A Guide to Exploring Angkor Archaeological Park

Just north of Siem Reap lies the stunning 400 square kilometers Angkor Archaeological Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to more than 50 ancient Khmer temples including the most famous one, Angkor Wat. 

We loved exploring the Angkor temples in Cambodia! In this post, you will find everything you need to know for a visit to the Angkor Archaeological Park. We explored the temples for 3 long days.  

Entrance fee and opening hours 

Everyone needs to purchase an entrance ticket to Angkor Archaeological Park and your pass will allow you to visit all the temples within, except Beng Mealea and Koh Ker. An additional fee is charged for those temples. 

There are  three types of tickets; 

  • 1-day pass: 37 USD
  • 3-day pass: 62 USD
  • 7-day pass: 72 USD
The 3-day passes can be used over three non-consecutive days in a one-week period while one-week passes can be used on seven days over a month. All the major temples have staff to check the tickets. 
 
Tickets must be purchased at the ticket office; Angkor Enterprise, Street 60, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia, ask any tuk-tuk driver and they will bring you there. You can’t buy tickets online. 
 
Your ticket will have your photo printed on it, which will be taken at the time you purchase your ticket. The ticket office is open daily from 5 am – 5 pm. 
 
The Angkor Archaeological Park is open daily from 5 am – sunset. Temple visiting hours are from 5. 30 am – 6 pm. All visitors must leave the Park after sunset. 
 
We took a 3-day pass to visit the Angkor Archaeological Park and took a day off of visiting temples, we recommend you to do the same. 

When to visit 

You can choose between a rainy, muddy visit with fewer people around or great weather and a lot of tourists. But if you want to have good weather, the best time to visit is during the dry season from late November to early April. We were there in March. 

December and January are the busiest months. The rainy season is from May – October. 

How to get around Angkor 

The Angkor Archaeological Park is spread out over 400 square kilometers. 
 
You can get around by taxi. Taxis provide air-conditioned comfort and can be hired for more than one day if needed. However, it is also an expensive option, costing between 20 and 30 USD per day. But you should be aware that there is less freedom to explore the areas in between the temples. 

Tuk-tuks are by far the best way to travel around the park. Like motorbikes and taxis, drivers must be licensed and wear identification when entering Angkor. We loved exploring the park by tuk-tuk! We had a friendly driver who gave us information about the temples and waited for us while we were visiting the temples. The price for a tuk-tuk is around 10 to 15 USD per day.

While renting a bicycle for the day is very cheap we don’t recommend it. The park is very big and temperatures can be quite high, so renting a bike should be done early in the morning. Lastly, if you choose this option, be sure that the bicycle is well-made and strong to avoid any travel issues. 

The Roluos Group 

After we bought tickets for the Angkor Archaeological Park and arranged a tuk-tuk for the day we decided to visit the Roluos Group. 

Roluos is a small town and archeological site about 13 kilometers east of Siem Reap. Once it was the seat of Hariharalaya, the first capital of the Khmer Empire. Among these temples are some of the earliest structures built by Khmer. They mark the beginning of the Khmer civilization, dating from the late 9th century. Roluos is home to four temples; Bakong, Preah Ko, Lolei and Prasat Prei Monti.  

We left Siem Reap early around 6 am.  It was an enjoyable ride through the Cambodian countryside. 

Preah Ko

The first temple we visited was Preah Ko, also known as the sacred bull temple. This is one of the oldest monuments in Angkor. The Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva is named after the bull Nandi, the mount of Shiva. 

Built-in 879, Preah Ko is the oldest temple of the Roluos group of temples. 

Bakong 

The second temple we visited was Bakong. It is the first temple of sandstone and the largest and most interesting one of the Roluos group of temples. Built and dedicated to Shiva by Indravarman I, it’s a representation of Mt Meru, and it served as the city’s central temple. 

Bakong enjoyed its status as the state temple of Angkor for only a few years, but later additions from the 12th century testify that it was not abandoned. 

Bakong was definitely one of the highlights of our visit to the Angkor Archeological Park. 

Preah Khan

After visiting the Roluos Group we went to the northern part of the park to explore Preah Khan. This is one of the larger temple complexes within the Angkor Archeological Park. Preah Khan translates to ‘Holy Sword” in Khmer, named by Jayavarman VII in honor of his battle victory against the invading force of Chams, who belonged to a kingdom in what is now Vietnam, in the year 1191. 

This majestic temple complex is surrounded by a moat, and its surface area stretches over a swatch of land that’s 800 meters by 700 meters, enclosing an area of 56 hectares. 

