair of shorts and a t-shirt will do. Dresses should be lower than the knee, tank tops and short-shorts are prohibited.
• Monuments – Do not touch the monuments, sculptures or carvings. Do not climb or sit on monuments, sculptures, and carvings. Graffiti or marking monuments in any way–is prohibited. Re-arranging stones or removing anything from the park is strictly prohibited. Doing so can get you kicked out of the park, fined or jailed.
• Sacred Sites – Angkor is a Sacred site. Shouting, loud conversation, running around, or being loud in general is considered rude and may disturb other guests.
• Restricted Areas – Do not stray from the tourist areas, stay on the tourist trails and follow signs.
• Smoking and Littering – Smoking is prohibited in the park as they may cause brush fires. Also, be sure to clean up after yourself. out your waste in the bins that are along the tourist paths and trails.
• Candy or Money to Children – Please do not give money or food to children, it encourages them to beg instead of going to school.
• Monks – Monks are revered and respected in Cambodia. Be polite, Do not touch or photograph them without their permission.
(Note: Most Hotels and Hostels have copies available for you to review.)
Supplies you'll need.
• Bottled water
• Mosquito repellent
• Comfortable shoes walking/hiking
• Hand Sanitizer
• Power bank
• Sun hat or cap
• Traditional Khmer scarf/krama
• Rain jacket (rainy season)
(Note: US currency is preferred and used alongside Cambodian Riel. Money exchangers can be found in all major cities and tourist areas.)
Sunrise at Angkor is a one in a lifetime experience, it's best to make your way to the temples at around 4:30 am.
Remorques/Tuk-tuks are available during these hours for tourist and will cost you $2 -5 US Dollars per trip.
It's best to make arrangements with your hotel receptionist who can schedule an all day driver for you, or you can hire A driver who can be found at stations scattered around Siem Reap.
(Note: Hiring an all day driver will cost you $25 US Dollars – add $5 if you want to catch the sunrise. Private cars and tour vans are also available but can be pricey.)
You'll have to Purchase your Admission Pass at the Angkor Ticket Booth on Road 60 next to the Angkor Panorama Museum, 7.5km from the main entrance to the Park.
The doors open at 5 am every day.
(Tip: Be sure to get there early to beat the crowds.)
Three Types of Passes are available that will grant you access to most of the temples and shrines in Angkor Archaeological Park.
- $20 US Dollars = 1-day pass
- $30 US Dollars = 3-day pass
- $60 US Dollars = 7-day pass (valid for 1 month)
Starting February 1st, 2017 tickets prices will be increased.
- $37 US Dollard = 1-day pass
- $62 US Dollars = 3-day pass
- $72 US Dollars = 7-day pass (valid for 1 month)
You'll have to present your pass at checkpoints throughout the park and at the entrances to each monument so keep them handy. Damaged, lost, or stolen passes are non-refundable, so take good care of them.
Angkor Wat – The most famous and photographed Temple Complexes in Cambodia.
The outer walls of Angkor Wat encompass 820,000 square meters. This massive structure was constructed in the early 12th Century and is made mostly of 1-ton limestone blocks that were quarried from over 40 km away. Taking roughly 37 years to construct, the walls of the temple are adorned with bas-reliefs and sculptures.
The layout of the temple with its artificial lakes – are a representation of Mount Meru, a sacred mountain in Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist religions.
(Angkor Wat Translates to Temple City or City Of Temples)
(Note: Make sure you are wearing mosquito repellent.)
Inside Angkor Wat, you'll come across shrines and ancient statues adorned with brightly colored robes and surrounded by incense and flowers.
Angkor was constructed during the Golden Age of the Khmer Empire. It was originally a temple dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu as the Khmer people of this time hadn't yet adopted Buddhism.
Today, both Hindu and Buddhist shrines can be found throughout the complex.
Visitors and pilgrims are free to offer up prayers at any of the shrines for a donation of your personal choosing.
The Donations go directly to the preservation of the temple grounds and conservation of its structure and carvings.
Monks can also be found near shrines where they will usually perform blessings for visitors, giving bracelets as tokens and symbols of good fortune.
Be sure to also place a donation for the Monks. Their earnings depend, entirely on the donations of visitors.
All along the walls of the Temple, you will come across bas-reliefs that depict Hindu Mythology and Legend. The bas-reliefs are considered to be among the best examples of ancient masonry in the world.
(Bas-reliefs are a type of wall carving that when viewed from any angle, the contours of the figures are visible)
Unfortunately, poaching and weathering threaten these priceless pieces of art.
Please do your best to not touch them or damage them in any way, so that visitors can appreciate them for generations to come.
The Inner Temple Complex area is where you will find the Main Towers which are considered the most sacred points of Angkor Wat.
Parts of the Temples may be closed off to tourist during Holidays or for conservation efforts.
(Don't forget: Check government websites for Public Holidays so you can plan your trip accordingly.)
Restorations are ongoing so be mindful of the construction.
Remember never to climb any of the structures that are designated "no sitting" or "no climbing areas." Security is pretty tight and guards will not hesitate to remove you from the park if you do not follow the rules.
(Reminder: This lady was escorted out after she climbed a wall to take a photo.)
You'll probably spend no less than two hours at Angkor Wat.
The place is huge, if you need to take a break or get refreshments, there is a small market area near the Reflection Pond right outside the main entrance to the Temple.
Angkor Wat memorabilia and souvenirs are also available for purchase at the market.