You should know that Preah Khan was not only a temple. It was a Buddhist monastery, an ensemble of shrines for 430 Hindu gods, a Mahayana university with over 1000 teachers, an agricultural administration head office, a royal palace, and an entire city. 

After we visited Preah Khan we took a little break at the drink stand in front of the temple. While we took our break our tuk-tuk driver took a nap. 

Preah Neak Poan

After our break, we visited the beautiful Preah Neak Poan temple. The Buddhist temple of Preah Neak Poan is a petite yet perfect temple constructed by Jayavarman VII in the late 12th century. It has a large square pool surrounded by four smaller square pools. In the middle of the central pool is a circular “island” encircled by the two nagas whose intertwined tails give the temple its name. 

In the pool around the central island, there were once four statues, but only one remains, reconstructed from the debris by the French archaeologists who cleared the site. The curious figure has the body of a horse supported by a tangle of human legs. It relates to a legend that Avalokiteshvara once saved a group of shipwrecked followers from an island of ghouls by transforming into a flying horse.

Water once flowed from the central pool into the four peripheral pools via ornamental spouts, which can still be seen in the pavilions at each axis of the pool.  

Ta Som

Good things come in small packages, and that is certainly true of Ta Som. Although it is one of the smaller temple sites in the Angkor Archeological Park, it is definitely worth a visit. Very little restoration work has been done on Ta Som, this site remained in a state of semi-ruin with the trees and other vegetation allowed to grow over and through the walls of the temple.

The most prominent feature of Ta Som is the huge strangler fig tree which has engulfed the eastern gate. 

Ta Som was definitely a highlight for us! 

Banteay Kdei

The last temple we visited on our first day was Banteay Kdei. Banteay Kdei is a massive monastery from the latter part of the 12th century, surrounded by 4 concentric walls. Each of its four entrances is decorated with garudas, which hold aloft one of Jayavarman VII’s favorite themes; the four faces of Avalokiteshvara.

Sra Srang 

East of Banteay Kdei is a vast pool of water, Sra Srang, measuring 800m by 400m, reserved as a bathing pool for the king and his consorts. Here we watched a beautiful sunset! There was no one else there. 

After the sunset, our tuk-tuk driver brought us back to Siem Reap where we relaxed for the rest of the evening. We made a deal with our tuk-tuk driver for the next 2 days. We enjoyed his company because he gave us a lot of information about the temples.

Angkor Wat 

The next morning we visited Angkor Wat. Angkor wat is the largest, oldest, and most famous temple of Angkor. It is also the largest religious structure in the world by land area, measuring 162.6 hectares. 

At the center of the temple stands a quincunx of four towers surrounding a central spire that rises to a height of 65m above the ground. The temple has three rectangular galleries, each raised above the other. 

The temple was built at the behest of King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century, as the state temple for the empire. Originally constructed as a personal mausoleum for Suryaman, dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu in the early 12th century but it was converted to a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century.

It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. 

Angkor Wat is one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Buddhists in Cambodia and around the world. It has become the national prile for Cambodians.  

Angkor Wat is, without a doubt, the most beautiful temple we have ever seen! 

The advice we want to give you; Firstly, read as much information as you can before you visit Angkor Wat. Secondly, try to get there early in order to beat the crowds. 

Another famous thing to do is watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. We decided to watch the sunrise on our last day. The colors in the sky never stopped changing. It was amazing to watch and the reflection of the temple and the clouds in the lake made it even more beautiful.

Witnessing the transformation of the dark night into a new day was definitely one of the highlights of our trip to Cambodia. Read more about the sunrise at Angkor Wat here

The Gates of Angkor Thom

After visiting Angkor Wat we explored the temples of Angkor Thom. It’s hard to imagine any building bigger or more beautiful than Angkor Wat but in Angkor Thom (the Great City) the sum of the parts adds up to a greater whole.  Set over 10 sq km, the aptly named last great capital of the Khmer Empire took monumental to a whole new level. 

It is the gates that grabbed our attention first! Flanked by a vast representation of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, 54 demons and 54 gods engaged in an epic tug of war on the causeway. Each gate towers above the visitor, the magnanimous faces of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara staring out over the kingdom. 

Bayon 

First on our list was Bayon, not just for us apparently, but for every tour group in Siem Reap. We made our way through the masses to look through Bayon. 

At the heart of Angkor Thom is the 12th century Bayon, the mesmerizing, if slightly mind-bending, state temple of Jayavarman VII. It epitomizes the creative genius and inflated ego of Cambodia’s most celebrated king. Its 54 Gothic towers are decorated with 216 gargantuan smiling faces of Avalokiteshvara, and it is adorned with 1.2 km of extraordinary bas-reliefs incorporating more than 11 000 figures.  
 

This is one of the most unique temples we have ever seen even among its cherished contemporaries, the architectural audacity was a definitive political statement about the change from Hinduism to Mahayana Buddhism. 

The temple is also known as the Face Temple thanks to its iconic visages, these huge heads glare down from every angle, exuding power and control with a hint of humanity. 

After visiting Bayon we took a much-needed break. We advise you to take enough breaks to avoid temple fatigue. 

Baphuon

Next was Baphuon, also called the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle. Before the civil war, the Baphuon was painstakingly taken apart piece by piece by a team of archaeologists, but their meticulous records were destroyed during the Khmer Rouge regime, leaving experts with 300 000 stones to put back into place. 

After years of research, this temple has been partially restored. In its heyday, Baphuon would have been one of the most spectacular of Angkor’s temples. Located 200m northwest of Bayon, it’s a pyramidal representation of mythical Mt Meru. 

Terrace of Elephants 

The 350m long Terrace of Elephants was used as a giant viewing stand for public ceremonies and served as a base for the king’s grand audience hall. The middle section of the retaining wall is decorated with life-size garudas and lions; towards either end are the two parts of the famous parade of elephants, complete with their Khmer mahouts. 

Terrace of the Leper King 

The Terrace of the Leper King is just a bit further than the  Terrace of Elephants. Dating from the late 12th century, it is a 7m high platform, on top of which stands a nude though sexless statue. The front walls of the terrace are decorated with at least five tears of meticulously executed carvings. 

Preah Palilay, Preah Pithu, Trep Pranam, Kleangs, and Prasat Suor Prat are some of the other temples you can explore in Angkor Thom.

Ta Prohm

Next was Ta Prohm, just a few minutes in tuk-tuk from Angkor Thom. Also known as the Tomb Raider Temple. There is, however, much more to Ta Prohm than Tomb Raider. 

Ta Prohm is cloaked in dappled shadow, its crumbling towers and walls locked in the slow muscular embrace of vast roots. Its appeal lies in the fact that, unlike the other temples of Angkor, it has been swallowed by the jungle. 

This temple was another highlight for us! 

Phnom Bakheng 

The last temple we visited on our second day was Phnom Bakheng. Phnom Bakheng is a Hindu and Buddhist temple dedicated to Shiva. The temple is located atop a hill and is the perfect spot for sunset views. 

After sunset, we went back to our hostel and arranged a car for the next day to bring us to Beng Mealea and Koh Ker. 

Beng Mealea 

On our last day, we visited Beng Mealea which was the ultimate Indiana Jones experience! Beng Mealea, located 70 kilometers from Siem Reap, is one of the most mysterious temples, as nature has completely taken over. built-in the 12th century under Suryavarman II is enclosed by a massive ditch measuring 1.2 km by 900m.

The temple used to be utterly consumed by jungle, but some of the dense foliage has been cut back and cleaned up in recent years. 

In front of the temple entrance, you can find food and drink stalls. 

You can get to Beng Mealea by car from Siem Reap. Beng Mealea is open from 7.30 am – 5.30 pm and the entrance fee is 5 USD. We arranged a car to Beng Mealea from Siem Reap. 

Koh Ker 

Koh Ker is a remote archaeological site about 120 kilometers away from Siem Reap and the ancient site of Angkor. It is a jungle-filled region that is sparsely populated. 

Under the reign of the kings, Jayavarman IV and Harshavarman II Koh Ker was briefly the capital of the Khmer Empire from 928 to 944 AD. This was the only interruption in the almost 500-year history of the Khmer Capital being at Angkor. The Kings created a large royal capital of Brahmanic temples and towers that surrounded a huge reservoir. 

You can visit more than 40 temples here. The highlight of our visit to Koh Ker was the Mayan-looking Prasat Thom, a 55m wide, 40m high sandstone pyramid whose seven tiers offer spectacular views across the forest.

You can get to Koh Ker by car from Siem Reap. Koh Ker is open from 7.30 am – 5.30 pm and the entrance fee is 10  USD. 

We combined Beng Mealea and Koh Ker on the same day since it’s not that far from each other. 

This place is simply unbelievable! There are a lot more temples to explore in the Angkor Archaeological Park but these were our favorite ones.

The advice we want to give you; Firstly, read as much information as you can before you visit The Angkor Archaeological Park. Secondly, plan which temples you want to see. Thirdly, take enough breaks. Lastly, try to get there early in order to beat the crowds. 

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