The Sandstone buddha carvings are well done and make the perfect memento.
(Be ready to haggle as most vendors will charge tourist prices)
The distances between Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom is quite far, so if you're short on time it's best to ride a Remorque/Tuk-Tuk. There are stations on the main road where you can catch a driver. (If you haven't already arranged for an all-day one.)
(There are also bicycle tours available throughout the park, it's an eco-friendlier way to visit the temples and perfect if you want to take your time.)
Preah Ngok Shrine sits right outside Bayon Temple, the next stop on the Small Circuit after Angkor Wat.
A large Sandstone Buddha statue that is believed to have been there since the 13th Century is attended to by nuns and monks who read fortunes and perform blessings for pilgrims and tourists.
You will have to travel Angkor Thom by foot, make sure to follow the signs and keep an eye out for security guards, they can help direct you to where you'd like to go in case you get lost.
You'll have to do a lot of walking and climbing as you progress through the Park, so make sure to stay hydrated, especially during mid-day when the sun is highest.
You can find vendors dotted about the park, usually along the main road or near the entrances to most complexes.
Angkor Thom - The Capital of the Ancient Khmer Empire, here is where you'll find most of the destinations and points of interest on the Small Circuit.
Built in the late 12th Century, Angkor Thom covers an area of 9 square km and is home to several major monuments.
Prasat Bayon was the only Angkorian Temple to be built as a Mahayana Buddhist Shrine.
Its most notable features are the 216 smiling faces that are said to be representations of the bodhisattva of compassion.
At first glance and from a distance, Bayon looks like a pile of rocks, it's only when you get up close, that you'll realize how complex and intricate the design and layout of the temple actually is.
Of all the temples this was our favorite, you could spend a lot of time admiring the many Smiling Faces.
On the upper terraces, you're able to see the Smiling Faces in much more detail.
There are also a number of smaller shrines in the complex that are still in use by pilgrims and locals.
As you make your way out of Bayon, you'll come across parks and open-air ruins. It's common to find young monks sitting quietly under trees or on top of rocks meditating.
Monks play a very important role in everyday Cambodian life and are highly revered in Cambodian society.
They are considered national treasures and it's best to not to disturb them. If you want to take a picture, make sure to politely ask first – most will happily oblige.
(Note: Refrain from making any physical contact, as this is frowned upon.)
Baphoun – Constructed in the mid 11th century As a temple dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva. It is believed that the entire temple was once covered in bronze ornamentation.
Unfortunately, the temple was built on unstable ground and many of the buildings main features have been destroyed or severely damaged due to collapsing.
One of its most notable features is a long raised pathway that leads to the main entrance of the 3 story complex.
On the west side, you'll find a reclining buddha that was added to the temple soon after the Khmer adopted Buddhism.
Phimeanakas is a 3 tiered Pyramid That was built at the end of the 10th Century.
Its most noticeable feature is a dried up moat that surrounds the complex.
Centuries ago, Khmer Kings would come here every night to perform rituals that ensured the safety of the community.
Terrace Of The Leper King
Local legend says that the Terrace gets its name from King Yasovarman the 1st, who suffered from leprosy.
It is believed to have been a royal cremation site and is the last major stop in Angkor Thom.
There are impressive carvings of spirits and deities that align the walls of the terrace.
Ta Prohm finished construction in the early 13th Century and served as a Mahayana Buddhist Monastery and University. It has become the second most famous Temple visited by tourist and was featured in the 2001's Tomb Raider film.
Approximately 1 kilometer from Bayon, it is the last major stop on the Small Circuit Tour.
Unlike most Angkor complexes, Ta Prohm hasn't undergone the same extent of restorations as the other temples.
It remains in much the same state as it was when it was rediscovered in the late 21st century.
International conservation efforts are ongoing to preserve this unique temple as is.
The most distinguishing feature of Ta Prohm are the Tetrameles trees that are growing from the temple ruins.
(Can You spot the Peeking Buddha?)
Tetrameles are found mostly throughout SE Asia and can grow more than 20 meters (70 ft) and spread 10m (35 ft).
It's easy to see why this temple is the second most visited in the Park. It's as if the complex is being slowly eaten alive by the jungle.
A trip to Angkor Archeological Park should be on everyone's bucket list. Seeing the magnificent structures up close can be a surreal experience. It's amazing how the ancient Khmer were able to build such massive and complex structures sans modern equipment and technology.
If you are doing a day trip we recommend the Short Circuit Tour, it will take you to the more popular temples.
Angkor Archeological Park is vast and we wish we could have spent more time there. If you can – opt for the Grand Circuit Tour, so you can get a chance to visit the parks many other temples and complexes. It's also best to take your time, so you can appreciate the rich history and ingenuity of the Khmer people.
$20 Admission Day Pass
$5 Tuk-Tuk one way to park ($25 All-day Driver)
$2 Large Water Bottle
$5 for Lunch
Pocket change for donations.
Angkor Archeological Park
Krong Siem Reap
Web: Tourism Cambodia
Live an Awesome Life,
SEAN NOLAN of Team Our Awesome Planet
Disclosure: All admission fees and transportation fees for Angkor Archeological Park were paid for out of our own pockets. I wrote this article with my own biases, opinions, and insights.
P.S. We really wanted to fly the drone but since Angkor is a Religious site, drones are prohibited. If you want to get a bird's-eye view of the Park, there is a Balloon Ride outside the main entrance.